I recently had the pleasure of chatting to Mark Woerde who’s great new book takes a deep dive into research that explains why social good is increasingly important to consumers around the world and therefore brands.
SM: Tell us a little bit about the book. What inspired you to write a book like that because it’s seemingly contradictory? Advertising seems to be self-serving, yet you’re talking about healing the world and your business.
MW: Well it all started in 2009. It was my summer holiday and I felt like something was missing, a sort of meaning. Then I was thinking, “Am I the only one? How do other people give more meaning to their lives?” I did a pilot study in the US and UK and found out that I was not alone. There is a huge search for meaning. I also found out that brands and companies can play a role and give people meaning to their lives. If marketers are open to this idea (embracing concepts of meaning) companies and brands can have this huge force.
Just to give you a figure, each year 450 billion US dollars are spent on advertising, and we only need 6 billion to get rid of something as stupid as malaria, or 11 billion to stop starvation. This is not based on a nice idea or an opinion, this is based on the world’s largest research on meaningful lives and brands, which I was able to conduct with Columbia University with help from Professor Dereck Solomons. I also got a little help from my friends at the United Nations. The results are there, I wrote it all down and that’s basically the book. The book is nothing more or less than the starting signal for marketers to make their brands more pro-social and have a huge impact on society and on businesses.
SM: What were some of the more surprising things you discovered in the report? Having been a long-time marketer yourself, what really struck you?
MW: A few things. First of all, having a meaning in life has nothing to do with your social status. It’s so fundamental. That was the first one. The other one was, only 16% of people are not searching for a meaning in life. Not having found in life can lead to feelings of depression. The other thing I found out was that almost 60% of people are searching for ways to help others, like money, time, inspiration, energy where brands can play an important role. I also found out that brands are welcome by the public. 64% prefer pro-social brands over ordinary brands. The most profound finding is that 74% indicate that helping others is their way of living a meaningful life, which is quite universal across 16 countries.
SM: It’s really compelling and very aligned with the message of We First, which is why I’m so thrilled to meet you. I have to say that I’ve discovered in the last year or two that there really is a shift in consciousness, there really is a growing awareness of this within the very tough boardrooms of America and advertising agencies. What’s your experience, being from Holland? What’s it like in Amsterdam? What’s your experience in Northern Europe? Are you regarded as an anomaly?
MW: In the marketing world I do not have the feeling that I’m alone. Before I launched this concept, I spoke with marketers and CEOs all over the world who, in total, was responsible for 1 billion dollars on advertising spending. There’s no skepticism. They like the idea and say “Hey, give us the proof.” Marketers are ordinary people themselves.
The only business I find some skepticism in is the advertising business. There is this uneasy feeling of healing the world via advertising. We are used to selling stuff that people don’t need and with image management, and suddenly it has to become real, it has to be about wanting to help people help others, about social causes and healing the world. That’s a big shift for many advertising professionals.
SM: For those who manufacture authenticity, in a sense, it’s very hard when they’re challenged with authenticity. For a brand or someone who’s seeing this, where’s the first place they should start? If they did want to offer their customers, employees and board more meaning, where’s the first place they should start?
MW: There’s one thing to it. Pro-social brands are preferred by 64%, but people also have this feeling of being mislead sometimes, but they can’t tell when or why. So they still buy pro-social brands, but still have a strange feeling that they can’t put their finger on. What I always say is to please leverage your core business in finding the right cause.
SM: So, get in alignment between who you are and what the cause is.
MW: Right. The other thing is that the concept, the whole campaign, should always be based on the real brand value. Don’t have a list of brand values. Just have one. I’m a strong believer that every brand has it’s own unique value and that’s not something you have to find out with your research company. It’s what you do with your own people from the receptionist to the facility manager to the CEO… everyone involved.
MW: Thank you so much for asking me this question. It’s out there on the internet. You can download it for free on letsheal.org where you can also find the research. If you really want to buy a hardcopy version, you can go to Amazon.
SM: Fantastic. Congratulations on all the work that went into the research and for bringing yourself to this new challenge. I think it’s really important for the future of our business.
Reading Time: 1 minutesSimon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, a leading brand consultancy that provides purpose-driven strategy, content, and training that empowers companies to lead business, shape culture, and better our world.