Why Brands Need To Do Good As Well As Be Good

 Good is no longer just trending.

Doing good—to improve our lives and save our planet—has become the hallmark of achievement in the way we live. Good is here to stay. Research on consumer behavior tells us that we are increasingly expecting ourselves to be responsible citizens, and expecting brands to be our corporate citizen partners. Are brands listening?

At the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos, Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba (a conglomerate of Internet-based, tech and AI businesses) urged leaders of fellow tech giants:

“Google, Facebook, Amazon and Alibaba – we are the luckiest companies of this century. But we have the responsibility to have a good heart, and do something good. Make sure that everything you do is for the future.”

The message was not about corporate branding, marketing strategy or customer acquisition.

Rather, Ma called on leaders to step up their values, responsibility and commitment, three basic qualities of good that we seek in human relationships and that we expect of ourselves.

Here’s a perfect initiative to watch. On January 30th, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase announced that they were partnering to tackle the healthcare costs and needs of their U.S. employees. The announcement immediately generated social media buzz from the supporters who applauded the companies, and the critics who expressed distrust in the company or the CEO. However, these critics could turn into loyal consumers if these companies deliver on the promises of doing good.

Buying on Beliefs

More than half of consumers worldwide now consider themselves to be belief-driven buyers, according to the 2017 Edelman Earned Brand study. Edelman’s online survey of 14,000 consumers in 14 countries shows that shared beliefs are the most powerful driver of commitment to a brand. Some 57% of consumers will buy, avoid or even boycott a brand solely based on its stance on controversial social or political issues. What’s more, 67% bought a brand for the first time because they agreed with its position on a controversial topic, while 65% said they will not buy a brand when it stays silent on an issue they feel it has an obligation to address.

“Consumers expect brands to lead the movement for change and address critical problems. The simple question that consumers are asking is: ‘Are you with me?’”
—Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman commenting on the 2017 study. Source: Edelman website

Two years earlier, Nielsen released The Sustainability Imperative: New Insights on Consumer Expectations, finding that 66% of consumers say they are willing to pay more for sustainable brands – up markedly  from 55% in 2014 and 50% in 2013. Among those willing to pay more, two of the top purchase drivers were a company’s environmental friendliness and commitment to social value. Nielsen’s 2015 study, an online survey of 30,000 consumers in 60 countries, stated: “Consumers are trying to be responsible citizens of the world, and they expect the same from corporations.”

Gone are the days when brands can apply the word “healthy” liberally on marketing materials without providing further evidence. As research shows, a growing number of consumers already consider themselves committed to doing good (and living well) or are aspiring to be being viewed by others in this way. These consumers seek brands with their same “good” heart, as partners and symbols of the consumer’s perceived identity as good corporate citizens.

Brands have personalities too. As Hae Ryong Kim, Moonkyu Lee and Francis M. Ulgado noted in Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research, in 2005: “a brand is considered as an active relationship partner rather than a passive exchange object, and is endowed with human characteristics.” The authors asserted that, “based on a branding strategy that incorporates the target customers’ self-concept and distinct, congruent brand personality, a [company] can induce the feelings of brand attachment and commitment from its customers, and thus, build a long-term relationship with them.” 

The Consumer’s Concept of Self

A large body of research has shown that the consumer-brand relationship and the concept of self-congruence (the influence of “actual self’ or “ideal self-congruence”) influences a consumer’s brand attachment.  The theory of self-congruence describes:

  • Actual self: the way consumers actually see themselves (the reality of who they are)
  • Ideal self: the ideal way consumers would like to see themselves or be perceived (self-improvement brands and beauty brands speak to these consumers)

Studies have found that “brand personality can be instrumental in helping consumers express their self-concept and provide a sense of comfort to consumers who have found a brand that “fits” their self-concept.” The stakes are high for companies to develop a brand’s personality. “Belief-driven buyers will leave behind brands that fail to take a stand on issues they care about,” said Edelman on his company’s blog, “but they will reward those that align with their views through increased spending and advocacy.”

Helping Consumers Through Content

Think like a nonprofit. Develop a relationship with consumers through story. “Mission is story,” said Robert Rose, founder of The Content Advisory on a Nonprofit Hub Radio podcast.  Rose encouraged nonprofit content marketing professionals to first set aside their concerns of how the content is actually going to drive donations, members and volunteers. Rose said, “It’s really understanding what is it we stand for, and what is it that we are trying to convey as a value to the world, and really getting behind that to deliver content that delivers upon that promise.” Rose advised the listeners to “focus purely on the idea, of driving the mission itself, the story. What we stand for. Finding that core is the true place to begin.”

Weight Watchers:

A brand for the ideal aspiring “actual self-congruent” consumer

As consumers, many of us have started taking our health and wellness seriously. We like being perceived by others as someone who lives a healthier lifestyle. Weight Watchers seems to have listened. The brand recently transformed from being a dieting brand to one in the lifestyle space. Part of this, undoubtedly, is because the words like “diet” have developed a stigma, suggesting a person’s failing. With a new partnership approach that includes upbeat community building, personal coaching and plenty of informative content, Weight Watchers is uniquely positioned to serve as partner and congruent brand personality for consumers with actual self and ideal self-congruency.

In a recent Wall Street Journal interview, Mindy Grossman, president and CEO of Weight Watchers International said, “We’re moving beyond a diet to a holistic way of helping people have better habits. You should think of us as your daily partner to inspire you to be healthier.” Grossman told Fast Company, “It’s not just about weight anymore. People aspire to have the best life they have the way they can live it . . . Today, [consumers] want a lifestyle.”

Considering this change for Good, here are three prophecies:

  • The birth of a “Fake Good” intolerance movement: Today’s #MeToo movement and “Fake News” abuses may be joined by tomorrow’s “Fake Good” intolerance movement, as consumer expectations surge for companies to be transparent, committed and authentically good. Similarly, consumers will loudly rebel against brands that seem phony when it comes to being “good.”
  • The end of marketing the brand alone: Shiny, innovative products and the latest technologies will no longer be enough. As the Nielsen and Edelman studies show, consumers are looking beyond the brand, and more at the company’s reputation and business practices, when deciding whether to become customers.
  • The new cocktail party question will be: So, what causes do you support?: For better or worse, inquisitive strangers will feel more on trend if they replace the tired question “What do you do for a living?” with this one.

Doing good will become the new social conversation starter. Are brands ready to walk their talk?

 

Holly Lawrence
Holly Lawrence is a content and marketing strategist, research enthusiast, and freelance writer. Her work has appeared on PBS' Nextavenue.org, Forbes.com, MarketWatch.com, and BoomerCafe.com and in Money Magazine's Retire with MONEY newsletter.

Holly helps companies, nonprofits, and entrepreneurs with marketing, editorial and educational initiatives. In recent years, she has worked with the Content Marketing Institute, S&P Global Platts, and the American Marketing Association’s Los Angeles chapter where she served as interim board member. As a nonprofit executive director, Holly led all U.S. marketing and fundraising efforts for the University of Cape Town, South Africa’s leading higher education institution. Earlier in her career, Holly developed more than 400 conferences and educational programs across six continents.
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Author: Holly Lawrence
Holly Lawrence is a content and marketing strategist, research enthusiast, and freelance writer. Her work has appeared on PBS' Nextavenue.org, Forbes.com, MarketWatch.com, and BoomerCafe.com and in Money Magazine's Retire with MONEY newsletter. Holly helps companies, nonprofits, and entrepreneurs with marketing, editorial and educational initiatives. In recent years, she has worked with the Content Marketing Institute, S&P Global Platts, and the American Marketing Association’s Los Angeles chapter where she served as interim board member. As a nonprofit executive director, Holly led all U.S. marketing and fundraising efforts for the University of Cape Town, South Africa’s leading higher education institution. Earlier in her career, Holly developed more than 400 conferences and educational programs across six continents.

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