I logged out of Facebook today. I’ll be back — but I needed to step away and evaluate. Although I enjoy using the platform and catching up with friends and family, the news from the New York Times that 50 million accounts have been breached gives me pause. I decided to log out on all my devices to think more deeply about the rewards versus the risks of using the platform. Am I willing to expose myself to that kind of risk? For what benefit? I like what Facebook allows me to do — but I expect technology to be implemented in an ethical way that protects me and my family and friends.

And I’m not alone. The tug between ethics and innovation is a major theme in the results of our Brands in Motion global study, and it extends far beyond just Facebook. Consumers are starting to question what role brands play in safeguarding consumer privacy.

Brands in Motion’s 2018 takeaways

The Brands in Motion annual global study tests the hypothesis that all brands are in constant motion, that their motion is driven or inspired by technology, and that the motion is relative to their category, market, competition, customers and stakeholders.

This year 27,000 consumers and B2B decision-makers in eight markets weighed in about seven different market forces, eight categories, and 90 different brands. Respondents provided perspective on industries based on six emotional and four rational drivers, as well as brands via 10 rational and 10 emotional drivers.

Three distinct themes emerged from the results of this year’s study.

1. Innovation meets ethics

Consumers have very high expectations for how brands can use innovative technologies, but most are afraid of how those same technologies might disrupt their lives. Worries over security and the effects of automation were particularly notable. These fears are causing consumers to demand accountability: 97 percent said it’s a brand’s responsibility to use technology ethically. And if brands can’t do it right, then 94 percent said it’s the government’s job to ensure the ethical use of tech.

And the harder brands push without safety protections in place, the closer they come to intervention. “This [latest data breach] is another sobering indicator that Congress needs to step up and take action to protect the privacy and security of social media users,” Mark Warner, a democratic congressman from Virginia, wrote in a statement quoted in the New York Times. How many consumers would disagree?

2. Show don’t tell

Consumers are responding to an increasingly chaotic and uncertain world by demanding proof over promise. Average global scores for rational drivers of brand motion are up 16 percent and average scores for emotional drivers are up 14 percent, indicating that consumers’ needs for reason are outpacing their needs to feel emotionally connected to a brand. In addition, a majority of consumers in 6 of the 8 markets we surveyed want to support brands that strike a balance between purpose and functionality (just like last year) — but in 5 of the 6 countries where we have year-over-year data, the number of consumers willing to support a functionality-only brand has increased. Functionality is truly foundational, but it would be a mistake to rule ethics and brand purpose out of the conversation. Even Amazon, a brand that has earned a loyal customer base with messages of rock-solid functionality, is starting to push stories of purpose and ethical responsibility. 

3. Brands should be willing to take a stand

Our Brands in Motion findings showed that most consumers — 74 percent globally — expect brands to take a stand on important issues. The data doesn’t suggest what issues consumers care the most about, or that brands should take a stand on every issue. Brands should stand for what is meaningful and relevant to them and their customers. For example, it makes sense for Nike to talk about athletes and sacrifice. Patagonia is a natural match for environmental issues. Brands must find that core of purpose from which to work.

Are we seeing a turning point in how consumers look at technology, privacy and security? Our Brands in Motion data indicates that may be the case. There may be an opportunity here for a brand to step up and take a stand. Which of the large tech brands will be the first to call out that mishandling and abusing consumers’ personal data is unacceptable, and push for the industry to do something about it?

There’s still more to discover in the Brands in Motion results, including how perceptions in key markets have changed in the past year, and surprising year-over-year shifts across many categories and brands. For more, visit our Brands in Motion page.

Kass Sells is the president of North America for WE Communications. He is responsible for leading and driving growth in the agency’s largest region, as well as overseeing the agency’s roster of global brands spanning the three core sectors of Technology, Healthcare and Consumer. In addition to managing and collaborating with the North America leadership team, Kass partners closely with WE’s EMEA and APAC leadership to ensure strong collaboration and results across global and regional client remits. He has more than 25 years’ experience in advertising, marketing and integrated communications across digital, advertising, media, direct and public relations, having worked with clients such as Hewlett-Packard, McDonald’s, Nokia, Mercy Corps, Group Health, T-Mobile, and Microsoft’s Windows, Office, Xbox and Surface brands.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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