Guest blog: What does Better Futures mean for your business?

14 Feb 2019
SOURCE:
Janisa Parag, Head of Strategy and Planning at True

This week, Colmar Brunton launched their 10th Better Futures report, looking at what New Zealanders think about social and environmental issues. Janisa Parag from True looks at what these insights mean for New Zealand businesses.

Key outtake 1: New Zealanders want business to leverage their scale and influence to help consumers change behaviour

New Zealanders believe the country and business are doing well, yet social conditions, environment and communities are deteriorating. A gap exists between business doing well and real behaviour change. In consumers’ eyes, tackling social issues is no longer around mitigating risk, it’s about making a tangible difference to the community you are operating in.

The Colmar Better Futures Report aligns closely with some work we have done recently on the Cultural Codes of New Zealand – in that there is an expectation that businesses take on increased role as “policymakers” – leveraging their scale and influence to change behaviour. Customers are open to business taking an active role in changing New Zealand for the better.

This shift of brands as policy makers is best demonstrated by Countdown and Foodstuffs identifying that consumers wanted action on the problem of plastic bags, something that Kiwis felt the government hadn’t yet tackled. Both organisations pledged to ban single use bags by the end of 2018 and are making it easy for customers by either making reusable bags covetable or slashing the price of their existing reusable bags.

But, here’s the catch. Businesses just can’t hop on a social or purpose bandwagon. Instead they must find an issue that’s relevant to their category and their core purpose. And then they need to focus on ways to help their customers change their own behaviour. Anything else seems disingenuous – for example, the recent Gillette move into social responsibility has received a mixed response, with accusations of purpose washing seeming self-serving rather than helping consumers change behaviour.

Key outtake 2: Having an authentic position on social issues will help attract employee talent

The Colmar Brunton research also shows businesses are better at articulating their stories around sustainability to employees than consumers. This is crucial – if your employees don’t understand why a business is tackling a particular issue, then your customers won’t either.  The research points to the fact that more employees are choosing their place of work through the values they hold and demonstrate.

Companies that have strong employee value propositions have a competitive edge when it comes to attracting new talent, as well as increased engagement with current employees.

Start with your own people before you start telling your story to the rest of New Zealand.

Key outtake 3: Think about your particular relationship to environmental issues

The Colmar Brunton study shows New Zealand are deeply connected to our natural environment. This is also reflected in our Cultural Codes study where one of the central values of being a New Zealander is Connection to Nature. Recognising the unique relationship New Zealanders have with the environment versus other cultures like the UK or even Australia is crucial.

The importance of nature is not only the role in protecting what we have today – but more so in allowing nature to flourish for future generations.  However, with busy lives, too much screen time and a growing population, there is a sense that this connection is not as strong as it once was. As a result, nature is a value that we continue to connect with as opposed to a cultural code that we are currently living by. In fact, of all the cultural codes, connection to nature is the code Kiwis feel has changed most over time – for the worse.

Our advice is to think less in terms of saving the environment and more about connecting New Zealanders to nature in a way that’s relevant for your category. For example, if you are in the food production category – then clean waterways and actions around this makes sense. In order to tell a clear sustainability story, you don’t want customers questioning why.

Additionally – if businesses just think about the environment – they are missing the point. Business needs to think more about the Triple Bottom Line: social, environmental (or ecological) and financial. Air New Zealand is a great example of an organisation that has adopted the TBL framework to evaluate their performance in a broader long-term perspective.

Key outtake 4: Environmental action will be core to business/consumer operation

How we value the environment today reflects our society and community. While we may not have the chance to enjoy our country’s natural beauty as much as we’d like, Kiwis are anxious to see that it is protected for future generations. Individuals, government and business have a big role to play in ensuring our great outdoors survives for generations to come.

The relationship between nature, communities and business is already intertwined. Treating social and environmental issues as part of a CSR programme is already outmoded. Putting social issues at the heart of your business purpose means you have a clear position in market – examples globally of adidas and Patagonia show that a focus on sustainability can pay off commercially.

We predict that purpose – where a business has a clear role to play protecting and enhancing in the community it operates – will drive competitive advantage. And this is not a long-term goal – we see this happening in the next 18 months.

What are Cultural Codes?

We looked at what it means to be a New Zealander today.  To help guide New Zealand businesses as we build brands fit to face a disrupted future, we have identified 6 Cultural Codes of New Zealand.

Key findings are:

  • A broad agreement that not everyone has benefited from progress: People think the country is doing well and that NZ business is prospering which is something to be proud of, but they also believe that social conditions are on a downward trend.
  • Harder to personally impact climate change: Values about concerns about the negative impact of climate change is growing are increasing, whereas belief in their ability to and motivation to act personally is decreasing – instead they think it is the role of business to facilitate actions that will mitigate climate change issues.
  • Social equivalence on the rise: Patriotism and nationalism is on the increase as people are proud of their country because they believe we are doing well in areas such as Māori rights and women’s roles in the workplace, same sex marriage etc. But although authoritarianism is decreasing, people do want to see social equivalence being achieved within a harmonious society.
  • Desire to leave the land in a better place than when you found it: New Zealanders value the natural environment which is increasing as we become more urbanised but they also believe that the quality of the natural environment is deteriorating and they fear their children will have a poorer life as a result.

Janisa Parag is Head of Strategy and Planning at True.