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Division. Conflict. Isolation. Trauma. 2020 has left permanent scars on most of us and people are exhausted. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated an even stronger sense of individual responsibility among consumers, employees and peers – and it’s time to act.

And in the age of credibility, silence is the sound of defeat.

Things will never go back to ‘normal’

According to research from Deloitte, millennials and gen Zs have a strong resolve and a vision to build a better future, driven in no small part by the unprecedented health and economic disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

This steadfast belief that the world simply must be better will leave an indelible mark on history. In the future, historians will probably look back on our era and remark the lasting and irreversible impact that this generation – hardened by the extraordinary challenges they faced – had on the world.

All change is good… eventually

This may sound idealistic, but history shows that every generation in recent history that was forged in traumatic global events – from war to cultural revolution – has irreversibly changed the planet, usually for the better.

This generation, already awake to the value of purpose and ethics and armed with a level of digital sophistication that far exceeds any previous demographic, won’t hesitate to penalise companies whose stated and practiced values conflict with their own battle-hardened beliefs.

In 2021 and beyond, consumers will make efforts to actively support smaller, local sellers, but also those who openly demonstrate their purpose and values in authentic and credible ways. Just take a look at Patagonia’s story to see what’s possible.

In the age of credibility, silence is the sound of defeat

Brands can no longer afford to be silent on issues of purpose. To be relevant, we have to take a stance. And to be liked, we have to tell the truth. And the truth is not negotiable, and it can never be faked (and trust me, many have tried).

Above all, it has to be true. From brand to business strategy, everything has to align behind a higher purpose. Those who fake it will falter, as this sophisticated and finely-attuned generation of consumers, employees and decision makers take control of the world – slowly but unavoidably.

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For brands, this calls for a radical shift to ethics and purpose. Movements like B Corp are already gathering pace, as businesses strive to become a genuine force for good in the world.

However, this type of change has to run through the core of organisations and stretch far beyond marketing or brand messaging. Employees and culture can only do so much, but if the leadership isn’t on board, nothing will change.

This type of commitment to truth and meaning can only come from the very top, and only if those who control the decisions really believe in it.

Your best people will want to believe in you

As businesses address meaningful employee needs from diversity and inclusion to sustainability and skills training, this generation will invest themselves in causes and beliefs that reach far beyond monetary goals.

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One permanent change to the workplace brought about by the pandemic is the displaced workplace – either full or partial shifts to remote work. With the increasing number of people working from home or from remote locations, the dynamics of the typical workplace will change forever.

No longer bound by the physical effects of proximity or casual conversation, culture and belief in a greater purpose beyond the daily tasks will take on a whole new dimension in the workplace of the future.

Purpose-driven companies of the future will make the ethical, sustainable and inclusive things seem normal, rather than make current operating practices appear more ethical than they are.

Just like with their brand choices, your best employees will make efforts to find companies to work for who openly demonstrate their purpose and values in authentic and credible ways – and they’ll see right through it when they don’t.

What does it mean for marketers and brand leaders?

Not only do chief executives and leaders need to draw on everything we’ve learned to deal with the pandemic and its aftermath, we also need to learn new skills from lessons never before taught. How businesses respond is a central part of the story playing out.

Leaders must concentrate on the intersection of social impact and brand.

  • Invest in your brand: brands can no longer be obsessed with saying what people want to hear. It’s time to put an end to the shallow compliance of the past, and live by the confident, authentic meaning of why you exist. Even if that needs some work.

  • Take your values off the wall: your personality isn’t written on your clothes, so your values aren’t something you write on a wall. It’s time to truly live by them. No longer the forgotten code, let them truly define and guide everything you do – if you can’t make it fit, then they’re not true values. It cannot be faked.

  • Love your people: a company is only as good as the people at the bottom want it to be, and everyone is watching. Make that your number one concern. It shapes your brand more than you will ever know.

  • Power in collective good: when we re-emerge, we will see drastically different patterns of consumption and purpose from those we saw before. As we make increasingly “right” choices about what we buy and do, brands will increasingly be left behind if they don’t follow suit with authenticity and truth.

Stop manipulating perception, start telling the truth

Brands have always tried to manipulate perception; to be relevant to users no matter what, in an attempt to fit into their predetermined concept of good. But this needs to change. Instead, ask how can you make people feel relevant and secure in a decade of undefined chaos?

In the future, the best brands will be rooted in human purpose, and this calls for a change of perspective. A brand’s purpose will only be relevant if it sits within people’s own purpose, not the other way around.

To find that north star, be guided by a true sense of purpose. Your people will help lead the way, if you’re willing to listen and they believe in your reason why.

To survive the future, invest in trust.

Julio Taylor is chief executive officer at Hallam.