It’s never been easier for large corporations to kill their brands quickly. Emboldened by examples as far ranging as Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks – and armed with connective technology that allows them to communicate and organize themselves in unprecedented ways – customers now demand greater transparency, authenticity and accountability from brands in return for their purchases.
Recent examples include the global protests against Monsanto over genetically modified organisms, pushback against insensitive remarks about plus sizes by the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch and outcry against apparel companies associated with the factory collapse – and related deaths – in Bangladesh.
This dynamic is rapidly becoming the mainstay of consumer engagement and its management by brands. Three big social trends are driving this change: the accelerating pace of social and mobile technologies, which has large and costly implications for how corporations structure and market themselves; a daunting cocktail of global social crises – climate change, obesity and loss of biodiversity, to name a few – that individually threaten companies’ ability to thrive and together invite ever-increasing scrutiny from civil society, government and customers; and the rising tide of customer activism from well-informed and media-savvy customers.
The world’s smartest marketers are taking three steps, in this order, to respond to these social shifts: