Given the prevailing megatrends (megatrends take years and even decades to evolve, and tend to manifest in a number of microtrends, that is, emerging and niche behavioural changes, over the years) of Tech Life and Social Cohesion, the increasingly important role of Tech Life in enabling social cohesion is becoming clearer.

For example, if we look at brands as corporate citizens (that is, they operate within a broader social context), their role is to meet the needs or wants of their intended target while still allowing their target market to inform them. The paradigm that is social networking – enabled by technological advances – has created such a situation. Therefore the social context is more important than ever if a brand is to remain relevant.

I am guessing that First National Bank’s ‘You can Help’ campaign is seeking to give young South Africans a platform to voice their views was centred on this premise.

There was considerable debate around this campaign but, if we consider it in the context of the trends such as ‘good citizenship’ and ‘crowd voice’, it seems there is a desire for brands to be a conduit for informing, providing access and engagement.

As marketers, the mandate is to create growth and positively impact the bottom-line of the businesses that employ us. I surmise that the fundamentals still ring true – real insight into one’s target consumer and their world regardless.

So brands perhaps need to ensure social drives are intrinsically linked to their core proposition whilst bringing them closer to their consumers.

Within South Africa there are brands taking the baton and driving this agenda:

Eskom 49m (with the aim to get 49 million South Africans to embrace energy savings) and the Alert! campaign actively seek to manage energy consumption in South Africa (albeit being driven by its poor pro-active management issues which are well-reported in our daily papers).

Woolworths does a great job of informing greener approaches, for example encouraging recycling or re-use of packaging thereby not targeting only green consumers but informing and encouraging others to play their role.

And the likes of Coca-Cola have embarked on a drive to empower 5-million women by 2020 through social upliftment, education and skills transfer. Importantly, this is not just a CSR campaign initiative but something that engages driving dialogue and engagement with the brand.

In the societal context where there is a desperate need for information and social transformation, one cannot help but think the role of brands is broader that conveying its intrinsic proposition. It is often said ‘Make the brand the hero’, but perhaps as social networking becomes endemic, a brand needs to create the right platform and let consumers make it the hero.

So what is the role of the brand? I would say it is to affect those who it is targeting and at times that may mean informing, opening their worlds, warming their hearts or building a sense of possibility so that they choose to engage with the brand.

What is clear, is that it is not about the brand on its own but about a brand that is jointly owned by its targets to ensure sharing of information. The challenge is opening oneself to hearing what consumers have to say.

Written by Masingita Mazibuko for MarkLives.

Picture credits: First National Bank ‘You can help’ campaign.

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