How To Survive In The New Conscience Economy

Welcome to the conscience economy

In the last few months the world as we knew it changed forever. On a global scale, recent events have forced us all to rethink what was really important to us, recalibrate our way of life and our ways of thinking. Welcome to the new conscience economy.

Whilst social consciousness has recently been on the rise, the exposure of mankind’s fragility and vulnerability has meant that in just a few short months, we now take a lot less for granted and think a lot more about others.

We have gone from caring deeply about ourselves and the environment to also caring more about each other and mankind too.  

We have entered the new Conscience Economy

Long before COVID-19 and the social divide caused by racial inequality, 91% of millennials said they would switch brands for one which champions a cause. What do you think that percentage would be for millennials now, and every other generation for that matter? 

This newfound awareness of, and sense of responsibility for our fellow man, will for many, remain after the virus is under control and the protesters have left the streets. Soon, we will again be free to consume and pursue the things in life we once took for granted. Only now, we will do it guided by our conscience.

Welcome to the Conscience Economy. Because when making purchase decisions, we will no longer just ask “what’s in it for me?”

In the new Conscience Economy, we will think beyond ourselves and ask: “What’s in it for our community, mankind and the planet?”

There will be winners and losers

The term ‘business as usual’ is a dangerous one, because businesses who manage to endure the economic crisis and make it through the disruptions and lockdowns will have two choices:

Become an irrelevant business, ignoring the new consumer sentiment, by returning to the ‘business as usual’ way of operating;

Or . . .

Become a relevant brand, acknowledging that we have changed forever, by adapting to and embracing this change and new sentiment.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it

As Australia slowly re-emerges from months of forced hibernation, consumers will be looking for more meaningful experiences across every aspect of their lives. They will not look for a business that serves just their needs or wants, they will look for a purpose-driven brand that also serves the wider community and the planet too.  

And in a world where we’ve all had to consider our actions and the impact we have on others and the community, brands that don’t have a purpose beyond themselves don’t have much of a future. Especially beyond the government stimulus packages.

Brands with clarity of purpose will typically outperform those without

For many years, smart businesses have already chosen to build a purpose-driven brand. Insightful leaders have recognised a brand purpose should serve more than just the company. And for good reason. It’s been proven that brands with clarity of purpose typically outperform those without.  

A study between 1926 and 1990 by Jim Collins showed a group of “visionary” companies — those guided by a purpose beyond making money — returned six times more to shareholders than explicitly profit-driven rivals*. 

In more recent times, Unilever is a business that chose to adapt to consumers’ growing social conscience. In 2016 their Sustainable Living brands were growing more than 50% faster than the rest of the business and accounted for 60% of the total growth. In 2019, seven of Unilever’s top ten performing brands were Sustainable Living brands.

Being guided by a strong brand purpose is a common thread

It’s clear that socially aware and responsible people will always choose and remain loyal to purpose-driven brands over a business any day. Today, following the COVID-19 global crisis and the Black Lives Matter movement, the amount of people with a heightened sense of social awareness and responsibility has increased exponentially.

So, which will you choose? Build a purpose-driven brand and try to become relevant. Or stay in the ‘business as usual’ bucket and risk becoming irrelevant

In the Conscience Economy, people will be looking for brands to not just align with their aesthetics, they want purpose-driven brands to also align with their values. People want to know ‘why’ you do what you do and how it helps others and the planet. 

What do the next 6 months look like

Those with money to spend will have fewer options to spend it on. For example, in 2018-19 Australians spent $65 billion on outbound international travel.^   

With international borders pretty much closed, there is potentially an additional $65 billion that Australians will have to spend in Australia – and that’s just one category.

In the new Conscience Economy, where do you think you’ll spend? On businesses that are largely seen to be caring about themselves, or purpose-driven brands that care for customers, community and planet?

How will you compete?

When restrictions are eased and consumption returns to some semblance of normality, you need to ask yourself “how will I stand out?”

  • What’s my point of difference? 
  • What do I stand for?  
  • How do I serve others beyond myself?

Final thoughts

If we’ve learnt anything from the current health, economic and racial crises, it’s that when it comes to life, we all need to be more conscious of our actions, because we are all connected and we are all in this together. 

This year, mankind and the world just got a lot smaller and a lot more fragile than we ever thought. Yet despite all the restrictions, social distancing and racial tension, we all became a lot closer. Those that recognise this will be in a much better position than those that don’t.

About the Author

Jamie Kwong has worked on brands for over 35 years in Sydney, London and New York, runs his own branding and creative agency Workshop and the highly successful purpose-driven brand, The Little Black Shack.


* Jim Collins “Built to Last” 1994

^ ABC News, ABC News Radio interviews with Tourism Australia MD Phillipa Harrison 14.5.20 and 18.5.20. 

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Jamie Kwong
Jamie Kwong

Jamie lives in Newport with his wife Ingrid, 3 children - Indiana, Jye and Fin as well as Luna the dog. He is passionate about his family, sustainability and their Little Black Shack. He loves cooking and growing his own food, making things out of wood, building dry stone walls, fishing, surfing, diving and anything to do with the ocean.