Consumers don’t think brands understand their problems

Leo Burnett's first HumanKind report finds ways brands can help with Canadians' anxieties, from finances and the environment to "wasting their life" at work.

Leo Burnett’s first annual HumanKind Study reveals that many of the changes Canadians are experiencing during COVID will have an impact that outlives the pandemic, especially when it comes to work/life balance and concern for the environment.

And what’s more, most of them don’t think brands, despite their best efforts, truly understand what they are going through.

The research polled 4,633 Canadians and was conducted on behalf of Leo Burnett by Maru Public Opinion. It reveals not only widespread financial unease, but also that half of respondents report concern they are “wasting their life” doing unfulfilling work, an insight that surprised Tahir Ahmad, Leo Burnett Canada’s chief strategy officer.

“That sentiment aligns with the big life changes we’re seeing some Canadians make – some not by choice – in response to the pandemic, including a change in careers and where they live,” Ahmad says. This means it’s important for brands to think beyond what is happening right now and shift their focus to the longer-term implications of these uncertain times, “a way forward that focuses not solely on profit or product, but on people and how we can lead more fulfilling lives.”

Another insight that surprised Ahmad is the extent to which Canadians believe their communities are divided: 50% remain concerned about racism, discrimination and divisiveness where they live.

“It’s clear there is a need for more action in this space,” Ahmad says. “For brands, it’s going to be about making a real impact when it comes to addressing these concerns.”

The survey reveals a lot more underlying despondency and pessimism about the state of the planet as well, with 55% of Canadians expressing concern that the Earth is past the point of saving. In particular, 62% of women feel the environmental damage humans have caused may be irreversible. Men, meanwhile, are more confident in the Earth’s ability to recover from environmental damage, because of good decision making and a belief that humankind can “fix” the problem through science and innovation.

“What we uncovered was an inherent tension between people’s current concern for the environment and their resistance to giving up their quality of life, which includes e-commerce convenience,” Ahmad says. “Instead, they expect brands to make their products more sustainable and environment friendly.”

Many brands have made efforts in recent years to have their marketing reflect to help consumers face these anxieties – or at least, they think they are. According to the study, 76% of Canadians don’t believe brands understand their problems.

“It’s an eye-opening stat,” Ahmad says, adding that it was seen across sectors, including financial services, telco, CPG and automotive. “The results aren’t currently positive, we believe this represents a tremendous opportunity for brands to continue acting and investing in providing solutions to the problems that Canadians care about.”

He tells strategy he’s seeing progress from brands on this front, be it implementing new technology and overhauling ESG strategies. But he warns the results of these effort aren’t always immediately apparent to consumers, and could be why Canadians may not be confident in or understand the role brands can play in improving their lives.

While the outlook appears grim, according to Leo Burnett, this is where the opportunity for brands lies. To help brands allay concerns, Leo Burnett Canada identified “key opportunities” as starting points to potential solutions, such as adopting equitable pricing models that can offer flexibility based on consumer need, boosting transparency measures and promoting healthier relationships with technology.

The agency is also releasing a new “Think Forward” product, which will provide brands with a roadmap to solve consumer problems by touching on everything from products and services to customer experiences and advertising.