What brands can do better to be better

Lessons from Social Media Week NYC 2018

As much as Social Media Week was about technology and innovation, what struck us was the emphasis on the social aspect of the business world today. Nearly every brand represented on the panels, from the CMOs to the CEOs, spoke about the importance of bringing humanity into their companies, of reinforcing their missions and dedication to their audiences. Consumers might expect a lot from brands today, but brands clearly expect a lot from themselves too, and are moving in the right direction to deliver just that.

Consumers expect a lot from brands today.

“As a brand, what are you doing for the world? it could be really small or really big, but you need to have an answer.” — Amy Emmerich, Chief Content Officer, Refinery29

Gen Z and Millennials are leading the charge as consumers of all ages demand radical transparency — and rightfully so. We’re living in the age of “fake news,” the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the Mueller investigation, and #metoo movement. People are tired of being lied to and jerked around just so some CMO can make a sale. Having a purpose, a deeper reason for being, is seen as the norm for all brands, rather than just social impact startups. It’s actually more dangerous now for brands to shy away from having opinions and stating their values. Without something concrete to stand for, brands become vulnerable to social media backlash and other outside forces that can take control of their narrative. But when a brand is purpose-forward, their foundational beliefs are crystal clear and evident in everything they do. Purpose creates transparency from the start.

Brands must create value.

“Messaging to people is not the answer, it’s standing for something and being in the cultural fabric.” — Jenny Rooney, Editor of the CMO Network, Forbes

It sounds like an obvious statement: social media and modern technologies have changed the consumer-brand dynamic. But many brands are still talking at their audiences. To build genuine, lasting relationships with consumers, brands need to have a mutual, two-way conversation. To do that, we believe brands must be human-centric, truly listening to their audience and diving beyond numbers. Real, purposeful communication demonstrates a deeper understanding of the consumer and is built on the values that they, and the brand, share. By tapping into people’s humanity, brands are better equipped to deliver useful, meaningful content that their core consumer base actually seeks out, create an ongoing dialogue, and build a foundation for strong relationships.

CSR has evolved.

“A brand is a promise that must be fulfilled. A brand is what it does, not what it says.” — Marc Landsberg, Founder & CEO, SOCIALDEVIANT

CSR isn’t just a once-a-year event or back-of-mind initiative now. Donations, stunts, and one-off efforts immediately get called out by consumers as inauthentic attempts to right a wrong or appear socially conscious. Spurred by the demand for purpose-driven brands, we’re seeing a repositioning of CSR from just a department within an organization, to an integral part of a brand’s identity. Whether brands have social impact built into their business model (ex. Absolut Elyx, Warby Parker, Everlane) or work with values-aligned organizations (ex. Sonos, Allstate), having a purpose creates a strong foundation for all brand actions (and reactions) in the social impact space that consumers can easily understand and relate to. When this happens, social impact becomes part of the larger brand narrative, inspiring innovation as well as marketing initiatives, with everything working together in harmony to build brand equity.