Conscious Brands goes on tour at Web Summit 2020

The new era of the Conscious Brand was the hot topic today at a Web Summit roundtable for industry leaders.

Co-hosting the discussion, our CEO Sairah Ashman and senior strategy director David Stevens set out what we at Wolff Olins believe is the future for brands, with an equal need to be both responsible (helping people, partners and the planet grow) and responsive, ready to adapt and innovate.

To be ‘conscious’ means to be aware of and respond to your surroundings.

So by calling for more conscious brands, we are calling for businesses to stop ignoring - consciously or not - the world around them. From debates surrounding race, privilege, and inequality, to fake news, automation and climate change, these societal issues all make for front page news but are often uncomfortable arenas for brands.

In addition, brands can also frequently make us feel unimportant or unseen on an individual level - bombarding us with tone deaf advertising, repetitive emails, notifications, demands for our data and personalised recommendations that are obviously the work of a mindless bot. You liked that, so you’ll like this. Or maybe you won’t. 

By choosing to ignore these kinds of issues - personal and planetary - brands risk becoming insensitive and irrelevant.

Today, we laid out the 6 Signs of a Conscious Brand, exploring the key qualities and best case examples of how some brands are standing out from the crowd.

During the lively debate at Web Summit, we discussed the need to push brands to do better. But we also took ourselves to task: thinking about the questions we should ask ourselves about the brands that we – and companies like us – are willing to work with.

For example, we could ask ourselves:

What behaviours do we look for, but also, what behaviours are we willing to ‘overlook’?

How responsible are potential clients even when they operate in highly unregulated, liberal markets?

How much does a company care about the happiness of its employees, rather than just their pay?

Thanks so much to those who attended.

And come join us at another Web Summit session tomorrow, 3 December, 1.55pm, where our CEO Sairah Ashman is in discussion with the BBC’s chief design offer, Ellie Runcie, to pinpoint lessons from this new era of digital connections between brands and their customers, which dawned in 2020. Sairah and Ellie will also forecast likely trends for 2021.