A Wake Up Call for Brands

Havas Group’s Maria Garrido talks about Meaningful Brands

Published on April 12, 2018


WHAT ROLE DO BRANDS PLAY IN OUR LIVES? The answer today, for a large number of brands, is: Not a very big one! In fact, 74% of brands could disappear, and consumers wouldn’t care. The call for brands therefore is to have more meaning in the lives of their target audiences, and with Havas Group’s Meaningful Brands framework, the specifics of this call are addressed in great detail.

On March 19, 2018, at the New World Hotel Makati, Havas Group held the Meaningful Brands talk, headlined by Maria Garrido, Havas’s Chief Insight Officer and CEO of Havas X, the innovation arm of the Group. Through an 8-year study that is refreshed and conducted annually, the aim of Meaningful Brands is to understand what drives meaning between people and brands, determine what kind of content is meaningful, and demonstrate the correlation between the fulfillment of KPIs and meaningfulness. The 2017 edition of Meaningful Brands is by far the largest, with some 375,000 people interviewed across 33 countries, and more than 1,500 brands included.

Meaningfulness and you

Garrido opened with the sobering revelation at the beginning of this article – most brands just aren’t meaningful enough for people to notice if they disappeared. This runs contrary to consumers’ expectations – 75% of people want brands to contribute to quality of life, yet only 27% of people believe that brands do just that. It certainly doesn’t help that one of the largest markets right now, the Millennial demographic, is particularly demanding of brands: Millennials want meaningful content, engagement, and a strong connection between people and brands.

By the time you’ve read this sentence, the word “meaning” and its variants will have appeared no less than 10 times throughout this article. But what exactly is meaning? The Meaningful Brands framework looks at meaning as the ways in which brands benefit people’s lives. These can be categorized into three: Functional benefits, which describe developments in brands’ products and services, such as quality, price, and innovation; personal benefits, or the tangible ways brands bring improvements to people’s lives; and collective benefits, which describe the beneficial roles that brands play in community and society.

Every brand is weighted differently towards each category depending on the expectations of the target market. For example, when the Meaningful Brands study began eight years ago, food brands were skewed towards personal and collective benefits. Today, though, in the wake of a growing movement towards health and wellness, food brands have shifted towards functional benefits, with consumers looking for scientific health benefits in what they eat.

All this talk about meaning wouldn’t be any good if meaningfulness didn’t have any returns. Meaningful Brands have outperformed the stock market by an incredible 206% between 2006 and 2016, and meaningfulness in brand marketing can lead to as much as a 9x greater share of wallet. Meaningful Brands may even increase their KPIs by up to 137%. Some of the top-ranked Meaningful Brands of 2017 include Google, PayPal, Samsung, and Microsoft.

Meaningfulness through great content

The secret to inspiring meaningful connections is found in creating good content that drives customer well-being. Content has several roles in people’s lives. It can:

  • Inspire
  • Educate
  • Inform
  • Entertain
  • Reward
  • Help

And indeed, as the study uncovered, this is exactly what people are asking for – 84% of consumers want good content! “Help me fix a problem,” or “Reward my loyalty,” they’d call out to brands. There is a 71% correlation between content effectiveness, and the impact a brand has on the personal wellbeing and quality of life of its consumers, along with its Meaningful Brands ranking! Unfortunately, 60% of content produced by today’s brands simply doesn’t deliver.

Content effectiveness is a complex beast. Before setting out to produce content, a brand must identify what roles work well within their industry. Every industry has its own customer expectations for content roles. For example, customers within the automotive industry prefer content that fulfills the inspirational and entertainment roles – powerfully emotional lifestyle-selling car commercials come to mind – then, when making a purchase decision, would like educational and informative content to help them decide what to buy.

It’s important therefore to produce not only high-quality content, but also content that is appropriate for a brand. “I think [the Meaningful Brands study] almost personalizes how you define meaningful, how consumers define meaningful. By industry and by country, you see some significant differences, and you can’t apply a blanket – brand love, brand purpose, across every industry without understanding the specific dynamics of each category,” Garrido said.

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all piece of content. Even celebrity collaborations, which are a staple of marketing across many industries, won’t work if they’re not attuned to the brand needs. Garrido gave a positive example in L’Occitane’s advertisement with food writer Mimi Thorisson, which connected wonderfully with L’Occitane’s lifestyle-oriented target audience. On the other hand, she went on to describe Target’s collaboration with singer Gwen Stefani, which led to plenty of album sales for Stefani and even a Bronze Lion win at the Cannes Lions – but didn’t translate into substantial benefits for Target, due to a lack of association with the brand.

The Wake-Up Call

“Brands are dispensable!” concluded Garrido towards the end of her Meaningful Brands talk. They have to react to consumers in order to matter to them. The majority of brands – among whom are the 74% that could disappear without anyone caring – are missing opportunities to develop meaning with their consumers, throwing content at them without understanding the roles that content plays in their lives.

If brands want to really elevate their KPIs and improve their standing in their target market, the answer is to become meaningful. And there’s no wake-up call quite as eye-opening as the risk of being irrelevant.


Want to create great work?