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Notes from the Guest Editor’s desk: These are dynamic, interconnected, socially focused times, says Alfonso Rodés Vilà, Global CEO, Havas Media

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Notes from the Guest Editor’s desk: These are dynamic, interconnected, socially focused times, says Alfonso Rodés Vilà, Global CEO, Havas Media

Alfonso Rodés Vilà, Global CEO, Havas Media, shares his views on how the new socially conscious consumers’ search for meaning will shape global trends and the impact this will have on the way agencies and brands do business in India...

Everywhere I go, I am reminded how important meaningfulness has become. After all – when resources are so short, what is the point of doing anything unless it really means something to us?

In the same way, we, at Havas Media, know that becoming “meaningful” is the new mantra for brands. We recently launched our Brand Sustainable Futures analysis in India and it showed us just how important the quest for meaningful relationships has become. We asked 30,000 consumers across 10 countries about their priorities in life as well as their views on 150 brands. Astonishingly, we found that the vast majority of global consumers would not care if over two-thirds of brands ceased to exist. The research also showed us that Indian consumers are more concerned about social and environmental issues than any of the other countries in our report.

Times have clearly changed. As I meet band managers and CEOs on my visit to India, it has never been more evident. India has the largest mobile community outside China, you are just about to welcome 3G into your market and, unlike Europe and the West, most people in India will experience social networking via mobiles – bypassing desktop computers all together. Twitter and Facebook numbers have exploded - but this is just the start. This all means that from now on, the relationship that consumers have with brands both in India and worldwide means that we all need to re-think how we do business.

In our group, we are constantly analysing the factors shaping our industry and the impact these have on brands. Although change is the norm and we can never stop generating insight and participating in the debate. From this chaos and movement however we can see clearly that a few emerging factors will change us all.

Firstly we will see a move from a reliance on ideas to ‘Ideals:’
Our Brand Sustainable Futures analysis revealed that Indian consumers are more likely to consider environmental and social aspects when making purchasing decisions than any other country. This socially conscious Indian consumer will demand greater “ideals” from brands in order to connect in with consumers in a meaningful way. Agencies must be able to understand, track and compare how brands are connecting in this area.

We all need to recognise that powerful ideals and compelling story-telling capture the collective will and spur people into action far more effectively than even the best rational arguments. Most successful brands today have been built on powerful ideals that have made a huge impact. We have some great examples from India where companies have used ideals focused on sustainability to create compelling story-telling – for example, the global Unilever Shakti Programme originated in India, is one of the world's greatest examples of using sustainability to build meaningfulness.

We also know that truth and authenticity are now essential for all businesses as being transparent is no longer enough:
Transparency is still the new rule but, alas, it’s no longer that simple! Or analysis shows that Indian consumers expect companies to go further and regularly measure a brand by truthfulness, authenticity and action.

With this high level of activism in India, companies must “lead by example” while delivering consumers experiences that live up to their claims. It is in this context that sustainability becomes essential – after all, how can you be transparent, authentic trustworthy and not sustainable? Many companies are recognising that sustainability can help redefine a band as all companies try to meet the new demands of today’s socially conscious consumer.

If you want to become meaningful, it’s also never been more important to focus on emotions:
Although “corporate communications and facts’’ are still registering with consumers in India, we see a global increase in consumer demand for brands to initiate more engaging initiatives. The impact of 3G and the rise of social networking in India will mean that brands and agencies must be able to use these networks to engage in positive dialogue with consumers, exchanging ideas and co-creating so that they can establish positive roles for their brands within consumer’s lives and society as a whole. We argue that current sustainability/ CSR communications have been addressing consumers’ minds and overlooking people’s hearts and souls. There is a huge opportunity here – especially in India – for brands is to stop relying on corporate facts and transparency initiatives and really focus on building meaningful brand roles and engaging initiatives that encourage and empower people to make a difference in their lives or in the lives of others.

From consumer segmentation to the power of the networks and communities
With the global explosion of social media in India comes the almost unimaginable power of networks and communities. Facebook is now the number one Indian social network, Twitter has over 6 million users, mobile phone usage is rising at nearly 200 per cent each year. We have also tripled our digital operation in India this year for this very reason. These are exciting, dynamic, interconnected and socially focused times.

And finally, the new ‘must have’ for any brand - social capital
As we have said before, our Brand Sustainable Futures research clearly shows that companies need to become meaningful if they want to reconnect with consumers. They have to ‘’talk’’ to them – using engaging conversations. They have to “think” with their consumers – and these discussions must open up new perspectives and idea. By exchanging thoughts brands can work with consumers to create campaigns that help both parties move towards shared goals and ideals. Engaging with consumers in this way – using platforms such as sustainability - will help them reinforce “trust”. It’s through this ‘talk’ ‘think’ ‘trust’ approach that companies can start to build meaningful brands. This is what we call social capital.

With 57 per cent of Indians placing social and environmental issues at the top of their agenda, understanding how we can ensure that brands help all of us live in a better society – by creating ‘social capital’ – will be key. Finally, we have a mantra that will help us become a positive and sustainable industry. The new socially conscious Indian consumer is leading the way, and to become meaningful as an industry, we too need to ‘think’ ‘talk’ and ‘trust’ – log on to and join the debate.


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