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The Endangered State of Belonging: A Preview of Our Global Belonging Study

Mooney_Headshot Kelly Mooney, CEO Jun. 20, 2017

We’re at an exciting juncture in our global investigation of human belonging and brands with global market research and consulting firm Ipsos. From far-ranging and disarmingly candid discussions with 200 citizens of six countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China, Germany and the US—a gripping global portrait of the need for a deeper sense of belonging is coming into view. Family and friends, places of birth and worship, the workplace, sports and charitable causes: the sources of belonging are universal and nearly timeless.

The obstacles to the human experience and feeling of belonging, however, are far more culturally specific and distinctly modern. With a kind of ripped-from-the-headlines quality, we see as resounding forces growing economic inequality—even as more of the world’s population is lifted from poverty—political instability and distrust, environmental anxiety, and the technologizing of interpersonal communications. Other nearly universal impediments to belonging include intolerance, racism and excessive self-involvement.

We look forward to issuing later this summer a report on all our findings and the important interplay of belonging and brands. Here are a few high level insights from our initial discussions with citizens in six countries that span the “belonging spectrum”—from more collectivist to more individualist societies:

Though over 800 million Chinese have moved out of poverty due to rapid urbanization and industrialization, the fast pace of change has damaged trust and affiliative behavior, as have the cronyism and greed of Communist Party officials, more exposed under President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign. Brands that enrich belonging do so by providing a positive, or even aspirational outlook on life; promoting economic development; and supporting social causes.

Coping with corruption, social injustice and economic precariousness, Brazilians are curbing their indulgent impulses. Belonging is strongly tied to the self-esteem that comes from contributing to society, and as a collectivist culture, brands that cultivate community around themselves and promote social welfare are highly valued.

Heavily promoted historic successes such as the annexation of Crimea and the World War II victory create a deep sense of nostalgia and belonging, especially among older Russians. But years of economic instability and a perceived powerlessness to influence the political process have led to low levels of trust, even in brands. Brand values have shifted from self-expressive to survivalist, such as reliability and utility.

India remains the world’s fastest growing major economy, and the materialism of the burgeoning middle class is met with national pride. Indians’ deeply engrained gregariousness means that what they buy, they physically share. Beloved brands make strongly emotional appeals, assist Indians with their aspirations for achievement, wellness and social good, and are often associated with celebrities or founders who are accessible and altruistic.

The refugee crisis, and the rise of Eurosceptic and nationalist parties, are putting stress on the experience of belonging, one that Germans value personally and as a country since Reunification. With the fastest-growing advanced economy, German consumers’ brand expectations are high: brands must offer complete reliability, innovation and style, while upping the ante on altruism, social interaction and personalization.

As a highly individualistic culture, but currently, a politically polarized and economically segregated one, Americans associate belonging with the freedom to be oneself while being accepted by the group. Brand values are increasingly post-materialist, such as personalized care for one’s well-being, experiential richness and a foundational commitment to social causes, far beyond obligatory CSR standards.

If you’re interested in hearing some of the specific responses and anecdotes from our qualitative pop-up communities around the world, tune into our latest episode of The Belonging Brief with Ipsos SVP, Christie Moorman. If these qualitative findings fascinate you as much as they fascinate us, you’ll be glad to hear that we’re almost finished fielding the quantitative portion of our research. We can’t wait to share everything we find about the impact of human belonging on brand equity.


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