Our 2014 Predictions for the Nexus of Reputation, Brand and Sustainability

Our 2014 predictions blog identifies seven key trends that we think will have particular impact across the sustainability, reputation, brand nexus. We share our forecasts for key consumer and stakeholder trends, examine the challenges that these represent to business, and anticipate how organizations are likely to respond.

1. Social inequality a rising concern. 

Evidence from GlobeScan’s stakeholder and consumer surveys supports the notion that social and economic inequality will be key issues of global concern this year. We will continue to see a steady flow of data identifying the widening gap between rich and poor and the impact this has on economic growth – for example, in Oxfam’s new report, Working for the Few. To coincide with the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this year GlobeScan’s Radar study of citizens around the world will explore people’s views on the challenge of a range of ‘inequalities’: economic, gender and social.

2. More holistic approach to addressing trust deficit.

Our 2013 Radar study identified low, but improving, levels of trust in global companies. And companies are increasingly recognizing that a long-term commitment is needed to build trust. From our experience, we see opportunities for greater internal engagement around corporate reputation (involving corporate affairs, corporate comms, CSR teams, HR, IR, government affairs, etc.). We expect that more companies will take a holistic approach building stakeholder relations and expressing corporate purpose, in order to more robustly address the trust deficit.

3. Complex, changing stakeholder landscape.

Another challenge for companies and organizations wanting to engage with their stakeholders to build trust is an increasingly complex stakeholder environment. As we identified last year, the local is becoming global, there are more stakeholders than ever before, and their voices are stronger, amplified by urgency of issues and social media. The importance of identifying, mapping and engaging stakeholders at scale for global organizations continues to grow. We see increasing demand for scaled stakeholder engagement along the lines of our work with AB InBev, BT and Unilever.

4. Integrating primary and digital intelligence.

We expect a response to the changing stakeholder environment and to the availability of new data opportunities. Last year, my colleague Femke de Man anticipated that more companies will integrate primary research with digital media analysis to deliver comprehensive 360 degree reputation solutions. We are starting to see more interest in this unified approach to stakeholder intelligence amongst our leading clients and predict further growth over the coming year. Keeping a pulse on stakeholder intelligence requires more sophistication and integration of primary and digital feedback mechanisms.

5. Sustainable brands go mainstream.

Last year we predicted the rise of corporate brands as vehicles for sustainability and CSR efforts. This year, we agree with Tom Adams, from FutureBrand, that ‘evidence that more conscious brands are going mainstream is significant’. As ‘new values are becoming embedded in consumption considerations’, he forecasts that ‘”conscious brands” – or brands aware of the impact they have on the world around them – will go mainstream in 2014’. GlobeScan, SustainAbility, and BBMG have identified a new consumer segment – called the ‘Aspirationals’ – who are looking to brands to improve both their own lives and society at large, and are becoming increasingly important to brands’ success. We will be tracking the Aspirationals again in 2014 across key markets to drill more deeply into the opportunities this unique consumer segment has to align marketing, branding and sustainability strategies of companies to potent effect.

6. Climate change back on the agenda.

Our 2013 Radar study showed a sharp uptick in concern about all environmental issues amongst citizens across the globe. This year, we expect to see similar, or higher, levels of concern – although on some environmental issues and in some countries, concern is already very high. For example, around the time of ‘Airpocalypse’ in Northern China, more than nine in ten Chinese citizens in our survey described air pollution as a problem. Given the growing attention being paid to negotiations in the lead up to COP21 in Paris in 2015, we expect climate change to be high on the stakeholder agenda, as well over the next 12 months. There will be an increasing focus on mobilizing political support for action, as well as behaviour change to shift to low carbon society.

7. Focus on youth.

Last year, my colleague, Eric Whan, called for deeper understanding of ‘next generation stakeholders’ and their aspirations – both material and intangible. In 2013 we saw increasing recognition of the importance of young citizens’ views (for example in our work with UNESCO and on Canadian youth). And we expect this to continue, enabling youth to speak up and build the world they want. This is especially critical in emerging markets, where many countries have young populations and are plagued by high youth unemployment. Very few issues are more critical to the long term stability and prosperity of the world than to ensure greater engagement and opportunities for youth in large, emerging countries around the world.