big society

There are emerging trends and then there are fully emerged trends

If you take the  Cannes 2013 awards as a guide  then the idea that brands should take on public spirited causes is now a fully emerged trend

I mean by this not just a commitment to being responsible  in the way they do business. No this is something altogether more high profile.

In this years  awards many of the award winners- a majority perhaps- were companies communicating how they are working on behalf of citizens and championing public spirited causes

Such as these campaigns

  • IBM making billboards into seats and shelters for weary travellers.
  • Dela Dela Funeral Insurance encouraging us to be nice to relatives, before they die.
  • Channel 4 saluting Paralympic athletes.
  • Smart Communications providing textbooks for poor schoolchildren using old mobile phones.
  • Dove encouraging women to value their own beauty.
  • Oreo cookies celebrating diversity.
  • Recife Football Club encouraging organ donation.
  • P&G has become the worlds proud sponsor of mums ( that last one is quite a turnaround- when i started in the biz they were an anonymous chemical company)

What is the thinking behind this? It is  based on the belief that people don’t just buy what you do, they also buy why you do it.

Put another way the model is this-

“Love my values,

Love my brand,

Buy my product or service ( at a premium)”

Is it working ? Well Nielsen have just published some research that suggests that it does –

The proportion of consumers willing to pay more for goods and services from companies engaged in corporate social responsibility has increased to 50% globally, according to new research.
The study from market researchers Nielsen also found that 43% of global respondents have actually spent more on products and services from companies that have implemented programmes to give back to society.
That represents just 7% fewer than those expressing willingness to do so and comes amidst signs of a rising trend of goodwill towards socially responsible brands.
Credit should go to Unilever with their 5 levers of change and to the Dove team- the big players who were at in the start of this recent trend .
But i don’t think they invented it – “Love my values love my brand” marketing is really a classic challenger brand strategy as explained by Adam Morgan in Eating the Big Fish. People who pioneered this trend go further back like the late and highly visionary Anita Roddick with The Body Shop. It is just that the rest of the marketing world has taken a long time to catch up with Anita
Roddick was well ahead of her time - a true pioneer

Roddick was well ahead of her time – a true pioneer

But why this trend now ? Like a lot of emerged trends, There is not just one factor but a combination
– Follow my leader: when Unilever and P&G do something big time, others follow
– Marketing and business theory. John Kay in Obliquity and Jim Stengel in Grow have made the business performance case ; Companies that purely pursue profits ( aka The Shareholder Value School)  do less well than those who try to do the right thing. And sometimes doing the right thing means championing causes.
-Staff motivation: people are not just motivated by money. They prefer to work at and perform better at places ( private or public sector) that pursue a higher purpose.
-Customer service: Staff who are believers (and not just mercenaries) deliver better service. Companies like John Lewis for example.
– Premium pricing – if Mintel is right we pay more to companies that give back to society
– Communications effectiveness; It gives a company or brand a true story to tell – one that is worth telling in film (still the most moving of media) and a story to  pass on through networks and through social media. Stories worth talking about and participating in.

To the RSA for an excellent talk by Jeremy Heimans of Purpose 

He is one of a new breed of “Movement Entrepreneurs” – who brings practical knowledge and insight about how the radical democratisation of the web is changing politics and campaigning. Now more than ever you can start a popular movement – not just locally but globally-enabled by tech.

Lots of good examples such as avaaz and getup

His top tips worth noting on how to start a movement

-Dont rely too much on The Charismatic Leader ( it can go wrong- think Lance Armstrong) – what you need is the right purpose

-Use institutional power but don’t get institutionalised

( David Milliband made the excellent point that if you want to have influence you have to map power structures. Sometimes these are not very visible or even widely known but they are very powerful – such as pension funds and mutual funds)

– a movement is not an internet meme

– Be online and especially be hyper local

-Soundbites do not engage any longer ( Forget Alistair Campbell) think storytelling

-Go transnational

-To get new members make it very easy for them to act ( remove barriers to action)

-Use the mainstream tech – don’t get over excited by the leading edge stuff – text or even fax may be better that a hip new app

-Fund well at the start and then get funding by the people

-Deeply embed participation ( great danger here is to message at people and think “gosh I have got a huge database must do some CRM”. Obama was highly participative in 2008 and then people started to feel targeted with messages

-Action leads to hope, not hope leads to action ( Supported by the idea of The endowment effect from Behavioral psychology -we  are more committed to something we have a hand in creating). Change minds by getting people to do things. The attitude change follows the behaviour change – not the other way round

The big question though is how does it work when it is not a single issue or the challenge is necessarily complex- such the ungoverned part of the oceans – being raped and pillaged according to David Milliband- or climate change). That is still a tough one . Watch this space. Certainly watch what Purpose do

A partnership between brands and local government?

Brands have money. They want to be seen as trusted and rooted in the lives of their buyers,especially as this is a time when ‘glossy’ doesnt play in the west ( it does in China right now) and people are anxious and hunkering down

Local government has very little money and need investment for regeneration.

They also  touch many aspects of people’s lives and communities

These are the ingredients for a partnership and a continuing story that can be shared by the brand and the local community

A great example here  from the US and Levis and the town of Braddock

Any dangers? Yes – all urban regeneration takes time so once started the brand has to stay committed or face accusations that a brands is doing it all just for publicity rather than as an expression of heartfelt values.