From ‘consumers’ to ‘citizens’: why grocery brands need a new target audience

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As the hub of ‘retail normality’ during COVID-19, grocery brands have an opportunity to use a strong brand purpose to connect with local communities, a senior planner says.

Writing for WARC, Callum Saunders, Head of Planning at ZEAL Creative, argues that the pandemic has presented the industry with chance to address the confusion and misunderstanding that exists – among consumers, shoppers and businesses – about what exactly purpose-led marketing is.

“We are now in a prolonged period of ‘pandemic purgatory’ and the ‘new normal’ presents new opportunities,” he writes.

“As those who brand, market and sell some of Britain’s biggest grocery brands, we have a duty to ensure our grocery brands deliver against the purpose that looks so powerful in brand documents, but all too often stays sat within them.”

But how best to do that? If they’ve not done so already, one early action brands should consider is a slight shift in thinking when it comes to their ‘target audience’, he suggests.

“Purpose-led activations are embracing ‘citizens’, not just ‘consumers’,” Saunders observes.

“Claims that COVID-19 is a ‘great leveller’ are misleading,” he adds. “We know that the experience is very different across different socio-economic groups, communities, industries and geographic regions.”

The difference between ‘consumers’ and ‘citizens’ has been evident in the way many brands chose to show their support for the NHS and its staff – Kellogg’s and KIND Snacks, for example, provided food to NHS staff and keyworkers.

But other ‘citizens’ were also in need as businesses closed and not everyone fell into the furlough safety net. Contributing to food banks and charities has been one way for brands and retailers to help suddenly vulnerable people.

”For those who manufacture and sell grocery products for profit, adhering to ‘purpose’ dictated a moral obligation to support them,” Saunders states.

And if that was true at the start of the pandemic, it’s going to be even more so as the furlough scheme winds down next month and a tough winter looms ahead.

Brands should be alert to tactical opportunities to create goodwill through acts of humanity and generosity – especially if they have been proclaiming these virtues prior to the pandemic.

“Delivering on your ‘brand purpose’ will involve much stronger links with communities going forward, helping the most vulnerable through this period of economic hardship,” Saunders advises.

This article first appeared in knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu

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