Post financial crisis, a new set of global expectations have emerged – that brands and business are not just responsible, but meaningful too. What does that mean? That a new generation are holding organisations to account for their authenticity, transparency, and their purpose.

For consumers this means voting with their ever decreasing disposable income – every pound, dollar, ruble or yen spent says something about the world they want to see, the companies they want to succeed and win. It’s no longer enough that your product is high quality, or that your store staff provide a great service…if you don’t pay your taxes and operate ethically as a business, they will destroy your brand and reputation in realtime with 140 characters.

Starbucks, Google, Uber and others are just some of the many of the high profile brands that have been attacked for their approach to tax. In the case of Starbucks, a leak exposing their tax avoidance led to a downturn in sales – something that opened the door for smaller independent coffee shops to capitalise on (with handmade window signs proudly proclaiming ‘we pay our tax’ – which were very publicly shared on Twitter and Instagram).

A greater transparency through social media and digital has brought company cultures into even sharper focus too. Where before decisions about supply chains and third party partners was something hidden from view, today’s socially conscious super-consumer bases their purchase decisions on factors such as ethically sourced materials, fair working policies in third world countries, and the philosophy of the CEO.

All this means that authentic brands win, and those without meaning and purpose fall further behind. Companies can’t fake it anymore.

If generational insight is anything to go by, we are looking at a tidal wave in terms of mindset – with consumers and employees increasingly placing meaning and purpose above financial gain. This shift will mean that social currency and personal reputation becoming even more significant drivers behind decision making, especially at an individual level.

Never before have the choices we make been so visible to all – which is why people are taking their decisions so seriously. Not just because it helps others, but because it says so much about ourselves.

From a brand or company’s perspective, what needs to be done to take advantage of it? 

The path to becoming a meaningful brand involves three key areas of consideration:

  1. Create a brand proposition that’s built on a clear purpose – align your business strategy with your brand strategy, driving profit and success through purpose and meaning. It will differentiate your company from the competition, and also build value and equity that sits on your balance sheet as an intangible asset. Use brand as a filter and guide for everything you do – shape all business decision-making around it and build a set of principles that guide global consistency, but allow for hyper-local flexibility.
  2. Embed that across your internal culture and ways of working– clarify and revisit your brand values, ensuring that they are more than words on a page. To truly make an impact your values need to be lived behaviours that are embedded into your performance framework and ways of working. Define your culture, how you work, and the unique mindset of the people you want to attract and retain. Analyse every part of your supply chain and partnerships – they are an extension of your business and by that token you are endorsing their working practices, so ensure they are brand friends that you value and trust with upholding the same high level of purpose.
  3. Activate that across your service experience – revisit and redraw your approach to service experience, considering how best to add meaning and purpose across every single touchpoint with customers or clients. Once the internal culture and ways of working are ‘lived’ then this approach will allow all that good work to surface – showcasing a genuine and authentic brand that lives by what it says. Become the keeper of promises and build a stronger brand through opening up to your customers and employees as a transparent leader with nothing to hide.

What are some of the risks and opportunities? 

The landscape of every industry is being turned upside-down by disruptive new challengers, and factors such as the rise of AI (artificial intelligence) will only magnify this impact in the near future. The real risk is not doing anything at all – so if you’re standing still you’re falling behind fast.

Being a meaningful brand drives success – it connects customers and employees to a clear purpose they can connect with, drives ethical behaviours that gain respect and trust, and ultimately keeps its promises to drive loyalty and growth.

The era of illusion is over, the most successful brands of tomorrow will be those with meaning and authenticity. It’s a race against time for businesses to respond quickly enough to consumer and employee expectations. The quicker you move, the bigger your advantage will be.

Doug Hewett, Founder, People-Made

You can find Doug @doughewett on Twitter

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