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So what is causing things to move from being discombobulated to  “it’s really very complicated” in the world of brand communications?

We recorded a conversation recently that opened Pandora’s box for us. We are now in a dive into the complex state of affairs and the various issues brands have to face in the new era of the 21st century. We explore deeper from the conversation between Ross Drakes founder of Nicework, about the various trends disrupting the business as usual of traditional brand communications with Dion Chang founder of Flux Trends, one of South Africa’s most respected trends experts. Come on a journey with us.

Let’s talk about “do good” brands and the huge influence of Generation Z

A major theme emerging in the world of business is Impact beyond the Bottom Line and Corporate Responsibility.

According to a Prosumer report by Havas a few years back, 80% of the respondents globally said that it is no longer up to governments to push for positive change, big business has that responsibility too.

It’s also not in the traditional context of ticking the box of CSI, sustainable reporting and other legislative compliance. Nope, there is a whole breed of new humans, with spending power and influence who will be holding brands accountable. According to Dion Chang, these guys’ “social justice barometer is through the roof”. Generation Z, is on the rise and are coming of age.

This generation is emerging into the workforce and becoming your consumers. They are not going to give you any kind brand loyalty if you are not clear and outspoken about where your brand values sit. They sure as hell are not going to work for you if you don’t know why you exist, your impact on the world and what your values are. This is amplified in a South African context where we have an urbanising youth who are getting access to freedom, cash on a level we have never seen before.

Members of Generation Z are generally born from 1995 to 2010, they are true digital natives, that means that from their earliest youth they have been exposed to the internet, social networks and mobile systems. They are very comfortable with collecting and cross-referencing many sources of information. That also means that they can integrate virtual and offline experiences seamlessly.

According to a recent Mc Kinsey report “True Gen: Generation Z and its implications for companies” for this generation, the main spur to consumption is the search for truth personally and in a community, augmented by the search for authenticity.

So from a business and brand perspective, this is a very uncomfortable space to be in. The old way of doing things is to keep your shareholders happy and drive bottom-line performance.  For this generation specifically “bottom line business is a distasteful thing”

– Dion Chang.

So why should you care? If you scour the internet for stats and information on Generation Z, you will see that this generation has more influence than generations before it and in the US alone they already make up 25% of the population. From an African perspective, Gen Z-ers already make up 20% of the population according to a report by Liquid Telecom, The University of Cape Town’s Business School’s report cites that they already make up a third of South Africa’s population, that is 33.3% – Wow, that is significant. So Gen Z is a very real phenomenon and on the rise, take note everybody!

South Africa Gen Z already makes up a third of our population and in Brazil, they make up 20% of the population.

What does this mean for businesses? Well, you need to rethink how you deliver value – weigh mass production up against personalisation and practice what you preach authentically and have a proverbial leg to stand on. We see it a simple problem to solve. Ask yourself what are we actually doing for our consumers, our community and the world at large? Hint it does not mean you need to rush out there and save the dolphins and hug trees. It requires an understanding that you need to make intentional choices about the way you do business and interact with the world.

“We’ve seen brands wanting to do good and crafting good messages they thought were going to be good, thoughtful and meaningful and then it just explodes back into their faces” The response of gen Z to this is, “hey well you should be doing good anyway…” – Dion Chang

So what is a B-Corporation Listing?

Something interesting that Flux Trends has noted on their radar in South Africa is the concept of the B-Corporation Listing. This is a formal way to be audited in terms of transparency and impact. They assess your company on your social and environmental impact on the world.

Listed companies include Patagonia, Denon, Ben and Jerry’s, Unilever Dannon, to name a few global brands. These are all companies who have said – come and audit us, we are completely open to that assessment and we are going to try to be completely transparent. It’s not just about shareholders, it is workforce related, societal and environmental. That is a huge paradigm shift.

“We have to move out of the social economy and more into an impact economy, it is becoming more and more important for a company to define what its impact is” – Ross Drakes

With 12 years of experience in working with a diverse range of brands and their communities, Ross agrees that a key challenge for brands is to move out of the social economy and into the impact economy. McKinsey’s take on the impact economy is that a mature impact economy features a market clearing quantity of solutions to social and environmental challenges, in which consumers are increasingly aware of the social and environmental impact of businesses and prefer buying goods and services that help make a positive impact.

The Nicework team has learnt that as a brand by understanding your purpose, you can define your impact. For many big brands, the truth behind why they really exist is obscured by the drive for sales, market exposure and bottom line growth…doing good is something the CSI department takes care of. Tick…!

Even if you are an accounting firm or a bank where your service does not necessarily affect positive change on the environment, how do you define your impact and how do you make that work? What keeps us heading in this direction is the potential outcome. If we get this right, you get to have a positive impact with your clients, your staff and their family and the country. The side effects of that and the consumer loyalty that comes with it will be market exposure and bottom line growth. Now, who doesn’t want to be adored and wealthy?

What does Employee Wellness have to do with things?

One of the key aspects of corporate responsibility is inward facing, this includes the holistic wellbeing of the workforce and the Flux Trends team found that the free fruit bowl you have been putting in the staff room doesn’t cut it anymore either. Sorry.

Many of you are saying “But we like our free fruit bowls”… Ja, but you have to do more than that according to Dion Chang.

Looking after your workforce holistically means looking at elements which include career wellbeing (mentoring and a growth path), social and community wellbeing and another pillar which has recently been added is financial wellbeing.

If you consider the fact that 1% of the population is financially fine, the bottom of the pyramid is not fine and the middle class is really worried, globally, but especially in South Africa – looking at brand productivity inwardly, you can also make a correlation between mental health, financial pressure the wellness of your workforce and productivity.

It is important to think about brand communications to your internal audience. What we are referring to here in terms of brand comms is not just the performance of a brand outwardly toward customers; it is to make sure your culture is aligned to that promise internally. It means that as an organisation you need to make sure that the entire ecosystem of your company culture is up to speed with what you are projecting externally.

Back to employee wellness. The team at Flux Trends started investigating mental health and wellbeing. They discovered people were at work but not present. So they started to drill down between the concepts of being absent, absenteeism and presenteeism.

As an example, looping back to financial wellness, presenteeism is when you are at work but so stressed out about personal financial affairs that you might as well not be at work. Something Flux Trends advocated was for companies to give staff members a day off or to bring a financial advisor into work with employees on company time to structure their finances to make sure they feel at ease in terms of their financial well being, which means they perform better and the whole company performs better. When the whole company then performs better it influences client relations and communications.

So, it is important to walk the talk of corporate responsibility and employee wellness. The knock on effect is the idea that you are building an army of brand ambassadors from within who have drunk the brand Kool-aid and are running around out there spreading the gospel. We always ask will this be cheaper and have a bigger impact than buying your big billboard on the N1 highway? The return will be way-way bigger.

That means that companies need to start looking beyond keeping shareholder happiness as a singular focus and that homogeneous boards need to become more diverse to gain a more inclusive way of thinking. This is a thing that is stifling a lot of companies.

Listen to the rest of the conversation on One More Question. A fearless podcast by the people of Nicework. Ross Drakes explores the cesspit of brand communications with Dion Chang where they unpack Dark Social, Identity Politics and the Troll Tsunami. Subscribe and listen on your favourite podcast app or click here.

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Music by: @dcuttermusic /

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