by Erna George When told that the deadline for January columns was early December, I winced as I was struggling — as I am certain you were — to wrap up 2013. Then Madiba passed away and, as the nation vowed to strive to emulate him, I was inspired.

Reflecting on his achievements and learning from his life gave extra meaning to the season of goodwill to others. The prospect for brands, too, to be better, just felt an apt topic.

CaringErna George

By ‘better’ I don’t mean enhancing or boosting corporate social responsibility or sustainability initiatives. I mean having a positive intent woven into your brand proposition, about caring. In essence, I want to ask, “Brand, what is your purpose?”

Why a purpose?

Functional benefits such as ‘double the goodness’ or ‘three times the power’ are nowadays difficult to uphold as they are easily copied. And, with increased choice and consumer cynicism, they are no longer good enough.

People want more

Instead, as we move from marketing-to-consumers to marketing-to-people (as often said by David Jones CEO of Havas and author of Who Cares Wins: Why Good Business Is Better Business), people want more in exchange for their hard-earned cash and loyalty.

Today, it’s all about higher-order social and emotional benefits. A brand’s point of view and its values — as well as its actions — will impact people’s choices. Yes, basics such as price will continue to play a role but, if a brand does not tie into the purpose or the higher-order values people seek, those people are likely to say, “Thanks, but I have others to choose from.”

Are you a community player?

So, Brand, are you a community player? Do you offer an eco-friendly option? Is your point of view on children’s nutrition something others can relate to, and will your approach help achieve their goal? Have you touched their sensibilities?

As mentioned, caring need not be related to CSR.

Dove gets this. Understanding how women view beauty in themselves and others, they have launched the Dove Self-Esteem Project CSR programme (offering expert toolkits and resources to teachers, parents etc to open up conversations about body confidence and help girls find inspiring role models and see the unique beauty in everyone).

Changing the conversation

But its marketing and advertising also talk to altering a women’s view of herself. It is changing the conversation, or at least the response to the conversation, that the world of fashion and beauty puts out there.

Here are further examples to inspire local brands to think how they could be ‘better’:

  • In a trial phase on Beijing’s subway system, INCOM is offering an eco-friendly bottle barter system. Every plastic bottle recycled via a vending machine is offset against the transit fee (a free ride will cost about 20 bottles). This raises awareness for recycling, reduces litter and offers value to the consumer.
  • Kellogg’s Special K motivates healthy living and building confidence with a positive body image (though I would like to see some different shapes of women in its communication).
  • To show everyone can make a difference, at Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party, a small tea shop in Atlanta, owner Katrell Christie sells packets of tea, telling customers the profit will go towards educating women in India. In just four years, The Learning Tea is putting 11 young women through university. The benefit to her brand is the opportunity to make a difference that is less easily copied and crafts a connection that is more effective.
  • KFC is building hope and helping with hunger relief by asking its customers for just R2 extra. Fund-raising efforts in 2013 took the total raised in five years to R210 million.

Consider a change

Purpose-driven brands will be the most effective and successful in the longer term. Studies have shown the cause-and-effect relationship between brand’s financial performance and its ability to deliver a higher purpose.

So, Brand, consider a change in this time of change:

  • Find a purpose that suits your brand proposition (this is about the long term) and your target market values.
  • Weave this into all your communication in order to connect with people.
  • Change your brand to impact lives positively in order to be better and, if you do it right, the business profitability will be impacted just as positively, not only today but in the long term.

Erna George is the business director heading up quality research at brand development and marketing insight consultancy Added Value. She works with diverse brands and categories — from FMCG, alcohol and agriculture to financial services and entertainment — in countries across many geographies, including South Africa, Mozambique, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Philippines and Brazil. She contributes the monthly “Fair Exchange” column about business relationships and partnerships in adland to MarkLives.

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