Brand Citizenship: Aligning Purpose and Profit Is Good Business

February 2, 2018

Brand citizenship

Over the past 15 years, the research I’ve conducted on my own and on behalf of my clients has demonstrated that we are developing a deeper connection with the brands we interact with.

Brands, especially the ones we’re loyal to, represent more than things and services. They signify an ethos, the character of a culture or a group—either one that mirrors our existing values or one that we aspire to. And as more people grow concerned with equality and sustainability, more of us want to feel that our “relationship” with a brand links us to some kind of larger purpose designed to help shape a future that will both sustain the planet and enrich our modern lives.

Since branding became a focus for business in the late 1990s, businesses have looked to nurture consumers who will advocate on behalf of their brands—people who not only buy products or services themselves but who also recommend them to friends, “like” them online, and positively tweet or post about their experiences using them. Today, the tides are turning, and customers and employees alike are looking for the brands they buy and companies they work for to advocate on their behalf, as well as on behalf of those who are disadvantaged and for the planet.

Companies are no longer just companies. We imbue them with the characteristics of friends and family—and even enemies. So it’s no surprise that people now demand businesses and their brands to do more than just make a profit. They expect brands to behave like active citizens and partner with customers, employees, and other stakeholders to co-create a better future.

Our changing attitude toward business

If you’re a CEO, marketer, advertiser, entrepreneur, consultant, or other business executive, you’re aware of the following movement: Each year, more brands that stand for good principles or causes are surfacing. While they are still in the minority among business enterprises overall, the impact they are having on our collective psyche and expectations for all companies is growing.

Increasingly, politicians, scientists, economists, and the general public are recognizing that our current approach to business needs to change. More and more business leaders are seeking models to guide them through shifting marketplace dynamics. Increasingly, customers and employees are letting companies know that they are no longer willing to accept business as usual, with the attendant human, environmental, and community costs of prioritizing earnings above everything else. Ultimately, people want businesses to do more than just earn a profit. They want the brands they buy to go beyond being only bottom line-driven to doing good on their behalf, as their customers.

The growth of brand citizenship

A growing number of CEOs today acknowledge that doing good is as essential a criterion for lasting business success as earning a profit.

Organizations such as the CECP: The CEO Force for Good, for example, are growing. Founded by Paul Newman in 1999, CECP is a coalition of CEOs united in the belief that societal improvement is a measure of business performance. Membership now includes more than 200 of the world’s largest companies as diverse as American Express, Coca-Cola, Estée Lauder, Pfizer, Toyota Motor Corporation, United Parcel Service (UPS), and Xerox.1 Although many of the companies on CECP’s roster were once considered part of the proverbial problem, they are now investing in creating social and financial value.

So why shouldn’t a business make a profit while simultaneously doing good? Why shouldn’t idealism and realism comfortably sit side by side? Just as compelling, why shouldn’t doing good or becoming a sustainable business be seen as an investment into brand loyalty rather than simply a necessary cost of doing business?

Adapted, with permission of the publisher, from Do Good: Embracing Brand Citizenship to Fuel Both Purpose and Profit, by Anne Bahr Thompson. Copyright 2018, Anne Bahr Thompson. Published by AMACOM.

1. Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy. “Creating a Better World Through Business.”
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About The Author

Anne Bahr Thompson is the author of Do Good: Embracing Brand Citizenship to Fuel Both Purpose and Profit (AMACOM, 2018). She is founder of the brand consultancy Onesixtyfourth and former executive director of strategy and planning at Interbrand. Thompson has been featured in the Financial Times, the New York Times, and on Fox Business and MarketWatch Radio.

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