February 22nd, 2021
In the UK, an estimated 660,000 new companies are created each year. The term ‘brand’ and how it’s treated can play a big part in whether a company succeeds or perhaps falls into the 60% that fail within the first three years.
But whether you’re a start-up or have been established for 20 years, history tells us that more credence has been given to the idea of ‘brand’ and at an exponential rate. The very first marketing and brand gurus of old would tell us it’s all about product and a new invention; car versus horse. Later they would say it’s about being different than everyone else and having points of differentiation, being the black sheep. More recently a topic of debate has been around brand purpose being the most vital asset of a brand. Each time, finding a saturation point when the chasing pack catches up or follows suit. All of these things are, of course, important at differing scales for different brands and still relevant for any business trying to stand out.
Brand means much more today than just a business or product idea with a logo and nice eye-catching identity. And in turn much more is expected of them. Of course, a brand is born out of an idea, a purpose, or product, but it becomes an ecosystem. It has employees that search for meaning in their jobs, it has customers that rely on them to not only provide their product or service but, two in three people believe brands are as responsible as the government in bringing about social and environmental change. A brand has the power to create or support culture or lifestyle; it has the power to educate, to provide care around wellbeing. Brands are now ultimately more than just about making short-term profit and creating revenue. And like any ecosystem it has dependencies, and with dependencies comes responsibility.
Reviewing brand responsibility
The term brand responsibility will become the next branding trend, taking the place of brand purpose, a term and theory commoditised and made somewhat stale through agency oversell, buzzwords and non-truths. For some brands, and for the people that work for them, it’s lost its meaning and importance. What once was the holy grail of ‘brand’ is now just another take-it-or-leave-it, ordinary looking cup. A box to be ticked amongst a list of ‘things to do when starting a brand or rebranding’. Brand responsibility is a noble idea and we’re advocates for it, but like its predecessors in ‘brand leading ideas’, it may fall victim to the same agency sales spin that has come before. And frankly, it should not. Responsibility can be everything to a brand and can connect brand purpose, product or service, to the audience and to the world.
A lot of brands, big or small, are reviewing their own social responsibility and taking more of a stance in creating positive change for the world as a whole, reducing their imprint on the environment, and improving social welfare. But this is all a little bit of an afterthought, an add-on, sometimes to appease a demographic rather than pioneer for it. We’re living in a time where we’re witnessing proof of brands getting this right and drastically wrong. Efforts towards social responsibility, whilst commendable, create a risk of being conceited; the next sales scheme to get customers to buy, just like brand purpose.
We believe the true meaning of brand responsibility is bigger than that and means much more. It is a chance for brands to take a long look at themselves and ingrain that responsibility in the very fabric, values and cause of the brand and what it’s trying to achieve. Customer responsibility should naturally become the priority, and with it, employee responsibility and social responsibility will come naturally alongside listening to the customer, to serve them and align to their thoughts, needs and feelings first. Brand responsibility is the consideration and commitment to the people the brand serves. This is what creates buy-in and trust. This is what drives a brand forward. This is what makes the difference.
Taking responsibility demonstrates care
Brand responsibility is the hard work. Coming up with a brand purpose can be extremely valuable and often needed for direction, but being committed to it, being courageous with its direction and being open and authentic about ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’ can help shape an ownable, relevant brand story, product(s), service(s) and message. Brand responsibility is the proof that you are delivering on your promise to your audience, your employees and the wider world. And when these are connected, they hold a far greater value than purpose alone.
It’s never too late or too early for a brand to take responsibility for its audience. It simply requires spending time thinking about what you can do that is authentic and right. This isn’t just about planting trees to offset a carbon footprint or giving money to a charity to show good will. This is about being true to the cause that the brand set out to do in the first place and committing to it daily, weekly, yearly, with full-hearted effort, consistently reaching for the, sometimes unattainable, goal.
Taking responsibility shows that you care, that you value the individual as well as the world and that they can draw value from you. It shows proof in standing by a promise. It shows leadership, and with leadership comes a following, and with a following comes more influence, power and weight to make positive change.
Written by Lee Casey, Creative Director and Co-Founder, Hatched.
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