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Brands: Society’s Change Agent


Brands: Society's Change Agent

Last week, I offered some examples of how brands are building personal relationships, going way beyond their traditional business interests to advocate for societal change. Now, there’s new evidence that positions brands as the catalyst for change. Consider, media is now the least trusted institution in the world, with more people disengaged from mainstream outlets. Governments are seen as partisan; with each side trying to win favor by destroying the other and doing so has rendered government impotent on anything that matters. Even social media trust has declined with filter bubbles and fake news diluting the potential of platforms.

Enter “Brand Democracy”, a term coined by Richard Edelman. He says, “The feeling is: It’s easier to get a brand to act on the issues I care about than to vote for another ineffectual politician. The brand can do much to deliver on this expectation, from improving its supply chain to persuading consumers to change their behavior.”

The 2018 Edelman Earned Brand study shows that the market is being transformed by “the rise of the belief-driven buyer.” Look at these highlights:

  • 66% of consumers now choose, switch to, or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues, up from 51 percent in 2017.
  • 53% percent of respondents agree that brands can do more than government to solve social ill, and nearly half say that brands have better ideas.
  • 64% say that CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it.
  • 54% believe it is easier for people to get brands to address social problems than get government to act.
  • 56% believe marketers are spending too much time looking for ways to force consumers to pay attention to their messages and not enough time thinking of ways to make them want to pay attention.

Stats like that point to tremendous opportunities for brands to rally around the customer’s call-to-action. They prove that where a brand stands on issues can prompt the same purchase intent as promoting product features. Further, the brand’s stand is far more effective at driving social conversation and advocacy over simple product communications.

3 Areas Of Focus For Brand Democracies

  1. Purpose: Articulate why your brand exists and make it a top priority to address that purpose. We often look at Patagonia as a master of brand purpose, largely because the ethos, pathos and logos of the brand is so rich it can be felt. Starbucks too, in the wake of poor customer treatment at a Philadelphia store, closed all stores for an afternoon training session on racial bias. But we have similarly cautioned how purpose-washing (bolting on some elevated meaning after the strategy is decided) can damage a brand. A good thing to watch out for is that the organization must be living their purpose every day. Don’t take up values that you cannot prove you follow. The world is low on trust as it is.
  2. Culture: Authentically connect your stand to a relevant moment in culture. This is why the Nike campaign has enjoyed such success. As Martina Olbertova shared, “At their best, brand stories should inspire people to be better versions of themselves, motivate them to achieve the goals they wouldn’t even dare to take on individually and create and cultivate the collective consciousness that makes a cultural change possible.” But be careful that your brand is connecting to the culture and not simply co-opting it.
  3. Activism: Confronting a controversial issue can have a direct impact on your stakeholders and/or your brand. And not always for the positive, as Target found when it waded into the debate about transgender bathroom use in 2016. Other brands like Microsoft have thrown their legal weight into US Policies surrounding immigration and were lauded by the media and customers. But be careful to choose causes that your stakeholders will support and act on.

However, focus alone is not enough to drive impact. Brands must have a compelling story, and one that engages customer attention rather than interrupting it. Remember that peers and journalists account for about 45% of brand touchpoints. Always be thinking how paid and owned connect to your brand’s social and earned media. Lastly, keep in mind that activating your community with customers, experts and employees has the best chance at driving brand advocacy.

The Blake Project Can Help: Please email us for more about our purpose, mission, vision and values and brand culture workshops.

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education

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