There is a growing imperative for brands to transcend their products, services, and category to positively shape culture. This is being driven by several key factors including:
- Brands cannot survive in societies that fail.
- Millennials are demanding brands play and active social role and are rewarding them with their purchases. (Nielsen)
- Social responsibility mitigates the risk of consumer or media activism and drives employee and consumer loyalty. (Edelman)
As a result, more brands are framing their marketing around their purpose to genuinely have a positive impact and to respond to these new business drivers. Here are just a few examples:
Rose Macario, CEO of Patagonia, stated, “Business can be the most powerful agent for change and if business doesn’t change then I think we’re all doomed. Business that puts profit above people and the environment is not going to be a healthy and sustainable way for us to live and for the planet to survive.”
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, declared, “If you deny climate change get out of our stock. We don’t want to be associated with you.” Meanwhile, Google is cutting ties with political groups that don’t support climate change.
A collection of brands including the City of San Francisco, NASCAR, Salesforce, and Yelp united in the protest of Indiana legislation that denied a person’s right to marry whomever they loved.
So how do you become a brand that shapes culture and drives positive behavior change? Here are three key steps:
- Align Internally – If you want to be a brand that shapes culture you must ensure that the values you seek to promote are alive within your company culture and among your employees. To achieve this you must clearly communicate the purpose or mission of your company, and the core values of the brand, then provide employees with a toolkit of ways to participate in bringing these values to life. Only then will you inspire employees to become advocates for your brand and its values, and ensure that there’s an alignment between your internal and external communications. A great example of such employee engagement is the AT&T ‘Do One Thing’ campaign. Starbucks also brings to life their ‘Shared Planet’ platform with its partners through Community Service – localized community volunteer programming. The annual initiative, Global Month of Service, rallies the entire company as well as local communities to give back.
- Humanize your brand story – If you wish to engage your internal and external stakeholders around your efforts, you must relate to them in an accessible, inclusive and human way, rather than mandate participation or communicate with corporate-speak. To achieve this you can enlist the support of your visionary CEO (Elon Musk, Howard Schultz, Richard Branson being great examples), frame a human brand positioning and story through your marketing, and communicate with your audiences across digital, social and mobile channels in a very conversational tone that is focused on what impact you can achieve together rather than the contribution of the brand. Great examples of such communication are Whole Foods’ Values Matter platform, Chobani’s Commitment to Craft, Chipotle’s Food with Integrity positioning, and Panera Bread’s social enterprise, Panera Cares.
- Seek Authentic Impact – Rather than simply seek to impact culture so your brand can enjoy positive PR, you must design an impact program that can do without your brand or live beyond its participation. Only then will your stakeholder community truly believe that you’re committed to the result that will positively impact people’s lives, rather than your own self-interest (running the risk of accusations of cause washing or green washing). Patagonia provides many such examples of concrete social impact including their work around the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Damnation campaign and Patagonia Park. Unilever’s Lifebuoy also brings to life its commitment to Sustainable Living to create real impact through its numerous hand-washing programs around the world, including Global Handwashing Day.
The goal of taking such steps is to ensure that your brand and its communications are meaningful, relevant and engaging at a time when there is so much competition for consumer attention and those consumers are more distrustful of corporations and advertising.
If you are interested in creating a roadmap for how your brand brings its story to life in purposeful, engaging and impactful ways, join us at the We First Social Branding Summit. You’ll learn directly from top global marketers at some of the world’s leading brands and walk out with an actionable Social Branding Blueprint in your hand. The Summit is at the W Hollywood Hotel on October 6-7 and every attendee gets to invite her or his favorite non-profit for free. The Summit is limited to 200 guests so don’t wait. Individual and group tickets are available at WeFirst15.com.