In the recent past, the trend of connecting causes to people has been catching on. For instance, connecting hand-washing to people’s need for better health can be seen as connecting to the cause (better health). Consumers are coming to expect that the products they use meet social requirements or at the very least, that they do not harm people and the environment. Brand seem to feel that connecting to causes of a strategic nature builds brand trust. It showcases a company’s desire to stand for something more than just itself.
Why then have some cause based campaigns received such a backlash? The recent one being Gillette’s campaign against toxic masculinity.
While there are many answers to this. I believe that responsible branding is far more than advertising. It’s about understanding the customer journey’s and building authenticity and believability across the value chain.
Products are made in factories. Brands are made in hearts. And today both are important.
The growth in consumers’ access to information has resulted in products available in the market being viewed very differently than in the past. Consumers are not just interested in better quality, they also want to know how products are made. Additionally, building a brand is more than just advertising. While a brand may associate itself with a cause, customers may not readily trust it. Should a shaving product company be talking about responsibility when the product is made from plastic which never degrades and adds to the growing menace of waste? Should the company be sweeping all core consumers with the same disposable plastic brush?
When you take on the mantle of responsibility, you need to walk the talk across every touchpoint. Responsibility is not a video but the way you act. The dominant brands actions and inaction’s are noted equally by customers. They need to create a compelling narrative of Businesses actions before the story of the ads is taken seriously.
- Products are responsibly made
- Excellence in product and service quality
- Dominant business should not seem to be exploiting customers by the sheer scale of their dominance
- Social actions on the ground that take the message forward and not just ads
There is talk that business responsibility gives you a license to operate. However, it is only applicable if you operate from an area of difficulty. Business responsibility is an obligation, a belief in a better way, in a different world, a positive contribution to society. This belief helps brands in delivering on their promises not just for the quarterly numbers but for the long term. Delivering on the promise each and every time builds authenticity and therefore such brands scale up faster, whether these are consumer brands or business to business brands.
More on this in my book:
BALANCE – Responsible Business for the Digital Age