Brands: The World Needs More Than “Why”

By Jonne Kuyt

People are in need of big pictures, visionary outlooks, and answers on how to solve the gigantic shifts ahead of us, but politics has dumped its visionary leadership role and has, instead, chosen reach over values. Populism has made the underbelly the center of decision making, and religion no longer delivers classic moral guidance. Last but not least, the media’s contextual filter function has become a ‘like’ machine. It’s extremely difficult to know who to believe and who to follow.

The good news? The boardrooms of this world are buzzing with people looking for purpose and answering the big “why”. They’re filling out “golden circles” as a form of corporate soul searching for meaning and relevance, trying to find a reason to keep on doing what we do. The intention might be there, but it’s too superficial. The world needs change makers. Who’s going to pick up the pieces dropped by the leaders?

Yep. Brands will.

In essence and theory, brands have got what it takes to pick up the pieces. Brands have central beliefs, a promise, shared values, and huge crowds of followers. But brands don’t speak up, and they don’t choose sides. They don’t dare to stand for something, or raise their fists in the air to change the world. I understand why they want to be neutral. There’s reputation to uphold, and shareholder risks. But, in fact, they can’t be neutral — or we shouldn’t allow them to be.

What if brands spoke up and chose sides? Imagine a big brand speaking on behalf of their followers and influencing political decision making, standing up to racial and gender inequality and protesting in the streets side by side with their customers. What if brands helped to save refugees, actively fight HIV stigma, or poverty? Even if it meant disagreeing with other brands if their business jeopardizes the future of mankind.

“Wake up, dude. You’re being naive.”

Maybe. But I’ve read the essential thinkers and researchers on this topic, and have a rough understanding of the way power works. And I’ve seen brands with the power to influence and unite thinking and decision making: to hold politics accountable, to bring people together under one set of principles and values, and make people dream about better places and futures. To kickstart the momentum to overthrow things bigger than themselves, idealists need branding more than ever.

It would make brands human — socially inclusive entities. Yes, it would need strong, fearless, self-confident and visionary leadership that won’t dive behind corporate walls when faced with a little opposition. Leaders should be persistent, consistent and coherent in their opinion. But it’s good for business, and it would grow unprecedented kinds of preference and loyalty: people will care about and buy into your brand even more once you show them the way.

Morality is not only the right thing to do, but also a potential strong business case. Call it an opinion lead business growth strategy. The people are ready. Brands, why don’t you show us some of that?

Need an example of how opinions can help businesses grow? Check out what Richard Branson says about Brexit here.