The Agile Brand’s Responsibility to Society

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Company culture is not simply a bullet point on your careers page.

The following is based on a chapter in my new book, The Agile Brand. For more thoughts like these, as well as to read the rest of the book, learn more here.

It’s not enough to simply make a great product, or offer an amazing service. It’s also not enough to simply engage with our audiences on a regular basis. There needs to be something more, and truly successful brands have tapped into this.

Just as an agile brand must establish a bi-directional relationship and communication with individual consumers to be successful, there must also be a symbiotic relationship with the world at large. This can play out in ways that impact society, the environment, or other areas that have a large cultural impact.

According to McKinsey, while many corporations were initially skeptical about the benefits of a strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) program, many have now integrated them so fully into their operations that they are able to see tangible benefits.

Also, while the public at large expects more of brands now, a Nielsen survey showed that 73% of Millennials are willing to spend more on a product if the brand supporting it adheres to sustainable values. To add to that, four in five Millennials expect their favorite companies to publicly state their corporate citizenship philosophy and activities.

Internal culture and the future of brands

A lot of time is spent talking about external communications, and how brands communicate with consumers. But very important brand components, especially as brand values grow increasingly important to consumers, are companies’ internal cultures, the work ethics they promote,  and how they treat their employees.

Thom Wyatt, Managing Director of Siegel+Gale, a global brand strategy firm, puts it this way:

“...As work increasingly becomes a part of a person’s identity, the role of a company brand will be a powerful differentiator for attracting talent. For potential recruits, the brand reputation that matters is company culture. For today’s engaged employees, they want to see diversity stats, social responsibility metrics, and the purpose and values that provide the cultural glue for a workforce.”

Beyond company culture

Positive company culture is a major attribute when potential employees are looking for jobs, but the impact extends beyond that.

Much is written about company culture and its importance to the way a brand reflects on the outside world. For instance, the toxic workplaces of some Silicon Valley startups, including Uber, have had a negative effect on both consumer perceptions and their bottom lines. In other words, culture can have either very positive or very negative effects.

Company culture is not simply a bullet point on your careers page. It’s something that consumers are interested in, and that can help (or hurt) you in the marketplace.

In a recent study of Millennial professionals by Eleventy Group, 70 percent said that a company’s corporate social responsibility program would influence their interest in working for an employer. That says a lot about how important it is that employers embrace their values and provide opportunities for employees to participate in helping good causes.

A brand’s overarching role in society is where corporate values come into play in a very real way, and that role extends a company’s overall responsibility beyond t its fiduciary responsibility to shareholders. While a corporate social responsibility program is a formal way for a company to realize its values, there need to be other ways that company values can play out.

Social responsibility must be more than a marketing ploy to reach Millennials because it’s something they care about. Instead, it must be translated into everything the company does. Consumers in general (not just Millennials,) want to feel good about the choices they make and the dollars they spend.  The agile brand understands this, and incorporates this thinking throughout everything it does instead of simply choosing words that sound good on its marketing materials.

The above is based on a chapter in my new book, The Agile Brand. For more thoughts like these, as well as to read the rest of the book, learn more here.

Greg Kihlstrom