BRAND BELONGING: Understanding and satisfying basic needs

Part two of our blog series dissecting our 2023 Communication that Matters report covers brand belonging, where understanding and satisfying basic needs is essential.  

Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a framework to building brand belonging, we take a deep dive into each structure, deploying each need as a building block to fostering belonging with stakeholders. We pinpoint the unique challenges, insights and opportunities that each need presents to the creation of a Responsible Business.    

In this article, we discuss understanding and satisfying basic needs as a brand in an ever-changing environment, and what it means for communicators on the front lines.  

Basic needs: The challenge 

The basic requirements stakeholders have of brands are different to, and less static than, Maslow’s definition. Meeting these needs requires a deep understanding of audiences and how they’re being affected by factors in the wider world, for example the cost-of-living crisis and job insecurity.  

Communicators’ role is to have their finger on the pulse of these changing needs and play it back to the business, ensuring products and services, or working environments, are adapted accordingly, or that stakeholders are reassured that their needs are being met. 

Basic needs: What we’re seeing 

For consumers and B2B customers, meeting basic needs can be as simple as providing a fitfor-purpose, affordable product or service for customers.  

However, as Accenture recently reported, an environment of constant change is causing a lack of focused decision-making amongst consumers. For example, they may want to shop more sustainably and locally but increasing cost of living pressures favour more affordable, convenient options that allow their budgets to stretch further. As their needs and decision-making criteria change in response to what is happening worldwide, consumers expect brands to keep up, to market and flex their products or services accordingly. Otherwise, they’ll simply shop elsewhere.  

For staff, our research found that alongside job security, flexibility is considered the leading basic requirement of employers and a critical marker of trust. Flexibility as a concept differs by organisation and individual, but in practical terms the Australian Government’s Fair Work Ombudsman defines it as ranging from having arranged around hours of work (changes to start and finish times), patterns of work (such as split shifts or job sharing), and locations of work (ranging from working from home to working from different locations through to Work from Anywhere policies.)  

Hays Recruitment’s recent research argues that alongside a financial salary, an “emotional salary” consisting of the right mix of benefits, work-life balance, upskilling, and personal fulfilment is essential to retention. Brands that reject flexibility will lose staff with around half (48%) of all employee respondents to our survey saying that while they may not be looking to move jobs right now, they would take a role elsewhere if the right opportunity presented itself. 

Basic needs: What this means for communicators 

Building a fit-for-purpose product and applying flexible working practices may seem outside the scope of the communications team, however the role of effective communications is essential to achieving both. 

Products that align with needs 

Half of the consumer respondents in our research stated that brand belonging requires companies to be responsive to and create products and services that align with their needs. Communicators aren’t responsible for product design, but their role here is to understand the needs of consumers and customers and consistently feed this back to the business to influence necessary change. 

There are numerous social listening tools that can be used, alongside regular customer surveys, to help communicators and brands keep abreast of customer needs. Keeping on top of the global news agenda, listening to stakeholder conversations, and having a voice or perspective on critical social issues have become increasingly important for organisations. Consumers and employees expect brands to respond in real-time, via social, earned, and owned media to the issues that affect them.  

All these tactics help brands adapt their messaging and services to continue to support customers’ basic needs as they change, while not losing sight of their primary vision and mission. 

Flexible working with fixed messaging 

When Commonwealth Bank announced a company policy requiring most staff back in the office 50% of the week from mid-May, employees responded with uproar and criticism around their employer’s respect for mental wellbeing and cost of living concerns. From the perspective of employees, this is an example of so-called ‘Productivity Paranoia’, defined as leaders feeling they are less in control of the output and productivity of a workforce that isn’t in the office. With flexibility considered a basic need by employees, this is not something they’re willing to compromise on.  

Communicators have a role to act as a mediator between leadership and employees, encouraging productive and strategic two-way dialogue between the two groups.  

Leaders need to be kept up to date on the value of flexibility for staff, for example the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) argues that flexible work has the potential to boost women’s workforce participation and provides more equitable access to leadership and male-dominated industries. Flexible work also benefits the business’s bottom line, with 85% of employees feeling more productive due to hybrid work. The importance of having the right technology to measure productivity, as well as an understanding of the messaging that resonates with leaders, is therefore critical.  

On the other hand, employees need to recognise the importance of in-person collaboration, which should not be lost in favour of flexibility. Gallup argues that working from home all the time reduces connection to an organisation’s culture, impairs collaboration and relationships, and disrupts work processes. These factors all then impact the ability to foster workplace belonging. 

Communicators play a large role in paving the way to brand belonging. From keeping businesses informed of the dynamic needs of their stakeholders to mediating discourse between the two, communicators must not underestimate their part in influencing necessary change.  

In our next article, we delve into the intricacies of safety and security in a dynamic environment, discussing the need for brand transparency and honesty when communicating news affecting stakeholders.  

Interesting in learning more? 

If you’re interested in learning more about our belonging framework or organising a meeting with our team to deep dive into the findings of the report, we’d love to hear from you. Just reach out and we can arrange a free consultation with our communications experts.  

Part two of our blog series dissecting our 2023 Communication that Matters report.