Historically, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has put the emphasis on how businesses are doing good. It’s become an increasingly varied checklist of “things we’ve done right”. Today though, socially aware audiences want to do business with brands that are good. They want brands to assume real responsibility. And to share that story.
The ethical consumer may be a well identified buyer in the marketing press, but customers themselves seem somewhat confused by what counts as a responsible brand.
Perhaps it’s inevitable. At some stage, a brand is going to do something to upset customers and prospects. That’s the price companies pay for trading in an era of greater and greater transparency. The key question is: when something does go wrong, will your brand be forgiven?
I call it the goodness movement – the rush to appear responsible that has gripped global brands over recent years. Recognising that ethics, sustainability and CSR are now consideration factors in consumer purchasing (although we could debate the extent), brands are eager to show the world that they are doing what they can. But how much of what they are saying is actually driving how they operate and the decisions they make?
There’s crises and dangers everywhere we look. From ISIS to mass shootings, pandemics to weather events, Greek debt to commodity slumps, the actions and repercussions stream onto media in a seemingly endless scroll. In that sense the world we live in has changed little from when I was a child.
In a recent address at Cannes, Monica Lewinsky made a plea for brands to play a more direct role in building a compassionate society: one where the power of social media to generate shame and humiliation (and gain money by doing so) was eschewed in favour of an environment that collectively supported and inspired individuals and their actions.
So you’ve looked long and hard at how your brand is managed, and it’s clear that the truth has been allowed to slip. If you no longer want to be managing a deceitful brand, how do you find a way back?
Recently Jan Rijkenberg raised some interesting points in an article (thanks Jeremy) in which he questioned the importance, indeed the relevance, of underpinning individual brands with the identities of their corporate owners. It does brands no favours, he suggests, to collectivise them as part of the bigger entity. In so doing, he maintains, they lose their individuality and therefore their specific appeal.
We all want to do best by the brands we work for. We want them to be competitive, to gain share, to win … But in the bid to make that happen, some brands push the boundaries too far. Here are 19 signs your brand has lost sight of the truth.
As more brands seek to engage in what Denise Yohn has referred to as the “cultural conversations” of today, they encounter reactions ranging from strong endorsement to cynicism about their motives. Starbucks, for example, hit turbulence with its Race Together campaign. (There’s an excellent analysis of why here.) Levis on the other hand seems to have had an easier ride with its Water<Less campaign. Patagonia’s Don’t Buy This campaign was hailed by many as honest, genuine and utterly in keeping with their beliefs.