Consumers are consciously seeking out brands that practice what they preach. How will you respond?

Leading brands are adopting a positive approach to the issues facing society today. Whether the considerations are environmental, ethical or social, firms are taking steps to humanize themselves with potentially far-reaching consequences.

This sea change is not just down to consumer demand. It’s also about a drive from companies themselves to live the values they claim publicly. So what’s needed to deliver in the 21st century?

Humanizing your brand requires transformation at both strategic and operational levels then authentically communicating your position to the market.

We see these three factors as key to the success of a ‘human brand’:

  1. Consumers expect brands to be global citizens, so you need to take a stance.
  2. Your strategy and operations must reflect your values and beliefs.
  3. Be authentic in your communication and collaboration.

1. Consumers expect brands to be global citizens

The relationship between brand and consumer is changing. Consumers no longer just want, but expect brands to take a more proactive, unambiguous stance on the world’s big issues.

In our Digital Leaders 2022 study one of the top characteristics that successful organizations have in common is the ability to integrate ethics, sustainability, and a broad world view in day-to-day operations.

Organizations are responding to these seismic changes in attitude both from the outside and from within. Decision-making has undergone generational change, as a more ethically literate cohort settles into senior roles, one that is attuned to the prevailing mood of their peers. To the consumers who are passionate about change, seeing even a neutral stance can feel contrary to their goals and values – with a potentially large negative impact.

Those choices are resonating with consumers, who are willing to vote with their wallets on whether they’ll do business with a brand that doesn’t place sustainability and ethics at the core of its activities.

2. Your strategy and operations must reflect your values and beliefs

Whenever a brand amends its messaging to reflect a seasonal sentiment, there is often conflict between the communication and its perception, and perhaps a feeling that it’s only a temporary adjustment.

The solution is to be genuine about it – to adopt the values and ethics you believe in permanently. This means at your core strategy and then rolled out across the entire enterprise in each business unit level, supply chain alliance, procurement partner, investments and territories. 

There’s no getting around it: making these changes needs to be on an operational level if you are true to your values and beliefs. This transformation – complete with the upheaval of procedures, rules, and regulations it entails – is not something that happens overnight. But to consolidate your position in such a changing market, it must start now.

Several companies have transitioned their beliefs and found them at odds with their core offering.

For example, there’s the airline that recommends flying responsibly so passengers can be more mindful of their carbon footprint. Then there’s the beer company making alcohol-free beer a hero product.

Conventional business sense would have it that advising passengers to fly less with you would be financially damaging and short-sighted. But authenticity breeds success.

Customer loyalty is fast becoming a reward for making that trade-off between long-term consciousness and short-term gain.

3. Be authentic

Communicating your core beliefs effectively is key to engaging the customer. From a consumer-facing perspective, your messaging should capture your new vision – and consistently so. It shows you’re serious about making the values-led transformation.

Extend the same courtesy to both internal and external stakeholders. Communicate openly and honestly, while maintaining transparency, so your teams are closely aligned on these shared goals. View this shifting perspective as an opportunity. It gives companies the chance to roll several strands of key messaging – from sales and marketing to recruitment and people – into one, all-encompassing set of values.

If your brand strives to achieve authenticity around values in its messaging, then we believe company communication styles need to change and corporate speak should stop. Communication should move forward, to reflect the style of friends, building trust and enhancing dialogue with customers.

There are several key concepts to understand:

Communication requires being open, honest, and engaged with the consumer. It involves having a respectful reaction to customer issues, taking on board their standpoint and creating a suitable solution.

Collaboration means taking views on board before deciding, from inside and outside the organization, so that all angles can be absorbed and explored. Taking different – and even opposing – viewpoints into account gives you valuable access to solutions which perhaps haven’t previously been considered.

Co-creation with stakeholders, employees and customers. Deal with concerns and complaints by taking feedback during the process, and bring dissenting voices into the fold, to discover if there’s a way to satisfy business needs as well as those of the consumer.

Take a conscious decision to stand out!

Putting values first and communicating around this conscious decision is what separates organisations from their peers. A conscious decision and subsequent action to be a more human brand is the key to success.

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