The ABC’s of MABR (A work in progress)

Brands are long overdue for a glossary of new guiding terms and principles. Traditional brand terms and definitions are based on a narrow vision of brands as top-down organizations built for passive audiences that are there purely to be sold to.

This glossary is different. This glossary is for the values-based, responsible brands of the future. It’s for a new era of brands that prioritize people and the planet alongside profit who want their products and company to have value and a lasting impact on their communities.

The following terms have been collected and curated from the lectures, readings, and guest speakers, throughout the 2021–2022 MABR program. It is not a definitive list. Brands are a constant work in progress. So is brand responsibility. And therefore, so is this list.


Accessibility is allowing more people to have positive experiences with your brand. (via Technology, Design and Culture with Director Ewald)

Anti-Racism means fighting against racism through. It’s consciously deciding to make frequent, consistent, equitable choices daily. From a brand perspective, this requires ongoing self-awareness and self-reflection as we move through making decisions and creating campaigns. (via Branding Black Culture with Professor Elias)

Attention Economy, the relationship between money and attention and how each is exchanged for each other. How can your brand be more responsible with how your audience’s attention is bought and sold? (via Mass Communication & Society with Professor Lewis)

Authenticity, an authentic brand is one that decides to be transparent and consistent in its messaging and initiatives. They take responsibility for their brand roots. What are your values and how does your brand remain true to them? (via Brand Responsibility Seminar with Dr. Pompper)


Bias, not all empathetic experiences are created equally. The things we create are only as unbiased as the creators. Where are your blindspots? What are your biases? (via Mass Communication & Society with Professor Lewis)

Butterfly Effect is the phenomenon whereby a minute localized change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere. Understanding this theory is a great lens for viewing brand responsibility. It says that the things that change the world are the tiny things. The idea that small events, such as early brand decisions, achievements, or mistakes, have the potential to be the wing flap that either initiates future widespread positive change or detrimental harm. (via Brand Responsibility Seminar with Dr. Pompper)


Climate Change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns caused by human activities. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls climate change the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century. How is your brand contributing to climate change? How can you make better decisions around the environment and the planet? (via Environmental Communication Strategy with Professor Smith)

Commitment to Social Good is focusing on driving societal change through your brand work. It’s being less obsessive about competitors and what others are doing and more obsessed with moral issues such as the fact that our planet is burning. Brand responsibility is not a band-aid, it’s a long-term commitment.

Courage is continuously pushing yourself, your stakeholders, and your brand to think differently, ask questions and not shy away from challenges. You must put aside the fear of maybe getting things wrong along the way and instead vowing to continue working towards getting it right. Being open and transparent with your stakeholders throughout your journey, and being prepared to stand by your values and your commitment to social good in times of controversy and criticism is at the heart of developing courage in your quest towards brand responsibility.

Curiosity, Fostering it can lead us to becoming better and more creatives, strategists and brand leaders. “If you scratch the surface of the ordinary hard enough, you uncover the extraordinary. The motivation and energy behind scratching hard enough is curiosity. It’s the basis of all great work, of any kind and it helps open the door to more creative Brand Responsibility.” (via Curiosity for Strategists for Professor Koranda)

“It is a miracle curiosity survives formal education” — Einstein

“A deep and abiding curiosity enables the discovery of new people, places, and ideas, as well as an awareness and an understanding of the marketplace and its changing dynamics. The path to innovation begins with curiosity.” — Bob Igor


Design Thinking allows you to address the challenges facing business and society. Design thinkers have a responsibility to understand the outcomes they are designing for and to be conscious of the choices they are making. Read Change by Design by Tim Brown (via Green Brand Strategy with Professor Ofori-Parku)


Empathy is the backbone and heart of brand responsibility.

“It allows us to see the world through other points of view and helps us form insights that can lead us to new and better ways of thinking, being and doing.” — Michael Ventura

Empathy is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes without bringing too much of yourself into it. It’s realizing when you are showing up with preconceived notions about something and realizing when you are wrong. Empathy is ongoing work. Developing your empathy becomes a powerful tool, allowing you to better understand your employees, the people you are trying to serve, look at problems differently, and create solutions that will lead to driving greater and more effective impact.

Read: Applied Empathy by Michael Ventura and/or watch below

(via Brand Responsibility Seminar with Professor Morrison)


Framing is the art of structuring or presenting information in a way that is meaningful to people. We use frames as structuring devices to focus people’s attention in certain ways. As leaders and communicators, we must understand how the information we present is framed and how it could affect our audience's beliefs, feelings and behaviors. (via Mass Communication & Society with Professor Lewis)


Greenwashing is when brands use exaggerated sustainability benefits or unsupported claims about their sustainability practices to deceive consumers into believing their products are practices are environmentally friendly. To avoid greenwashing in your communcations, review the Sins of Greenwashing.

photo via Business of Fashion

(via Green Brand Strategy with Professor Okori-Parku)


Hedonic Treadmill is the human tendency to seek one pleasure after another. It’s the initial burst of happiness felt from a pleasureful event that diminishes over time so we are constantly in the pursuit of pleasure. For example, you buy a new iPhone which gives you a burst of pleasure, however, the feeling does not last. Our excitement over the new phone will fade and we will eventually want to feel the same spike of happiness again. To get another fix we will buy something else new. The hedonic treadmill explains our consumer culture and our wasteful, overconsumption habits that brands tap into. How is your current brand strategy contributing to the hedonic treadmill effect? (via Green Brand Strategy with Professor Okori-Parku)


Inclusive Design is designing with people, not for people. It means designing so more people benefit. Inclusive design may address accessibility, age, culture, economic situation, education, gender, geographic location, language, and/or race. To design with inclusivity in mind, ask yourself who gains? Who loses? Who is being left out? (via Technology, Design and Culture with Director Ewald)


Journey, a brand’s journey is the shared experience of a brand and its stakeholders as they pursue common goals. It’s about collaborating and discovering new ways of creating value. The quality of the brand journey stems from the brand's origin story, vision, mission, and purpose.


Leadership, brands have the ability to create opportunities for their stakeholders and lead them to better ways of life. Lead by example. Be an intentional leader (proactive) versus an accidental leader (reactive). (via Curiosity for Strategists with Professor Koranda)


Mea Culpa, means acknowledging your faults or errors.


Nodes of Change came from guest speaker Heidi Hackemer, the Executive Creative Director at Oatly. Creating nodes of change is where you try something on a small scale, test out if it works, and then are brave enough to explode it into something bigger. It’s embodying a test-and-learn mentality, experimenting, trying things, and taking risks with the goal of finding better solutions. Learn, scale and optimize as you go. Instead of prioritizing perfection, prioritize impact. (via Technology, Design and Culture with Director Ewald)


Origin Story, the backstory that reveals and gives reason for a person’s or brand’s intentions. Uncovering your brand’s origin story and being able to articulate it matters, especially as it relates to social issues and why you care about cultivating a brand responsibility mindset. (via Brand Responsibility Seminar with Professor Morrison)


POV, it’s important to have a point of view, an opinion about things. In order to take action, you must first have an established point of view. Note that it’s okay if some disagree or dislike you for it. (via Brand Responsibility Seminar with Professor Morrison)

Psychic Numbing is a psychological phenomenon that causes us to feel indifferent to the suffering of large numbers of people. At what point do we become apathetic because we can’t process the scale of loss? For example, we tend to feel more compassion and empathy when we know someone who’s either died or experienced death due to the pandemic. However, when we look at the total death toll for the pandemic in the US, we feel overwhelmed and indifferent because of the sheer volume of lives lost. Psychic numbing prevents us from working to change circumstances that harm other people (or the environment). How can your brand work call attention to these circumstances? (via Brand Responsibility Seminar with Professor Morrison)

Purpose-Driven Brand is one whose reason for existing is to solve a problem, meet a need in society — informs vision, mission, story, identity, decision-making, etc. Profit is not the main driver of purpose, but it does keep your business alive which is necessary to continue making a difference.


Racial Plagiarism occurs when a brand copies racial and indigenous styles, forms, practices and knowledges, without permission and without giving adequate (or any) attribution to the source model and community. Not only does racial plagiarism seize authorial identity, control and capital away from the source community, but it also diminishes the value of the source material itself. (via Branding Black Culture with Professor Elias)

Resilience is staying committed to social good. There will be complex issues, crises along the way, not as much evidence to guide your actions as you would like, a myriad of opinions that will require discipline and conviction… this is where we develop resilience, the ability to cope and recover quickly, bounce back from difficulties, it is a necessary and needed skill as we cultivate brand responsibility.


Social movements are organized and sustained challenges to authority that grow when they can engage large groups of people who would otherwise be consumed with everyday things. Pay attention to the circumstances under which people will take on the extra work of trying to change the world rather than just living in it. Good social movements can help kick up the wave as well as ride them. The most recent example is the Black Lives Matter Movement during the COVID-19 pandemic. What role will your brand play in future social movements? How can you be proactive rather than reactive? (via Brand Responsibility Seminar with Dr. Pompper)

Sustainability, a goal that aims toward preserving quality interactions with the local environment, economy and social system. In 1987, the UN defined sustainability as our ability “to meet the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” These needs are directly or indirectly associated with the natural environment — so it’s all about finding a balance between humans and nature that allows us to meet our needs. (via Environmental Communication Strategy with Professor Smith)

Stress Cases means understanding a segment of your audience who might fall outside of the “norm” or ideal circumstances and designing for their journeys. (via Mass Communication and Society with Professor Lewis)


Technochavism is the belief that the technological solution is always the right one. How is your brand relying on technology? Where might you be relying too much on technology? Where might you be abusing technology? (via Mass Communication and Society with Professor Lewis)

Transparency is having an unrestricted flow of information to your external audiences and stakeholders. (via Brand Responsibility Seminar with Dr. Pompper)

Triple Bottom Line is prioritizing not only profit, but also people and the planet. In economics, the triple bottom line maintains that companies should commit to focusing as much on social and environmental concerns as they do on profits. (via Green Brand Strategy with Professor Ofori-Parku)


User Stories is connecting your audience with a need and a function. It is a good exercise for learning to develop empathy, put yourself in others' shoes and thinking about how to be more inclusive within your brand. Follow the prompt and example below:



As a driver with a physical disability
I need an adjustable meter
So I can reach the controls

(via Technology, Design and Culture with Director Ewald)


Valence Issue is a battle over how to solve the problem, not in the problem itself. (via Mass Communication and Society with Professor Lewis)


Why, because when cultivating a brand responsibility mindset, you must question things. Watch Brands That Start With Why?

Use the 5 Whys as a technique to determine the root cause of a defect or problem by repeating the question “Why?” five times. Each answer forms the basis of the next question. For example, let’s use the first prompt “what does being a responsible brand mean to me?” Personally, being a responsible brand means doing more good than harm. WHY? Because I believe brands have the power to inspire and initiate change through their platforms and practices. WHY? Because I believe brands have to take more responsibility for their actions and can play a role in solving problems such as climate change, racism, accessibility, etc. WHY? Because I want the work I do to be meaningful and I want to contribute to society in a positive way through my work. WHY? Because I want to leave the world better than I found it.

(via Technology, Design and Culture with Director Ewald)

To be continued…



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