Is Your Brand A Good 'Person'?

Today's consumers want brands to embody the triple bottom line


Think about those in your life who you would consider 'good people.' What traits do they have in common? Why do you see them in such a positive light?

Then, ask yourself, 'If my company were a person, would I put it in that same group?' 'Does my company care about the world or show compassion to others?' and 'Would my company have to hide anything to be seen in a positive light?'

Modern consumers expect more than profits from successful companies. We are faced with unprecedented amounts of information about social and environmental challenges. As a result, consumers are increasingly saying, 'I don’t just want to buy a product that can do some good for me; I want to make sure the products I'm buying come from a company that’s also doing good for the world.'

Consumers are taking companies to task for making money at the expense of social or environmental causes, whether in their home country or overseas. With ever-growing numbers of brands to choose from, consumers are leveraging their purchasing power to make decisions about the health of the planet and global labor practices. Of the $2.45 trillion Millennials control in spending power, 70% is tied to people who spend more with brands they view as socially responsible. For brands targeting this generation, social responsibility is vital.

The successful brands of the future will be those that embody the 'triple bottom line.'

How to Make Your Brand a Better Person

The TBL is a concept that was developed by John Elkington and discussed in his book 'Cannibals With Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business.' This concept is the notion that businesses should assess their performance over time in terms of three key aspects: profit, people, and the planet.

Successfully implementing the TBL requires homing in on your brand's deeper purpose — not just profits and positioning. This idea has motivated many companies to evaluate their profits and losses in conjunction with appraisals of their environmental impact (emissions and sustainable practices) and their public impact (contributions to social good).

The chances of catching the eye of Millennials is 66% higher when you can engage them on a social issue, so smart companies are recognizing the opportunity to position their products as goods that leave a better world behind, pushing themselves to take on the broader responsibility their audiences are leading them toward.

With or without a full formal evaluation, consider these four steps your brand's self-help guide to starting a journey of improvement:

1. Think Back to Your 'North Star'

What fundamental human goal does your brand have, and what emotion drives your company?

If Volvo were a person, it would be my friend who lost a daughter in a car crash and has dedicated the rest of his life to improving safety features to the point where that could never happen again. Tesla, on the other hand, would be my hip, eco-friendly neighbor who's always showing me the latest and greatest technology she purchased.

If it were a human being, who would your brand be? What does your company work toward every day? Low prices, friendly service, and similarly boring epithets are not the answer.

Once you've identified your North Star, the unique driver behind your company's purpose, start thinking about the good you can bring to the world. Volvo famously gave away its most important invention, the three-point seatbelt, for the sake of saving lives. What can you do that aligns with your guiding principle and helps the world?

2. Find Out Whether Consumers Feel What You Feel

An authentic connection between a brand and its greater purpose must exist for it to be effective. Consumers are the ultimate validators of this alignment. Focus groups offer a quick, easy, and affordable way to test and validate.

If the focus group shows that customers have conflicting values, the problem isn't that a conflict exists within them. The key is understanding what is driving that perceived conflict from a messaging perspective and whether something can be done to address it.

Insights from a focus group also offer you the unique opportunity to design a survey based on consumer feedback. Use the survey to gather more data on specific problem areas. Are people unclear on the main message your website is trying to convey? Find out which pages they are spending time on and how long they spend on each. The longest time-on-page statistics tell you exactly where to focus your efforts before the next focus group.

3. Start Small to Find What Sticks

In 2007, Pedigree launched a campaign that put its larger purpose of helping dogs at the center of its marketing and innovation strategies.

The 'Dogs Rule' campaign launched with an ad featuring dogs locked in cages. The voice of David Duchovny promised consumers that with every purchase of Pedigree dog food, the company would 'make a donation to help shelter dogs find loving homes.' The ad aired during the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and during the two-day event, the company collected over $500,000 in pledges.

Since then, the campaign has evolved to become the cornerstone of the brand’s image. From the U.S. to New Zealand to France, the image of Pedigree is one of a company devoted to dogs’ wellness. Although many dog owners have traditionally based their dog food purchasing decisions on price, the campaign has given them something bigger to support and participate in.

If consumers dig your social initiative in focus groups and surveys, the next step is to put money behind it. Today, you don't have to start with a TV spot. Cheap, easy-to-create social media posts that you can test and improve provide an even better platform for perfecting your inspiring brand message with minimal investment.

Like Pedigree, you'll want to start by finding places your audience already hangs out. Share fun, shareable videos on those platforms. Design ads and promoted posts. Go through a few iterations. You'll start to see which messages are sticking based on your engagement metrics. Once you find the winning combination, scale up to larger media buys.

4. Walk the Social Responsibility Walk

If consumers respond well to the inclusion of your social responsibility message into your marketing efforts, it's time to build that same initiative into your products. Remind consumers of your brand's commitment to its cause every time they see your product on shelves.

Keurig is 'Brewing a Better World,' but it couldn't get away with just providing a niftier solution to your morning coffee. An infamous video in 2015 called 'Kill the K-Cup' took the company to task for the staggering number of nonbiodegradable K-Cups that were discarded in 2014. As the video went viral, Keurig saw a 4% drop in sales in 2015. In response, the company launched its first recyclable K-Cup in 2016 and aims to have all K-Cups be recyclable by 2020.

Keurig is working hard to back up its values and marketing messages with a product that's sustainable. You'll need to do the same thing. You might be able to get away with a shiny new marketing campaign for a while, but consumers are savvy, and when they figure out there's no substance behind your mission, your bottom line will suffer. On the flip side, the more you can demonstrate your guiding values through actions, the more consumers will trust — and choose — your brand.

The first step in any self-improvement journey is to create a vision of who you want to be and why. Picture the 'person' you want your company to be, and strive hard for it. Good companies, like good people, have to practice integrity every day. Build habits and skills that help connect you to deeply human emotions, other people, and the world. Eventually, your family, friends, customers, and employees will add you to their 'good person' list, which is most definitely where you want to be.


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