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Christel Quek Headshot

Dear Brands: Be Meaningful to Win

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From time immemorial, mass marketing had shaped definitions of what the good life entails -- how prosperity is defined by the need to get the coolest, mass produced toys of the season. Brands capitalized on this by extolling how we would need the existence of their products to survive well.

Increasingly, however, there is a disconnect from this messaging. A fundamental shift has occurred for consumers.

We don't want to just survive. We want to live.

We are now more concerned about being smarter, wiser, improving collective well being and are now more willing to punish brands which do not engage in sustainable practices.

We are more receptive to brands which consistently add meaningful value to our lives through their products and initiatives.

In short, we want to live meaningfully.

There are more astute brands who understand the importance of this shift. They appreciate the value of being a meaningful and socially responsible company. Unilever's Dove Campaign (for Real Beauty) and Levi's Water < Less Campaign are brilliant examples and my personal favorites.

But what about the brands who are still skeptical of the idea of being meaningful? What about the other brands who are afraid of the evolution, and dare not take the step forward towards change?

Can the value of adding meaningfulness save these brands?

According to the American Association of Marketing, marketing refers to " creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large."

So here's the question -- how does your brand define value?

Value doesn't just refer to the brand which produces the cheapest goods for your dollar.

Let's connect the principle of value with brands which contribute a meaningful difference in the lives of their consumers.

In very broad strokes, value can encompass both personal and collective outcomes. Value can refer to the sustainable initiatives, fair employee treatment, accountability that the brand invests in -- resulting in the outcomes we identify with, and are able to connect with the brand on.

Value is about consuming less but gaining more.

Using meaningfulness as your brand's point of differentiation.

Let's think about using meaning as a point of differentiation for your brand -- a brand which can enhance the well-being of your consumers, and be translated into measurable personal and collective outcomes.

The current shift is towards brands which engage in both meaningful communications and recognise the importance of adding meaningful quality of real, sustainable value.

Here's the proof -- according to the Meaningful Brands research study conducted by Havas Media, consumers are now willing to pay a premium for a product which is produced responsibly -- and the numbers have risen from 44 percent in 2010 to 53 percent in 2011.

Build products that matter. Add meaningful value to the life of your consumers. You'll see how that eventually translates to a sustainable progression in enhancing brand equity.

In fact, at the recent Cannes Lions 2012, six of the 10 Gold Media Lions awarded were for non-profits or for meaningful causes. That was no coincidence.

Using Social Media for Social Good

Social Media platforms present an immense opportunity for brands to become meaningful -- and the possibilities are endless.

We're in an age of transparency and collaboration -- where social media platforms have become the hotbed for communities to canvass for brands to address issues of accountability and social responsibility. It's an age where brands are not shaped in one single direction by themselves, but will evolve with the reaction and feedback from consumers.

BP's oil spill saga was one example of PR hell as the saga unfolded on social media platforms. A quick search on Twitter on the LIBOR scandal will turn up a wave of discussions resonating the distrust consumers have with the lack of accountability by financial institutions.

My previous work on various social media campaigns, coupled with my adventures on the Twitter, have made me a firm believer in this -- that media can be bought -- but attention and respect for a brand have to be duly earned. Respect from the communities can be earned only if a brand considers the act of being meaningful, open, and collaborative as part of their DNA.

Being on social is no longer a question. It's about being on social and doing it right.

"Doing good and doing well don't need to be mutually exclusive -- and you can do both."

Those were wise words from Morgan Spurlock, the documentary film-maker who spoke about his definitions of a meaningful brand at the Havas Cafe during the recent Cannes Lions.

Brands would have to be meaningful to stay relevant for the long haul. It's no longer just about having a return on investment -- it's time to consider a return on meaning too.

Brands, it's time to be meaningful to win.