As consumers we want to spend our money with those businesses who care - if we can find them. Having a a relevant and meaningful purpose at heart is a rising opportunity for brands to stand out and be preferred by their stakeholders.
When people talk about ‘business in society’ we very often turn it into a CR or CSR matter.
And when we do that, business has a strong tendency to give it a detached, sometimes even charity-oriented perspective.
But when you look at some of the recent negative examples you understand that it is about more than generosity. It is about reputation, and reputation is about value. Take a look at
facebook and Cambridge Analytica
Danske Bank and control with white-washing or financial governance.
Therefore it is not simply about CSR. It is an opportunity to build value or reputational collateral with strong relationships and mutual benefits for businesses as well as their stakeholders.
From my own back-catalogue I can talk about
The VELUX Sustainable Living programme and the 4x WIN for global climate, the building industry, homeowners AND for the business. It makes a lot of difference, when you can connect your business actions with stakeholder interests and clearly demonstrate a willingness to take responsibility beyond the financial bottomline.
Another example is
Tryghedsgruppen - who provide lifesavers on Danish beaches during summer turning the insurance product into a tangible security,
Or one of my all-time classics
Ecco Walkathon, which donates funds to a heart association, based on how many kilometers their customers are walking at the annual Walkathon event. Great way to combine the product, with direct customer benefit - in terms of health - and with product consumption.
And if in doubt, take a look at the priorities of new graduates entering business careers. After the opportunity for personal development, purpose and the opportunity to make a difference follow closely.
In a broader perspective I suppose responsibility is also pointing in the direction of business.
Responsibility has always been sitting with those, holding financial strength:
Historically, with the landowner - nobility or landlords - holding profit and taking responsibility for their servants and the local community. Growth and prosperity followed responsibility, because it was driving productivity.
Later with the industrialisation production companies took over, clearly generating higher profits - the question is how well they lived up their role in society? It was before the triple bottomline. Profit was king. Not enough focus on the people. Subsequently, unions were formed and we outsourced responsibility. Governments started regulating social conditions to put pressure on business to take responsibility. In Denmark that turned into the welfare society making sure that everybody could survive on a reasonable standard of living.
Today economy is not the primary issue. We are way beyond minimum standard of living concerns in the Western world, at least. Paying for welfare is no longer the top priority when it comes to responsibility. It is about safety, climate or sustainable development (not forgetting third world poverty, though). Topics that are complex to govern, because we lack common paradigms.
As consumers we start to recognize the new issues. We are looking for more than a good deal.
Products are commoditized. Becoming more generic at the core. And we have ample, acceptable alternatives to choose from. And remember, if you can't be different, there is only one strategy be cheaper.
Simultaneously, digital development provides an unmatched transparency. Business supply exceeds consumer demand. Therefore power is shifting towards the consumer. And we don’t simply want transactions. We want suppliers who care - when we can get it.
Subsequently, the consumer perspective on value increasingly shifts beyond the consumption itself: Does businesses take responsibility or add value with my money? Do they take responsibility beyond the bottom-line? Are they purpose-in-wallet or are they also purpose-at-heart?
This puts pressure on the fourth dimension of your brand delivery - your role in society.
Most of you have a clear proposition for your products and services. You know how to engage with your customers and more often than not, employer branding defines your organisational culture that drives behaviour.
But what about corporate citizenship?
Is it there? Does it align with your business or is it simply charity?
The responsibility agenda is shaping with the UN SDG’s as the common language or pinnacle most businesses align themselves towards.
We are entering a highly transparent, digital world with infinite touch points to connect with our customers across the journey. To succeed consistently you need a clear, strong core identity and purpose more than ever to drive actions in all four dimensions of your brand strategy.
And for reputation mgmt. there is a wider challenge for all of us: to demonstrate if the ability to keep customer loyalty and financial strength over time, increasingly depends on how well this responsibility is lifted? That is a pretty interesting question for the future.
And ultimately businesses may better recall the words from the late Mr. Møller (in a free translation): ‘Those who have the ability, have the obligation’ - and consumers are likely to hold you to that in the future.