I’m sure that over the past year or so, you have seen many articles and social media posts that talk about how much our perception of the world has changed for the better since the pandemic, supported with lots of inspirational quotes.
Although we look at these same messages and briefly think about what immediately has changed, such as our perspective on working, our concerns over our loved ones and the importance of the NHS, we think that there is something more substantial that has changed. Many of us have now shifted our thinking to focus on what we all believe is important to us and we are learning to appreciate all around us. Mostly because we haven’t had much else to do!
This theme – focusing on what is important to us – is apparent across everything, including our purchasing and investing decisions. One particular trend that has been apparent is the increase of people shopping locally. Customers are looking to make better choices when purchasing, and keeping a local shop in business is something they consider to be more important than shopping for convenience at a large supermarket that is more than likely to maintain their sales throughout.
The pandemic has notably highlighted companies that do well – by their employees, suppliers and the environment as a whole – as well as those that have not. How brands have reacted to the pandemic and the choices that they are making are very much in the public eye and this is changing our perceptions. We reflect on these in our own lives. Our family members may be employed by these companies and we’ve been buying from these big brands that are benefitting from these hard times. Being a responsible brand is doing more than the odd charity fundraiser, or an attempt to reduce a carbon footprint. It’s about making the right choices that not only have an impact on the future of the company, but an impact on everything that the company touches; holding your company accountable for everything that happens off the back of one decision.
Most companies assume that they are responsible because they consider some small elements of sustainability, or quote one of the following phrases somewhere on their website: CSR, EHS or ESG. But, like we say, it is more than just commenting on what you may do because it complies or appears ‘on-trend’. Companies now need to fully understand what they are doing and how to make changes because they truly believe that they need to consider the environmental and societal impacts. Responsibility begins at the start of your supply chain, right up until your products are consumed: everything in-between this is what you are accountable for.
We often see that Generation Z and Millennials are influencing a lot of this change. Currently, Millennials are becoming the dominant generation within the workforce and, in turn, increase their activities as investors.
Generation Z is soon to become the next dominant generation and is equally concerned and, in many cases, more concerned about sustainability than MillennialsWhy Corporate Strategies Should Be Focused On Sustainability Forbes (10 February 2021)
They are the wave that are looking for more meaning in everything they do, and the generation that wants to ensure that we are behaving sustainably. This is reflected in their own actions, life choices and purchasing decisions. With this, they are also looking to purchase from companies that have a clear purpose, know what they stand for, and are making a positive contribution to their future.
More and more people are looking to follow suit, in making the right choices in everything they do, with a particular focus on selecting responsible brands. However, one issue that they regularly face is that they are unsure on who is really responsible and who is just saying they are. These audiences want to find out who is considered a responsible brand and they want evidence for it. As a company, you need to make it mean something; don’t just say it because you know it’s what they want to hear.
Two in three people believe brands are as responsible as the government in bringing about social and environmental change.Understanding the true meaning and value of brand responsibility Responsible Brands (22 February 2021)
Your purpose statement is something that sets the foundation for your business. It represents what you stand for and what your company strives to achieve. When making any decision, you should be referring back to your purpose to understand whether or not your actions reflect and support this statement, and whether or not you feel they are aligned.
Having a purpose statement that allows you to make responsible choices means that you can have a positive impact on everything that your brand touches, while also providing you with a reasoning for doing so.
Along with your purpose, you will have a set of values. Your values are an extension of your purpose statement. They drive and inform behaviours that ensure your purpose is brought to life.
It's important to think about those you are associated with and ensure that they also agree and align with your purpose. As previously mentioned, being a responsible brand means taking accountability for all in your supply chain and, therefore, means that this association reflects on you as a brand. As a clothing brand with a focus on producing high-quality sustainable clothes, you wouldn’t work with a factory that employs underage workers or pays less than minimum wage, would you? You need to make sure that the two are aligned appropriately and, in doing so, your responsible brand status will speak for itself.
Association should also be in mind when looking at employees. Your employees are the face of your organisation; they will share stories and communicate about their working day to peers, so it is important that their representation of your company and what you stand for is accurate and they share the same passion.
In communicating your commitment to achieving and maintaining your responsible brand status, you should gain further attention from prospective employees that are focused and aligned with associating themselves with a brand of this nature. In turn, you create a workforce that is passionate and aligned to your purpose.
As I’m sure you are aware, there have been lots of social issues that have arisen around the world in recent years – movements such as #blacklivesmatter and #metoo, to name a few. Brands are making the wrong decisions over these movements in choosing to speak out when, in fact, they do not really have anything to say, or attempt to communicate facts on issues that they don’t know enough about.
Some brands are perceived to be ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ and benefit from the popularity and traffic that these movements bring. This was apparent when Pepsi revealed their advertisement, which seemed to be focused on the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Comments flooded in that the brand had been insensitive and actually did not reflect a true representation of the issues that were at hand. A job done terribly.
These social movements are extremely important, and we know that lots of people have strong opinions in support of them. You may be completely on board with these movements and want to support them in every way possible. However, you need to remove your personal perspective and view them from a company perspective.
This isn’t to say that, as a company, you do not support them. It’s just about making the right decision on how to approach them. If the principles behind the movement align closely with your core purpose, then it should answer the question as to whether you should broach this. If it doesn’t align with your core foundation, then you could make the mistake of looking insincere and ‘jumping on the bandwagon’. So, if it doesn’t directly align, just ensure that you are considering social issues in your day-to-day activities instead. Find out alternative ways that you can support these movements.
Multiple times throughout this article I talk about being honest, but I feel that it did need its own separate discussion point. We can learn from recent scandals such as the car emissions scandal. Car brands had lied and cheated throughout emissions tests on their vehicles, stating lower figures than the truth, which caused controversy and, inevitably, tremendous backlash resulting in the need for many of the C-suite resigning. What do we take from this? Firstly, there’s no point in lying, as you will lose the trust of many stakeholders connected to your business, and this will reflect awfully on you. Secondly, we need to remember that it is okay to not quite meet the sustainability expectations yet, but we need to be honest about them. Instead of falsifying the figures, it would have been more appropriate to discuss what the emissions truly are and, from that, discuss how to move forward and improve them. Audiences understand that change is not immediate, but showing that you are acting to improve is a much better solution than doing nothing, or lying.
Becoming a responsible brand starts with your purpose, as we mentioned previously. But the key is more than simply stating that you are focusing on making change. You need to be committed and actively invested in making the world a better place. Your day-to-day activities should be made with your purpose in mind and, therefore, your actions should contribute to making smart and responsible decisions that positively impact the world around your company.
It is also important that your stakeholders understand the positive impact that your actions have on the world. You can communicate this on many levels: in your annual report, on your corporate website, through social media activity, as well as through your sustainability reports. The options are endless. But it is important to be honest. Be honest and communicate what you are doing, and if you haven’t actioned anything just yet, communicate what your plans are and how you are going to achieve them.
Your stakeholders want more than lip service. They want evidence.
We have dedicated in-house teams who are experts in branding and sustainability, not to mention our departments who support you in communicating your message. We can collaborate with you to support your brand at its core, ensuring that it is both effective and sustainable for the future. If you think you’d like some help in understanding your purpose, realigning your brand or communicating your responsible efforts, get in touch with us. We would love to help.