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Branding and Social Responsibility

Brand Building On Social Purpose

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Beyond the transaction/marketing driven model of brand building, enlightened brand owners are building the value of their brands around aligning social good with business good. These organizations realize the foundation of their competitive advantage will be based on a higher purpose — social good.

In the marketing driven model of brand building, the focus is on awareness and communicating better features of the product. Consumers and customers simply exchanged money for a product. When the performance of the product matched up to customer expectations the brand promise was delivered. End of story.

That’s not good enough for consumers/customers today.

Apple’s on-going saga of complicity in the harmful working conditions in the Chinese supplier factories is a recent example of the deeper scrutiny placed on brand owners. Apple’s circumstances makes the point clear — consumers not only consider the products you make, or the services you provide, they’re also looking carefully at your entire value chain–where your stuff is made, what it’s made from, how it impacts the environment,  the community, who your suppliers are, how well employees are treated. Consumers are scrutinizing the value of brands based on the social good they do in the world.

Brand owners must ask themselves “how can we align our business good with social good”?  The answer to that question needs to come from the very top of the organization, not from marketing or PR departments. The answer to this question must be the very reason or purpose the business enterprise exists in the first place. The relationship of social good and business good must be the core value proposition of the enterprise — above money-making.

Breaking down the barriers within organizations

Traditionally the siloed nature of organizations would have one group of people thinking and acting on corporate philanthropy and community, while other groups are developing and marketing products with the greatest margins possible. These functions rarely if ever are coordinated by a vision to maximize social and business good. Business good and social good being “functions” rather a unifying principal of existence.

Enlightened brand owners are breaking down the functional barriers in their organization and converging these interests into a common social purpose driven brand value.

Patagonia is extraordinary in this regard. The higher purpose of Patagonia is not to make and market more technically driven outer wear, rather Patagonia’s leadership has aligned their core values and mission around stewardship and sustainability of the planet as a whole. They are a leading voice and advocate for the greater good. This is not a brand strategy, or clever marketing– it’s who they are as an enterprise. It’s the reason their employees come to work everyday. It’s also the reason the brand has unquestioned relevant differentiation in their customers minds and competitive advantage at a premium price point in the marketplace. Patagonia is a brand that represents social good and business good as two sides of the same coin.

The deeper principal that brands like Patagonia are based on is simple — social good is highly valued (relevant) to its customers and drives business performance (competitive advantage). Patagonia then walks the talk everyday. For Patagonia, there’s no difference between advocating for greater sustainable and stewardship of the planet and making money.

Doing good is not good enough

Doing social good simply for a business gain is a fool’s errand. It’s not enough to “do good”. The aspects and activities of social good is not something added to the brand’s purpose — it is the purpose! Enlightened brand owners are employing the brand strategy principal of relevant differentiation to align social good and business good.

Three critical factors need to come seamlessly together to make your brand’s social purpose have relevant differentiation.

First, you need to know without question, what the brand is the very best at doing.

Secondly, whatever the brand is best at must be something customers really care about.

Finally, whatever the brand is best at, and highly valued by customers, must serve the good of community (planet) at large.

With these insights brand owners and managers can more easily identify activities of social good that your brand can own in unique and authentic ways.

Doing good is good business.

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3 Comments

Gary Bembridge on March 15th, 2012 said

Thanks for this detailed and through provoking article.

The key, as you say,is about integrity, good practice and honesty. Focusing on how to be: legal, decent, honest and truthful. This is actually what the UK Advertising Standards Authority have as their remit interestingly – and maybe should be the same for all organisations and brands!

As you discuss, it needs to be about a passion and approach that encourages and rewards “doing the right thing. And we all know deep down what is “right” and what is “wrong”…

As my mother says: the good guys always win in the end. And this is a mantra that the marketing community need to focus more and more on.

This includes the knock on effects and social responsibility. We see the drive for lower prices mean that we also hear about abuses and exploitation of workers in emerging markets, bad and inhumane practices with animals and so on.

Marketers need to actively seek and take a more moral high ground.

Matthias Fellner on March 29th, 2012 said

Thanks a lot that you picked up the complex topic again. Within our Berlin based agency we only work on the issue of Branding NGOs, Solar Companies or Environmental Ministries and I have to admit that we are still far away from solving some of the core-questions in communicating sustainability.

Most of our clients love to communicate horror scenarios on climate-change, migration or fossil energy and wonder why they always only reach a small target group. But PETA is an excellent example of how touching “horror scenarios” can also be, so probably the whole methodology of Branding has to be overthought for information intensive and very complex issues on sustainability – without having a clear product behind.

Thanks for your great work and looking forward towards further discussions.

James on June 01st, 2012 said

I agree with the gist of your article: that to survive long term brands must align social good with business good.

However, I don’t feel the Apple example demonstrates your point since they recently made record sales and doubled profits despite the reputational issues you mention.

The myth of the Ethical Consumer?

@Gary I have a mate who always says ‘nice guys finish last’. Whether your mum or my mate is the best business guru only time will tell.

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