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Why brands need to have a heart

About 20 years ago now, we started to see a trend where brands draw a line in the sand, and wade in with an opinion on social and political issues. In the years since, this trend has gathered steam, and no matter where you look, you’ll find everyone is focusing on corporate social responsibility.

In short, what is means is brands these days need to have a heart.

The reasons are simple. Today's consumers are more sophisticated and conscious of where their dollar goes than ever before. Especially with the younger generations such as millennials and gen Z, they expect the brands they support to share their values.

If your business is trying to compete in a noisy marketplace and you can’t show you care about certain issues which matter to your customers or clients, you’re missing out on an easy way to set yourself apart from the competition and humanise your brand.

For us here at GLOBOX, our issues relate to supporting our own community. We feel particularly strongly about the struggles so many are going through. With the skyrocketing cost of living, insane inflation driving up the cost of everyday things such as petrol, and overseas competitors increasingly stealing market share from Kiwi players, we do what we can to make sure we put growing businesses’ interests at the heart of all we do.

Larger corporations do this kind of thing at scale and aim to appease wider sections of the community. On the extreme end, you have the really big guys like ANZ Bank marching in the Sydney Mardi Gras to support the LGBTQ community. Multinational fashion brands such as H&M demonstrate their commitment to ethical and sustainable fashion throughout the manufacturing of their clothes. And so on. You look at any big corporate or global brand – go on, Google any you can think of – I guarantee, that somewhere on their site, they will outline their social conscience on key issues.

It might seem crazy, but in a lot of ways, it’s a natural evolution. Social media has given consumers a platform to share and review brands, and publicly name and shame those who don’t meet the standard. Any business which appears to be unethical or insensitive to specific issues will face public backlash, which is all but guaranteed to damage their reputation and bottom line. Given this, of course brands are getting on the front foot by making their intentions clearer from the get-go.

And it’s not just the consumers holding brands to account. Corporations which engage in unethical practices may face legal action or fines from regulatory bodies such as the Commerce Commission, MBIE, the Advertising Standards Authority, the Environmental Protection Agency, and more – so not only does it pay to have a heart, it could possibly be the right thing to do legally, as well.

But what if it all goes wrong?

Being ethically aware and stating an opinion on certain issues can be quite risky for brands. If a brand's commitment to an issue is insincere, consumers are a crafty bunch and will find out. Any inauthentic social play (which happens so often there’s a term for it: ‘woke-washing’) will undoubtedly backfire and damage their reputation. So, if you’re going to say you care about something, make sure it’s more than a footer on your webpage – you have to commit to what you say you care about.

Brands that don't entirely understand the social issues they are trying to care about (or those that take a "one-size-fits-all" approach) can also get themselves into trouble. Along with reputational damage and pissed-off consumers, it can also lead to further social division or even harm to marginalised groups.

So although it’s important for businesses (and particularly larger businesses) to be ethically aware of social issues in today’s world, it's even more important that they do so in an authentic and well-informed way. Find out what matters to your audiences, and go all-in.

Brands can’t just pretend to have a heart these days; they really need to have one.

Allan Nicholson

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