Diversity may be one of Pepsi’s touted tenets, but that didn’t keep the corporation out of hot water in 2017. Its Kendall Jenner #Resistance-style advertisement turned in a tone-deaf performance, leaving Pepsi reeling under a barrage of social media attacks.
Therein lies a deep truth about running a business in the modern era: Consumers no longer play a passive role in product placement or branding. They’re cutting through all the hype in an effort to get to the truth, such as whether a food is truly organic or whether a brand is being genuine and authentic when it pushes an ad aiming to show that it's socially conscious. The wisest companies that realize this sooner rather than later.
Today's consumers want to work with organizations that support their core beliefs, and they expect their chosen products and services to be in alignment. And it's working to change the world. For instance, LGBTQ activism has made such strong headway that only 4 percent of Fortune 500 companies lack a policy surrounding specific LGBTQ rights.
The rise of portable devices means practically instant access to anything, including whether or not a brand is sincere. The organizations that live their principles thrive. Those that don’t will struggle. Pepsi managed to weather the Jenner storm, but most companies can’t afford such missteps. With one major fiasco, they could be crushed like an empty can of soda. It's a truism in an era when everyone's peering behind the curtain.
The Positive Side of Authenticity
Although it’s plain to see that consumers have more clout, organizations shouldn’t view the change as all negative. In fact, knowing that 57 percent of people make purchase decisions based on how well a company echoes their principles allows companies to drive loyalty like never before.
A great example is Subaru’s “Love” campaign. The underlying promise of “Love” was that Subaru has deep ties to its consumers despite not being the most exciting vehicle on the market. My family can attest to the power of this simple yet enduring promotion. My first car, inherited from my sister, was a Subaru with no power steering, a stick shift and no power windows or doors. The bottom rusted out. Yet it ran and ran, getting us both through high school and college. That’s love. That’s commitment. That’s why the brand is doing well.
Whirlpool is another brand that understands the difference between spending marketing dollars and weighing in. The "Care Counts" program donates washers and dryers to schools so kids from low-income families can always have clean clothes. Whirlpool’s goal isn’t necessarily to sell products; it's to give these children the chance to confidently integrate with their peers and teachers without worrying about being bullied because their clothes smell. It’s an innovative way to woo new customers with a distinct, heartfelt competitive differentiator.
Becoming a Socially and Ethically Responsible Organization
Your company might be decades old like mine, or it might be a fledgling startup. Either way, you can add a conscience to your corporate identity by taking a few steps:
1. Share and embrace differences.
Moms never say, “Oh, I really wish kids would keep their toys to themselves and not share!” Yet many of us stay "safe" and are unwilling to share our viewpoints as adults so we don't make "waves." Open yourself up to the world and learn to both give away your own ideas and embrace those of others.
Be bold. You don't have to love someone's differences or interests to respect them. For example, modern art might not be my cup of tea, but that doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful to someone else. Differences matter, and when you embrace those differences, everyone learns and grows.
2. Lead by example.
Is your company doing its best to live up to its vision statement? If not, innovate as a team to become more responsible. For instance, many retailers that claim to be supportive of the environment haven’t even considered adding solar panels, using wind power, or recycling water and other resources. In other words, they’re not venturing outside of their own bubble, which leaves them at risk for losing eco-conscious consumers.
The brands that see a gap outside their bubble will be the ones who make the greatest impact. Whirlpool, for instance, realized that kids not having clean clothes for school was a problem, so the company took a step outside its comfort zone to create a solution.
3. Take a stand.
Research from the Global Strategy Group shows that 81 percent of buyers want corporations to take sides on political and social issues. Brands are taking notice, and there has been a noticeable surge in ads touching on everything from immigrant stories to racial bias to gender equality.
However, it’s not enough to simply jump on the bandwagon because it’s what consumers expect. The GSG study also found that half of buyers expect responses to major events like school shootings in 24 hours or less. Consequently, you must be willing to make a strong stance on hot-button issues — without waiting a week to see what everyone else is saying to make sure you're making the "right" response. In fact, the world expects it now like never before, and customers will call you out internationally if you try to straddle the fence.
You don’t have to run a perfect company; truly, such a corporation doesn’t exist. However, you should operate from a platform of pure genuineness. The stronger your organizational mantras, the easier it will be to position your marketing and grow a tribe of advocates.