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customer experience
Alison Battisby
  • By Alison Battisby
  • Jun 06 2017

Brands Need Causes

How not to forget business essentials

It might sound like an extract from a socialist party manifesto, but it turns out that 63% of consumers believe brands have a responsibility to give back to society. Recent MediaCom research also found that half of their 2000 interviewees would pay more for a brand that supports a cause that is important to them.

This shouldn’t surprise us. From customers boycotting United Airlines for its appalling treatment of passengers to runners dropping their branded trainers on the doorstep of their supplier due to unethical labour practices, the conduct of brands is an ongoing concern for many consumers.

One of the statistics that should stand out for brand leaders is that almost half of consumers profess to have abandoned brands due to ‘poor corporate behaviour’. If this isn’t serious enough for businesses, here’s the really sobering news; CSR statements from the Chairman in the annual report and ‘Greenwash’ PR just don’t cut it with consumers as 45 percent of those interviewed admitted they were ‘sceptical of any brands claiming to support good causes’. As we always say to our clients; ‘It’s more about doing your purpose than having a purpose.”

So what can leaders do? Can a company be as ambitious in their behaviour as they are with their financials?

- Identify your cause

Find the natural fit between your business purpose and what society values; where you can ‘give something back’ in the course of operating your business every day rather than simply donating to ‘good causes’ at the end of the year. Find out what your people are passionate about and what your customers are passionate about. If you can build your business around that, as Six Senses Resorts has - happy days! They call their unique blend of high-end, environmental hospitality ‘ Intelligent Luxury.’

- Set authentic targets

The research shows that 80 percent of consumers believe that companies ‘must take steps to minimise their impact on the environment’. If minimising your climate footprint isn’t a priority within your business plan, it probably should be. Use social media and let your customers know what you’re actually doing to reduce it as Patagonia does so well.

- Never compromise your ethics in pursuit of profit

McDonald’s have taken a hammering from consumers for their recent advertising campaign featuring childhood bereavement, being accused of making a very serious issue look trite in a bid to sell a few more burgers.

In their book ‘On Purpose, delivering a branded customer experience people love’ Shaun Smith and Andy Milligan advise brands not to ‘Force it, Fudge it or Fake it’. United Airlines physically forced their overbooking policy on an innocent passenger rather than respecting the rights of the individual, and their PR nightmare won’t be going away quickly. McDonald’s tried to shoehorn grief into their campaign to sell fast food and then fudged their response to the media storm that followed. It failed on every level. VW faked their emissions data, they’re still recovering from the consequences and consumers are still breathing poisonous fumes from their diesel cars.

Empathy, transparency and purpose aren’t just buzzwords that look good on the wall, they’re real issues that reveal the heart of any brand. Your customers can be powerful advocates, but they can very quickly become your nemesis too if you forget that important message.