CEOs need to be more human.
The tension between good and evil. A simple thought on how “humanizing a brand” starts from the top.
As a strategist who’s been in the advertising industry since the early 2000s, I’ve come to appreciate both the art and the science that goes into the craft. However, my eyes have opened to a major shift in the corporate world.
We are currently in a paradoxical moment where trust in institutions is low¹, while the standard for conduct is being raised. In an age of transparency, stories, meaning, purpose, we see these subtexts point to the larger thing — core human attributes rising to the surface.
C-suite leadership of Corporate America will have to constantly navigate the waves unless they get out in front of it. Brands who thrive will have leaders who hold a clear human-purpose for their business, understand humanity at its core, and above all, live a virtuous life.
As much as I like “visionary” conversations, I recognize that business is about making profit. If you’re not increasing value for your shareholders, you need to find yourself a different hobby. However, while built on this understanding, brands will need to become more human in order to connect with the next generation of consumers in order to grow and ultimately increase shareholder value.
I recently came across an interesting Pew Research stat which reveals how trust, or the sense of responsibility is being shifted away from business to government:
In part, this is a backlash to the previous generations’ selling of their souls to the capitalist meat grinder. I believe the next generation is seeking an alternative to what they’ve seen in their parents. It may have gotten us here, but definitely will not be what takes us forward.
This is a clear sign of an opportunity.
More than just consumers.
By being human, brands allow themselves to connect with people on a deeper level. It starts with recognizing that the consumer is first and foremost a human — more than a digit or a demographic in a sales funnel. This recognition then requires a greater depth of moral responsibility because you see your consumers as humans who have families, careers, ambitions and a purpose for their life. Some going through happy seasons, while others through heartbreak.
While seeing them as consumers is only focusing on the purchase, seeing them as humans goes deeper by asking why they purchase. This perspective systemically changes the way we approach board room discussions, hiring & firing, customer support lines, marketing initiatives, and ultimately, the business strategy itself.
When technological advancement can go up so exponentially, I do think there’s a risk of losing sight of the fact that tech should serve humanity, not the other way around.
— Tim Cook
It comes down to Purpose and Virtue.
Here is a simple question any C-suite executive should be asking: Why should we continue to profit as a business if we are not going to be a force for the betterment of humanity? And if consumers are asking this question, why aren’t you? Because they are actively changing their behavior² as a result. This shift is where brands like Apple³, Nike⁴, Dove⁵ and Always⁶, have found opportunity to be a force for the betterment of humanity, increasing their profits as a result.
This is what humanization of brands is all about.
Is your brand good or evil?
In his TED Talk, Simon Sinek does a great job explaining how finding your “why” is essential to becoming an action-inspiring leader. I’d like to take this concept even further and say your “why” needs to be virtue.
I’m not referring to a corporate vision statement or some cause-related advertising campaign. I’m speaking directly to the morality and the virtues that leaders in Corporate America will be held to by the next generation. Movements like #metoo are symptoms of a culture where leadership has lost its sense of understanding between good and evil.
We hear stories everyday about injustice occurring both domestically and globally, as the destruction of our planet continues, while the abuse of power and authority reigns. It doesn’t take much to see evil in our broken world.
Are we willing to accept its existence and destructive force in business? In personal life? Are we willing to do something about it?
It starts with you.
Leadership is more than a high-paying salary. It’s about the responsibility to recognize when enough is enough, ability to say no to practices that are not moral, and taking proactive measures. Life is short, CEO tenure shorter. I urge every leader to ask themselves, what is it that they plan to leave behind. You don’t need to work at a non-profit organization to create real change. In fact, you are sitting on an opportunity in this cultural moment that is desperately seeking it.
The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude.
— Oprah Winfrey
While profit is a fundamental element of business, it should be seen as a by-product, not the end goal. As a goal unto itself, it always leads to the ultimate destruction⁷ of humanity.
The humanization of brands has been underway, and in this new age, being “good” is no longer optional. Brands who thrive will have leaders who hold a clear human-purpose for their business, understand humanity at its core, and above all, live a virtuous life.
This is where our culture is moving. And in personally and professionally embracing this journey, I’m seeking to form strategic partnerships with leaders who want to pursue a positive change in our world today.
Let’s grab coffee and chat. I would love to hear your story.