Customers are increasingly expecting more from brands. Many consumers expect far more from companies than for them to increase profits. They expect organizations to “do good” in society.
A former executive director of strategy and planning and head of consulting at Interbrand, Anne Bahr Thompson, founded Onesixtyfourth, a strategic and creative consultancy, to help leaders integrate social responsibility into their brands, business strategy, and corporate culture. Her passion for challenging organizations to a more collaborative way of thinking grabbed my attention. And her new book, Do Good: Embracing Brand Citizenship to Fuel Both Purpose and Profit, is not only a call to action but a blueprint to help leaders move from a Me-to-We mentality of service.
I recently spoke with Anne about her work.
“When a brand clearly communicates what it delivers, it provides customers with a benchmark from which to measure all their interactions with that brand.” -Anne Bahr Thompson
What explains this incredible shift from a profits-only focus to one where we expect brands to “Do Good”?
There are a number of things underlying this shift. Overall, profound changes in technology, politics, the global economy, and the rise of social media have reshaped the landscape for business. The wired, digital world in which brands now operate has impacted the traditional pact between companies and their customers, employees, and stakeholders. As people’s expectations for their relationships with brands have shifted, businesses are finding that their success is tied to their ability to demonstrate that they are committed to doing good, helping to solve people’s bigger social and environmental concerns.
More specifically, five factors have been at play:
- On the most basic level, greater consciousness of people across the globe and social media demand that we pay attention to inequities we’ve previously been able to ignore. And, most people now acknowledge the planet does not have unlimited resources.
- Further, technology has reshaped our cultural narrative. The ability to cut and paste things together has trained us that we no longer need to choose between opposites. What follows is that the notions of making a profit while simultaneously doing good no longer seem at odds with one another.
- As many people have discussed, the power of social media and the impact of stories and images going viral have forced businesses to listen and respond in ways that are unprecedented for many of them.
- People are frustrated with partisan politics. Beginning in 2011, participants in my research were saying that business was better suited than government to step in and fix big problems.
- The economic downturn in 2008 accelerated a nascent trend that began with the digital revolution at the turn of the millennium, which emphasized a shift from shareholder to stakeholder value. Since then, big name investors such as Larry Fink of BlackRock and Jamie Dimon of JPMC have visibly promoted a shift in orientation from short-term returns to long-termism. Add in the rise of various movements beginning with Occupy Wall Street and extending to #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo and #GunControlNow, and it’s hard to ignore that the call for more equity and fairness in business decision making has grown stronger.
What is “Brand Citizenship”?
Brand Citizenship is an ethos that aligns purpose and profit. It’s a five-step model that emerged from the grassroots up, over three years of qualitative and quantitative research, deconstructing brand leadership from good corporate citizenship and favorite brands, which is a proxy for brand loyalty. Beginning with a meaningful purpose, Brand Citizenship simultaneously delivers benefits to individual customers and employees and betters the world. The five steps of the model – trust, enrichment, responsibility, community, and contribution – span across something I’ve labelled the ME-to-WE continuum. My research demonstrated that people look to the brands they buy and businesses they support to help solve their personal ME problems as well as their wider WE concerns about the environment, the economy and social issues.