The UN’s recently published Sustainable Development Goals, or ‘SDGs’ have been far from headline-grabbing, despite their massive ambition in laying out a more positive future. Not to mention the gargantuan achievement of winning the endorsement of every nation on earth.

Although the ‘SDGs’ sound a little like something you might want to avoid, the 17 goals actually lay out an exciting and optimistic plan for a better future; yet they remain somewhat mystifying to the mainstream public.

Alongside government and civil society, business has the potential to play an important role in bringing these goals to public attention and delivering against them to bring about real change. So what can we do to engage people with the SDGs in a meaningful way through their interactions with brands?

We should start, of course, with insight. In this case, we need to understand where people are at with regards to ‘world issues’ both emotionally and rationally.

Recently at Brand Legacy we conducted some qualitative research with ‘mainstream’ UK consumers – the ‘Practicals’ and the ‘Aspirationals’ who make up 37% and 35% of the UK population respectively according to a 2012 Globsecan survey.

We uncovered a few key insights, which can help inform the approach which brands can take, including:

  1. Trust: There is far less cynicism than you might expect. People are by and large trusting and hopeful that ‘others’ whether governments or companies, will ‘do the right thing’
  2. Information: People do not want to be taken as fools, or be sold greenwash. They don’t want to be bombarded with information, but they do want it available if they want to find out more.
  3. Transparency: People expect honesty and transparency from all big organisations, whether companies or governments or third sector. And social media means that bad corporate behaviour can be quickly discovered and diffused, as we know from recent cases from BP to VW.
  4. Accessibility: People want to take action where they can, but there are some SDGs that feel simply too big or two far away from their own spheres of influence. Breaking down the SDGs into meaningful themes gives people the chance to do something, however small, against those SDGs more directly in their control, such as food waste.
  5. Context: People do want the bigger picture. Give people a sense of how by all working together, big and small, we can make a difference towards achieving a better world. Sounds cheesy but people are looking for some optimism in a negative media age.

In conclusion, consumers increasingly expect brands to take action on global concerns when these fall into their sphere of influence. Whilst consumers are currently unfamiliar with the SDGs per se, they provide a useful framework against which to redefine and sharpen your Brand Purpose. In our next blog we outline some guidelines to consider when seeking to connect consumers with a refreshed Brand Purpose constructed through the SDG lens.