The corporate social responsibility game has come a long way in recent years. CSR is no longer relegated to cause marketing relationships or a feel-good commitment to sponsor a local 5K run for a charitable partner. In recent years, top-performing brands have recognized and capitalized on tremendous growth opportunities through making the cornerstones of their brand serve this new awareness on every level. These companies see the win-win opening to meet the ever-increasing social passions of consumers. But remarkably, many organizations still do not understand how to build and manage a brand immersed in these principles.
According to The New York Times, Campari has just hired Matthew McConaughey to write, direct and even style and art direct the photography for Wild Turkey. His approach? “They can smell it,” he said in an ominous tone. “Millennials, and I know this for a fact, can smell solicitation. And it’s a turnoff. The best ads are not solicitous.”
Driven by a generation of millennials that want an experience enriched with trust, there is a new expectation for an almost artisanal level of products and services, met sometimes by large corporate brands that can prove their commitment to simple craftsmanship and genuine, honest business. The template is clear: The most successful brands are genuine, sustainability-minded, and receptive to speaking to their audience in a personal way.
Marc Mathieu, Chief Marketing Officer of Samsung Electronics America, was interviewed recently in The Wall Street Journal and said, “We need to make sure that whatever we do and whatever we put out there is authentic, and at the same time is something interesting enough that [consumers] are going to want to pick it up but also share it. It’s one of the things that pushes us to create marketing that is not just about telling, but experiencing.”
Earlier this year, Samsung opened Samsung 837 in New York City, which it describes as a technology playground. “Marketing used to be about creating a myth and telling it, and now it’s about finding a truth and sharing it,” Mr. Mathieu said.
The organic food industry has seen rampant growth in recent years, so much so that organic food now accounts for 5% of food sold in the U.S. Today’s consumers not only want to know that they are buying fresh, healthy eggs; they also need to know that the chickens were raised and treated in an ethical way, that the supply chain is responsible, and that the company is honest. Organic Valley, a large cooperative, launched a website and began outreach marketing to invite consumers to actually visit and tour the farms in its dairy program. Sarah Z. Masoni, a manager at the Food Innovation Center at Oregon State University says, “Authenticity is the biggest key for consumers. They want to know who’s creating their food. Consumers want to trust the suppliers of their food.”
Social issues have been brought to the forefront of consumers’ minds — in part because of the election year — but perhaps also because we are witnesses each day to the strife and indignities suffered by so many minorities and special interest groups. From Black Lives Matter to the plight of refugees, our collective conscience has been awakened to the needs of others. Clearly, the fact that we are so routinely saturated with advertising messages projected across a ubiquitous system of channels drives us to be more skeptical in all of our consumer transactions. It was perhaps only a matter of time before that proliferation of media clutter created a hard backlash to anything too polished, slick, or with the standard pitch in its marketing approach.
I researched a number of news and trade sites as I tried to identify the most successful brands that are positioned to meet these information needs among socially conscious consumers. There were plenty of examples of companies that work to pledge their commitments, but as Jill Byron states in AdAge, companies need to ditch authenticity as an attribute. “Don’t say you are authentic — be authentic,” Ms. Byron writes.
Among industries and companies championing women’s rights, animal rights, LBGT rights, or other social issues, I was fascinated to learn that only a few consumer packaged goods — beauty and fashion, and certain food brands — were positioned successfully with brand promises established around social concerns. Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream seems to have pioneered a kinder, gentler, and humbler path many years ago, and now promotes its 30-minute guided ice cream factory tours that the site proclaims “fun and educational for all ages.”
The Honest Company offers a link called “Our Principles,” and touts the importance of small decisions that have a big impact. According to the founders’ purpose statement on the site, “We created The Honest Company to fulfill our big dreams, hoping we would make the right choices — following our hearts and consciences, with each detail and every decision — that would result in positive impacts.”
In banking, an industry that seems like fertile soil for a customer experience grounded in trust, there are scarcely few brands working and expressing a market position based on a simple, honest experience. There would seem a beautiful opportunity to differentiate a financial services organization by working to demonstrate a commitment and tell simple story of authenticity and transparency of operations — to bring its employees and values to life and put a human face on the institution.
Whether it begins with a basic campaign, or bold steps to support a particular cause, or the desire to position and manage your enterprise brand in the values of trust and healthy, sustainable, and socially responsible living, I would like to help. I’ve worked with dozens of respected, large nonprofit organizations and with global companies to manage brands and grow businesses.
I suggest a meeting to discuss the opportunities ahead for everyone — not just for your organization to lead with responsible, socially redeeming values, but also, to meet an emerging global demand and market of new consumers, with new expectations.