by Linda Descano, CFA, Executive Vice President, Red Havas
Brands are under the spotlight like never before as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and recent protests of persistent systemic racial inequity and injustice.
Boardrooms—real and virtual—have become war rooms. Brands have had to decide how to keep the wheels turning, how to keep their companies aligned to ideals around purpose and whether to stay on the sidelines or to engage. And, if they are going to engage, whether to lead or to follow.
Unilever CEO Alan Jope, among others, has said that purpose will be even more relevant to brands going forward. Others have asserted that recent events are accelerating the rise of stakeholder capitalism.
Will the importance of purpose outlast these immediate crises? Is the rise of the purpose-led brand permanent? What will it take today—and tomorrow in the “next normal”—for brands to operate at the intersection of purpose and meaning? These are the questions that I explored last month as moderator of a New York Women in Communications roundtable discussion featuring Enshalla Anderson, director and global head of brand strategy for Google Cloud and former chief strategy officer for North America at FutureBrand and Susan Avarde, co-founder of Brandometry.
Below are some highlights from our conversation that touch on these and related themes:
1. A brand is a collection of impressions.
“Very simply, a brand is a collection of impressions. It’s what’s said about you when you’re not in the room. I think it’s important to consider as you ponder this question of a brand and brand management and the power of this intangible asset, the recognition that everyone collectively is responsible.”—Enshalla Anderson
2. A brand is a promise maker and promise keeper.
“A brand promise is what you make to customers and fulfilled in the marketplace. It encompasses being a promise maker, which often comes from the corporate team, and a promise keeper, which is delivered by employees and enables a brand’s promise to ring true. For this reason, it’s critically important that a brand’s employee value proposition is consistent with their brand promise.”—Enshalla Anderson
3. People’s expectations of brands and businesses are changing rapidly.
“What we’re seeing more and more is not just shared values, but an expectation that brands or businesses operate in a way where there is alignment of both profit and purpose. And, with that, the expectation that corporations or brands do more to impact and shape society is front and center—including helping solve problems that government is challenged to do.”—Enshalla Anderson
4. Expectations are not just being raised for consumer brands.
“While millennials are holding consumer brands to a higher standard, more B2B brands are marketing themselves like consumer brands—and should expect to be held to similar standards. Individuals are not just seeing a product or service, but actually looking for companies to play a big role: to influence and shape society in a positive way.”—Susan Avarde
5. Brands are operating under a more plural definition of what impact looks like.
“We’re looking at a more plural definition of what impact looks like, and that you migrate to a place where you’re doing good and good across a number of different fronts, good for society, good for your business, good for your customers, and good for your employees.”— Enshalla Anderson
6. Brands should mind their “say/do” gap.
“There is an incredible opportunity today for the alignment of purpose and experience. Brands should be asking what we are saying versus what we are doing. There can’t just be belief in those words at the C-suite level, but there must be actions in support of those words.”—Susan Avarde
7. Brands should stay true to who they are.
“Brands need to have a clarity of purpose in terms of what they stand for so that their purpose can be operationalized and have a guidepost to use in key moments.”— Enshalla Anderson
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