Company As Citizen

Last week we just launched our second annual brandshare™ study and among its many revelations is the clear, quantifiable importance of meeting people’s societal needs. This is not, however, just a matter of implementing your standard Corporate Social Responsibility play. Instead, there are two key takeaways about people’s societal needs that you ignore at your own peril.

First, societal needs are met by a broader set of behaviors than you might expect. One of the top four behaviors that correlate to meeting a consumer’s societal needs is “invites people to be a part of the development and refinement process for products or services.” This suggests that not only do people want brands to take a stand on issues they care about, but they want the opportunity to tell the brand what those issues are — and to help ensure that the brand acts on them.

Second, meeting societal needs is not the sole domain of the communications or social purpose functions of your organization. Sixty-eight percent of people feel it is important for brands to communicate openly and transparently about how products are sourced and made — but in order for that to make sense, the brand has to be sourcing and making their products in a responsible manner in the first place.

What both of these insights boil down to is this: meeting societal needs is not a check-the-box necessity. It’s much bigger than that. In fact, our Edelman Trust Barometer research provides further evidence of this: “Addressing society’s needs in its everyday business” is a key attribute in the trust-building performance cluster we call Purpose. People tell us that brands can do the good that their consumers expect, and still make money.

GE’s* Ecomagination is a clear example of this. For 10 years the initiative has focused on sustainable innovation and exploring the role of business in addressing society’s complex needs. Today it’s focused on the environmental challenges of carbon-based energy sources, but the company is transparent about being for-profit in its pursuit of this societal good.

On the other end of the spectrum, McDonald’s is proving that transparency can have positive impact with an issue that’s been under a proverbial microscope. The brand’s recently-launched video series is designed to dispel myths about how its food is made by giving consumers a direct view in to its processing plants. The marketing impact comes from the execution: The videos feature a celebrity asking questions that come directly from consumers via social media. In this way, McDonald’s is both inviting consumer participation and communicating about how their products are sourced and made — both key brandshare behaviors.

Ultimately, brandshare reveals that meeting people’s societal needs is not about product or purpose. It’s not about marketing or public relations. And it’s not about the CMO or the CCO. It’s about the company as citizen.

*Edelman client

Ben Boyd is the President of Practices, Sectors and Offerings.

Bill Abbott

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