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Brand Management

Three Steps To Becoming A More Ethical Brand


Brand Strategy Patagonia

A convergence of socio-cultural changes, accelerated by digital platforms have seen brands increasingly take positions on political and other issues of public concern. What these brands do (and don’t do) can quickly become topics on social media, where the quality of information is often questionable and lacks context.

A recent report from Fjord says, “Taking a stance in 2018 will not—and cannot— be about charity, corporate social responsibility or damage limitation. Nor can it be about organizations being reactive, taking action only after concerns are voiced. Instead, it must be about organizations being proactive and drawing a line in the sand on one or more of the many issues now concerning their customers and employees.”

While in the past, a traditional corporate social responsibility agenda was enough to satisfy customers, today it seems customers and employees are expecting more:

  • Patagonia is suing the Trump Administration over a decision to shrink two national monuments in Utah. In December, they changed their homepage to an all-black background with the message ‘The President Stole Your Land’ written in the center. Other outdoor brands including REI, Arc’teryx and North Face also stood up.
  • IKEA has committed to employing refugees at production centers in Jordan as part of a long-term plan to create employment for 200,000 disadvantaged people around the world through social entrepreneurship programs.
  • Salesforce cancelled all programs in Indiana over LGBT discrimination fears when a state law was passed to allow businesses to discriminate in accordance with their religious beliefs as it was not in keeping with the brand’s philosophy.

Many brands may soon need to address some of the tougher issues facing society today, like climate change and income inequality. Some of these issues, like gender, will invariably stray into topics which have largely remained taboo or never discussed on the main stage, but are topics about which their customers and employees care deeply.

Brands will have to decide how far they want to go in tackling hard questions that reveal the type of world the brand wants to create (and with whom they want to create it). But in stepping up to the hard questions and searching for answers, brands might find key points of differentiation with the potential to attract and win new customers.

To become a strong player in ‘The Ethics Economy’, Fjord suggests three steps brands can take:

  1. Ethically self-audit. Have a continuous dialog with customers and employees to uncover shared values and desires. Evaluate decisions for human impact and understand the larger ecosystem of people who will directly or indirectly benefit from the brand to drive more empathy.
  2. Define your personality and purpose. Ethical positions should be clear to understand and easy for customers to find and validate. The advice, “Be the change you want to see in the world” has never been truer as people are looking for action, not slogans. The executive team will need to fully buy in for this step to succeed. In fact, just memorize this Gruenter and Whitaker quote, “The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.”
  3. Share ownership of goals. Involve employees on key initiatives and at different levels, empowering them to make a difference for the company and in the community. And define new metrics to show progress and impact that can be shared inside and outside the brand.

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 Licensing and Brand Education

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