The intersection between brand, business and citizenship

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Part #2: The Rise Of Conscious Consumerism And Intersectional Brand Building

In part #2 of our blog series, The Intersection Between Brand, Business and Citizenship, we offer some insights to what is at the core of building a brand worthy of consumer loyalty and loop back to the sustainability conversation. Inspired by this podcast.

We are moving into a world where consumers are poking companies and brands to define what space it is that they want to occupy. Ross believes that companies need to draw that line in the sand and say: This is our space. This is what we’re doing this is how we look after it. This is how we treat the people in our organization. This is how we speak. This is the value we offer the world and importantly, this is what we are doing for the world and the ecosystem that we are all intrinsically part of.

More and more consumers want to know about the values that govern brands and the way they do business, from how you treat your suppliers to who your partners are. We said it in the first part but it bears repeating, don’t be a dick.

“Conscious consumption” is on the rise, that means that consumers want to know where their stuff comes from and if you, as a big brand, have been good to the people making the T-shirt they are considering to buy. The days of lip service are falling behind us.

Then on the other side, there is the rise of what Sizakele calls intersectional brand building. Okay, so what is that? It answers the question of how we as practitioners attend to your commercial challenge as a business and apply our creativity to it in a way that uplifts or contribute positively to culture.

Besides helping companies to sell more T-shirts – how are we helping the people who are making the T-shirts and what are we doing in the community? Yes really. This is no longer just a CSI thing or a Procurement thing – it is really becoming a whole thing.

For Citizenship to become pervasive throughout corporates, so that it just doesn’t sit with the CSI people, it has to be an everyday thing according to Sizakele. If it is not in the culture of the organization, then you see it because you and I know brands that fake care and after a while, we leave them alone and chose differently.

Many people are choosing the alternative, which is going to the local Saturday market to buy most of what they need, fresh produce is organically grown and their rand is going directly to the person they are buying from.

Ross agrees brands dilute value when “care” is outsourced and not augmented in purpose or worse still, commercialised. We have designed a specific lab that helps you and your team to define the brand or company’s impact and deliver on it. It all starts with knowing what your company’s purpose is all about and building a culture aligned to its values and connecting products and services on a deeper level as a brand.

From A Brand Strategy Perspective…

Right, so now as one of the clever switched on people in the marketing/branding team, you have generated a great strategy. One calling for a change in the culture of the organization and a change in behaviour, so that you can go off and solve an important problem, communicate about it and build the brand. But, your mandate doesn’t extend beyond the forward facing portion of the company. So now what.

How do you have the necessary conversations with the HR and Operations teams? For many businesses, the brand team is almost like a side unit that works with agencies to build the brand and “never shall the two worlds meet” remarks Ross. Luckily you are a communicator. You have all the skills in your arsenal to change people to shift their perception.

Some insights to support the shift:

It may sound obvious but you start by reminding people that the brand is the business.

The mistake that many people make is to think that growing the brand is the responsibility of the marketing team. It is not, says Sizakele because everything communicates, something that our team is particularly aware of when we do onsite immersions in our clients’ worlds.

The reality is the brand is built with a million tiny engagements, from how your team answers the phone, to how your team engages with customers or how receptionists welcome people and even how your debtor’s department follows up with people. All this communicates whether or not you can put its money where its mouth is to deliver on your brand promise. Most importantly, how the C-suite manages the company is the root of all things.

An example is when the new UBER CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi took the predecessor and co-founder of Uber – Travis Kalanick – to task in Davos at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in January, for leading the company astray. In a conversation with CNBC, he stated that the “moral compass of the company” was not pointing in the right direction under Kalanick and that there was a lot that happened in the past that wasn’t right. Dara said that the CEO of a company has to take responsibility.

Uber’s London operation’s operating licence was revoked due to “public security and safety implications”. The public complained that the company was failing to properly screen the backgrounds of its drivers. The company also faced accusations of a culture of sexism and sexual harassment, contentious personnel departures, high-profile lawsuits, revelations about a fake app designed to fool government regulators and a profanity-laced argument with an Uber driver caught on video. The brand inside had lost its north and was bleeding out into its ecosystem.

This leads us into the second thought which is that your brand truly has to care about what’s going on in society and take responsibility for how your company behaves in it. Where the superficiality emerges is when you live in a world where the only reason the company exists, is to make shareholder profits or only care about the things that are in your value chain.

It’s about identifying the pain points in society and understanding the social and regulatory dynamics of the market that you are playing in and using your position as a leader or a person in brand and marketing to get your brand into that space of relevance and showing a real level of care and responsibility. Really and truly.

We need to connect companies to the fact that caring does actually have an impact on the bottom line. For Nicework building the brand and consumer relationship is the value of getting a bigger spend, a more loyal customer and more of their mindshare. Then you’re able to offer a wider range of products and services which they will not hesitate to buy. After all who does not want to buy from a person they like?

Linking Back To Sustainability

One of the most notorious companies for kick-starting and leading the pack on the sustainability conversation is Unilever. Sizakele recalls that everybody, particularly cynics, rolled their eyes asking, “Are we hugging trees now? Are we going to save all the children in Africa?”

Some of the cynics came back a decade later and say “I wish I had listened when you were ready to talk to us about this sort of stuff”

Unilever’s growth and sustainable success are due to the brands that they choose to use to drive their sustainability conversation, along with their deep understanding of what purpose is. They understood that making the sustainable development goals core to their business is good for growth, the planet and society. They were very deliberate about moving the needle and all in and that is where their success is coming from.

In an interesting report by Ernest and Young (EY) companies can harness the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to drive growth, address risk, attract capital and focus on purpose.

According to the report by contributing to the SDGs companies can create shared value for everyone because businesses are a driving force to galvanise stakeholders around a common and shared outcome.

When companies focus on a purpose that is rooted in creating value for others, improving the world we live in and inspiring the organization at all levels, they will increase their ability to drive profits and create sustainable and shared value. In history, no one has ever begrudged a company for making decent profits and making the world a better place at the same time. This is the Impact Economy.

“Playing the long game is about the care that is not fashionable to talk about, care that’s not trendy. It’s about the care that has nothing to do with how many likes you get on Twitter. It’s just about a substantive contribution to society… in ways that benefit everyone who is in your value chain.” says Sizakele.

The more brand work Nicework does with large and small businesses, the more we see how significant understanding the relevance of shared value is and that consumers are starting to expect and demand it. For entrepreneurs impact investing has become a major theme while investors look for start-ups and high growth businesses that are solving social and environmental problems in a meaningful way – while making profits. It is not about charity and it is no longer cute social entrepreneurship – it is serious business.
The EY report affirms that SDGs can focus a company’s purpose on challenges that act as a catalyst for innovation, engage and motivate employees, open up new markets and opportunities, and may future-proof the company against a wide range of risks.

We agree with Sizakele that if we don’t have people who are deep in their reflection about where they are and where they want to take the world then CEOs are always going to be number crunchers, as opposed to figuring out how to use their roles to effect lasting changes in society.

When you have leaders that care and are all into creating sustainable value they attract people who care. So their company culture as a consequence naturally becomes progressive and focused on positive interests. The quality of work improves, the moral of the team improves and staff turn over becomes less. It seems really obvious when we put it down we challenge you to go out there and implement it.

Coffee on us!

If you would like to explore how you can shift your brand into a space of relevance with a dose of unfashionable care, but the kind that is relevant and builds lasting relationships with your consumers, chat to us.

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