WASHINGTON, DC — Nearly 90% of consumers want brands to step in and address social issues such as mental health, homelessness and income inequality, the PRovokeGlobal Summit heard yesterday.

Brands have an opportunity to use their ‘magic’ to help drive connection over shared values, experts said, but they need to look beyond their current target audiences. Speaking at a panel session, Lindsay Page, senior VP strategy at Citizen Relations, said a new report by the agency had quizzed some 3,000 respondents across the UK, US and Canada on the topic of connection.

The Citizens Connection Report, released yesterday, discovered that 57% of people felt alone even when surrounded by others and 30% were less likely to discuss controversial topics since the pandemic.

Susan McPherson, CEO of McPherson Strategies and author of The Lost Art of Connecting, told delegates: "There’s an opportunity for brands to step up and help consumers connect."

Page cited an initiative by Heineken alongside Danish organisation The Human Library which matched people with others willing to discuss a topic upon which they differed. "The impact of those conversations is huge," she said. "They were able to track progress across polarisation and differing opinions. That’s something brands don’t do enough of."

McPherson urged brands to speak out on issues, saying: "This goes back to findings around brands stepping up and standing for something, that can be a way to build connection. 

"It can go the other way too, but you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, so take the logical step and use your brand magic to drive connection."

The Citizen Relations study found that people felt more disconnected since the pandemic, but Mcpherson asserted that it was a ‘fallacy’ that Covid drove a sense of disconnection. "We had major issues of connective tissue between us before. The pandemic just escalated it."

Brands should also be looking beyond their current target audience or segments, Page and McPherson agreed. 

"It’s a notion and obsession to a fault for brands and clients to have a target audience, but we’ve seen brands untangle demographic laziness into more personality-based segments. It’s a proof point that we can’t be put into buckets," Page said.

McPherson added that brands should ‘open their eyes’, saying they often miss whole segments of the population with messaging due to having blinkers on.