Building Trust Through Shared Values: A How-to for Brands
Millennials now own the largest portion of the population’s purchasing power ($200 billion and growing) and they wield that power for social good: 87% of millennials think brands should be evaluated on more than financial performance, including issues like employee treatment, environmental responsibility, and giving back to the community. Brands that target millennials and Gen Z understand that their message cannot only be commercially driven—consumers from these generations want their values to align with the companies they buy from.
But, while brands cannot afford to sit on the sidelines of social causes or controversial issues, they also can’t afford to miss the mark. Brands need to reflect on the values central to their core first and then actively live them in a way that’s authentic to the company. Doing this backwards—artificially imposing values onto your company without deep reflection—can be worse than doing nothing at all. It’ll alienate consumers from your brand and breed distrust. So how can you dance this dance just right?
Artificially imposing values onto your company without deep reflection can be worse than doing nothing.
During SXSW in mid-March, I attended a panel titled How Brands Do Well By Doing Good, moderated by Ben Goldhirsh, co-CEO and co-founder of Good Inc. Panelists included Kim Rubey, the Global Head of Social Impact and Philanthropy at Airbnb, Michal Rosenn, General Counsel at Kickstarter, and Jennifer Lindenauer, VP of Marketing at Upworthy. The panel focused on how and why brands are taking values-based stances on social and political issues. Here are three important learnings from this conversation that you can take back to your company today:
1. The Ability to Speak Up About Important Social Causes Begins at the Top
Wanting to speak up as a brand and actually doing so successfully are two different things. Certain structures and support need to be in place behind the scenes in order for brands to be able to thoughtfully weigh in on social issues, including an organizational imperative to respond, employee autonomy, and adequate company resources. Your brand’s core values also must be clearly understood at every level of the company so you’ll know when to add your voice to an issue and when to hang back—so you’ll maintain consumers’ trust and avoid coming across as opportunistic.
“The desire to do good and to be a values, mission-driven company needs to start at the top,” with company founders and executives, explained Rosenn. That top-level support is incredibly important to a company’s ability to have an impact. With top-level support, employees don’t have to first convince people at the company that it would be good for the business to take a stand—they can simply take a stand because it’s core to who they are.
2. Mission-Driven Consumers and Employees Expect Companies To Match Their Values
The easy answer for why brands speak up about important social causes is that doing so improves their bottom line: “The important millennial audience is demanding issue relevance from brands,” said Jennifer Lindenauer of Upworthy.
Both Kickstarter and Airbnb have social values baked into the very core of their businesses: Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects, and Airbnb helps regular people open up their homes to members of the global community. Kickstarter, a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC), even seeks social and political change at the most basic foundational level of the company: with PBCs, duties to shareholders must be balanced with public benefit.
Airbnb introduced their new brand mark with a video explaining its tie to their core values.
“When we think about what it is that we’re doing in current times to stand up for our values, we really tap into what it is we want our community to be, what it is we want our world to be, and how we want our business to function within that community,” said Michal Rosenn of Kickstarter. Rosenn added, “When we think about what we’re doing as a company it comes from that, rather than what’s best for us solely as a business.” As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said, “Building a mission and building a business go hand-in-hand.”
“Building a mission and building a business go hand-in-hand.” — Mark Zuckerberg
In addition to the always-important bottom line, today’s socially conscious brands are also speaking up to remain competitive with employees. When it comes to taking stands on important social issues, Lindenauer said it’s actually as important, if not more important, for brands to take a stand for employee retention reasons as it is to take a stand for customers’ sake: “The market is changing and growing every second of every day and there are a tremendous number of companies competing for the same pool of top, highly talented employees, so offering real mission-driven employees the chance to work at real mission-driven companies provides another way to set your company up for success.” Also, a shared understanding of the world between employees means everyone can come at big problems from a shared perspective, solve them quickly, and move on.
3. Consumers Will Continue to Demand that Brands Speak Up in the Right Way About Important Social Causes
Speaking up about social issues that align with your company’s core mission and resonate with your target audience makes good business sense now, but will it in the future?
“We’re seeing consumers and society demand it from companies more and more,” explains Rosenn. “Having companies be mindful of their place in society and their power in society is going to just increase,” Rosenn continued.
But, it’s not enough to simply jump onto the bandwagon of a social issue. “The important thing here is to be clear on what values drive your business,” Nathalie Nahai told us. “Once you have defined these, you can then experiment to find the best way to live your values both internally (within the business) and externally (in customer-facing interactions, including through your social and marketing channels).”
Have you been inspired to brand loyalty by a show of support for a cause you believe in? We’d love to hear your story—please share in the comments!