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  • Writer's pictureCraig Griffin

Rethinking Corporate Responsibility and Brand Purpose

Warren Buffett once remarked that, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked”. Without naming and shaming, the tide of Covid-19 has uncovered the true values of many brands. Have you treated customers fairly? Have you protected employees? What do you contribute to local communities?

Trust takes time to build and can be destroyed in seconds

In Thailand and around the world, people have reacted strongly to brands that are perceived to have behaved poorly or to have been opportunistic. When Grab were accused of price gouging and poor treatment of delivery riders, they had to react quickly to reassure customers.

The most recent Edelman Trust Barometer claims that people do care about this and will change their buying behaviour accordingly. Times of crisis are when people are most likely to form new habits. Edelman reports that one-third of people have convinced someone else to stop using a brand that was not acting appropriately during these times.

Solve, don’t sell

We don’t dispute that a core purpose of brands is to make money, but the way successful brands do that is by helping their customers solve a problem in their lives (doing a ‘job’). Covid-19 has created many more jobs to be done, and brands have been nimble in helping customers solve some of these new jobs, including those relating to safety and hygiene.

The post-Covid-19 world will reset values and redefine priorities in profound ways. Brands will need to do the same. There is already evidence that values are changing. Thailand is already socially minded, but family and community are becoming even more of a focus than personal priorities. Having dealt with some of the immediate challenges of the pandemic, people are also shifting to a ‘longer-term’ mind set.

The brand village

One of us worked for Cadbury for many years and was proud to be associated with the company. The origins of the business go back to selling coffee, tea and drinking chocolate. The Cadbury brothers built the Bournville estate as a model village to improve the living conditions of workers. They didn’t do this because it would help them sell more chocolate, but rather it reflected their underlying Quaker values (as did the lack of pubs in Bournville).

In 2018, Cadbury (now owned by Mondelez) launched a new brand purpose to “shine a light on the kindness and generosity that we see in society”, relaunching the brand as a “family brand founded on generous principles”. At the time, they had paid no UK corporation tax for seven years. So much for generous principles.

A community of stakeholders

Cadbury had created a community as well as a chocolate business. The pandemic and lockdown have revealed the importance of community and connection in our lives. And it is communities, sometimes more than governments and global businesses, that have rallied round to help each other. In local communities, we pay attention to who behaves well and who behaves badly, a topic we will return to in our next article.

As the Bournville village grew, Cadbury pioneered pension schemes, joint works committees and a full staff medical service for their employees. More than 100 years on, many employees don’t have such luxuries. Many companies have laid off staff or put them on unpaid leave and have provided no healthcare insurance, essentially abandoning their employees.

Actions speak louder than words

In complete contrast, other companies have committed their support, provided healthcare insurance and paid leave if necessary, even in difficult circumstances. Having a brand purpose alone is insufficient. Having values and acting on those values is what matters to people. Bill Bernbach once famously said, “A principle isn’t a principle until it costs you money”. People will be more sensitive to inauthentic brand values in future.

The reality is that what people really need is empathy, understanding and, above all, practical help. What are you doing to solve the new jobs your customers have? What concrete actions have you taken to help them and their communities cope with the huge challenges we all face? Whatever you say, what have you actually done?

Are brands fit for purpose?

Some brands have been nimble in responding to the situation and supporting stakeholders, but there will be longer-term implications. As the situation evolves, brands need to reflect on their core values and whether they continue to be relevant. If not, they may need to change. Even if they do, this is a good time to re-think how you can best deliver on them in a changing world

We are not arguing that we need to go back to an older way of doing things. Rather, we believe that values are shifting in profound ways. Brand purpose is not about lofty ideals, but about consistent acting on your core values (and your customer value proposition). Now is the time to focus on what those values are and be authentic to them.

About the Study

The findings are the result of a collaboration between insights consultancies across 17 countries. The effort was led by Beyond Research, based in Milan, and covered North and South America, Europe, Middle East and Asia-Pacific. Desk research covered multiple data sources including local country case studies, Google search trends, newspaper articles, and social media along with country-level cultural analysis.

About Culture Kitchen

Culture Kitchen combines cultural insight with marketing, branding and behavioural change know-how to help you plan your brand's future growth. Click here to download our free ebook covering the 7 Ways that Covid-19 will Shape the Future of Brands.

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