Since the last economic recession, the general public has become increasingly distrustful of corporate entities and their practices. Factors like the housing bubble, the impending deregulation of Wall Street, and plans to significantly reduce corporate income tax have only added to the discomfort amongst many U.S. citizens. Even a recent Gallup poll showed only 18% of the national public have high confidence in big business today.
Now that crony capitalism has helped usher the U.S. into an oligarchy–a government run by the few elite– the foundations of true democracy are in crisis. However, both societal and environmental demands are encouraging revolutionary shifts in big business.
Many business leaders, including 76% of CEOs, realize that enduring enterprises require circular models to succeed. Initiatives like the UN’s Global Goals — a set of sustainable agendas — seek to address and improve interconnected sectors. In addition, there are over 110 national and international business-led corporate responsibility coalitions that promote sustainable capitalism.
Yet, many US corporations and businesses still need to align their business with the “purpose beyond profit” model. Now, business has a unique opportunity to transcend profit by rebranding for social responsibility and supporting sustainable initiatives and grassroot policies. In aligning with these sustainable strategies, big business can help reverse the decline of democracy.
Redefine your Brand for Social Responsibility
The first step for businesses is to redefine their brand and incorporate social responsibility principles as part of a circular model. Marketing in the digital age has shown that audiences want more accessible and authentic content over traditional advertising. In fact, 87% of global consumers believe businesses should place equal importance on business and social issues. Studies show that 70% of Millennials will spend more on brands supporting ethical causes. Globally, 90% will do the same. Brands that showcase social and economic stewardship are more likely to grow market share and a loyal consumer base. To achieve social responsibility, several core steps can help you redefine your brand:
- Commit Yourself: Find a purpose that you’re passionate about and align it with your business. Oftentimes, brands choose a cause without meaning behind it. Consumers want to see business stand out for a purpose rather than just rally behind a cause. Integrate your business model to invest in organizations and initiatives that align with your business’ social and environmental goals. Become an expert in this area by reading trade journals, studies, or joining associations related to the cause. For example, if you run an organic food company, think about investing in charitable initiatives which seek to end child hunger.
- Build Partnerships: Connect with nonprofits that want to celebrate your brand and leverage you as an important partner. Shared marketing is an influential way to lead a campaign of your business’ core values and to gain new audiences for your services. Making partnerships can be a win-win situation for everyone.
- Engage Stakeholders and Shareholders: Business profit and success also rely on their commitment to stakeholders. Conventional business practices focus on financial returns to their shareholders. However, the fourth sector of for-benefit businesses seeks companies that embody three essentials of a sustainable business model: planet, people, and profits. They need to embed the bottom line in their business strategy and culture. The strategy focuses on the practicality that shareholders, customers, and employees rely on a healthy society and planet. So businesses need to focus on the wellbeing of the workers, the factories, raw materials, and the families, customers, and broader community that consumes and is affected by the product.
- Position your Core Values: Every business needs a strong and clear goal or purpose. Convey business values in relevant ways to help determine your success. Authentic positioning that is meaningful is more important than ever. Position your core values into your sustainable strategy. Outline the goals and metrics and your marketing approach. Brands like Bombas have positioned their core values as part of their culture, utilizing packaging, partnerships, and marketing tools like design aesthetic. Leveraging your unique support of a social cause can help promote your business.
- Reintroduce yourself: If you have any negative connotations with your business, it’s time to reintroduce yourself with a new, socially-conscious business strategy–and stay dedicated to this new behavior. Make use of contacts, and make sure your social profiles (Facebook, LinkedIn, new website, etc.) are up-to-date so you can build a positive image for new clients. Next, think strategically about launching your new brand. Get involved with projects that can help premiere or even develop your business’ interests and abilities. One way to showcase your business is to become involved with political or charitable campaigns to become more high-profile and make new contacts. As new initiatives are unveiled, consider getting involved. If there is too much competition, it may still be worth it to be involved in minor ways.
- Educate your audience: Part of a sustainable business model is to turn customers into activists. Give them the tools to learn about your cause (environment, social justice) as much as your business goals. Educate them on consumerism and the supply chain of your products. If part of your duty is to adhere to this circular business strategy with so many interconnecting layers of society, it’s important that consumers know how their purchasing power impacts others and the planet–and why they should buy your product. Think about educating them about farms, factories, and shipping or distributing methods in fun ways. You can also showcase the durability of products this way.
- Be transparent: Always be honest about your products and goals. If part of your business strategy isn’t working, admit it and commit to fixing the problem. You can also build transparency by assessing and reporting on how your core values, profit, and investments are creating change for the world. Brand transparency is so trustworthy, that a 2016 Label Insight Transparency ROI study showed 94% of respondents more likely to be loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency. Disclosure of social impact is key to improving a brand’s worth and brings its core values to life. In addition, GovernanceMetrics International maintains that “companies that emphasize corporate governance and transparency will, over time, generate superior returns and economic performance and lower their cost of capital.”
The Human Factor
One way to build engagement and make social waves is to give a clear proof of impact through inspiring stories and content posted through your social media sites. Today, brand marketing is about relevance, so you need to actualize the brand’s purpose with authentic traits. Content needs to be insightful, unique, exclusive, educational and shareable on many different platforms. The platforms also need to engage on a one-to-one basis.
Inspire people to become the best versions of themselves. One way to do this is to reach out to communities by:
- Engaging in meaningful conversations
- Celebrating communities
- Humanizing stories
The human factor of a sustainable brand is essential to its survival. The Meaningful Brands Index, a new metric that analyzes global brand strength and human well being at a business level, identifies that brands with a positive human affect outperform the stock market by 120%.
So, whether your brand focuses on the environment, CSR, community giving, employee volunteer work, cause marketing, or foundation alignment, the more your values perpetrate good works, the more likeable the brand. Brands that fail to do good works may eventually be viewed as obsolete. The Meaningful Brand Index also reports that 73% of brands could disappear and consumers wouldn’t mind.
Leadership and Collective Corporate Action
As mentioned previously, businesses and government policy need to work together to promote a system that benefits the intersection of economic, environmental, and social sectors. Partnering with nonprofits is just the beginning. Since large corporations offer the most financial relevance to our economy, it’s time for more businesses and coalitions to form trusts and coalitions that promote social and economic stability. First, they must rally and spearhead for policy change through their own initiatives.
The next step is to support grassroots campaigns that promote sustainable economic and social policies. These campaigns act as chain reactions that inspire others to do their part. For example, Adobe has 22 employe-led teams around the globe who run programs that offer easy and influential ways to engage other employees on key environmental issues. A lunchtime gathering offered 200 employees energy and water conservation kits. Corporations and all types of business can promote these low-effort habit changes by promoting mentorship and leadership through their corporate social responsibility teams. Furthermore, Adobe offers 10-15% discounts on local and global items which employees can use as sustainable resources at home.
A solid CER strategy can also focus on giving effective education and mentoring to fellow socially responsible entrepreneurs, assisting start-ups to obtain financing, and creating market options for early-stage companies with sustainable core values.
If corporations don’t support sustainable strategies and public policy, their businesses will be on shaky ground in the long-term. As markets are deregulated and economic instability eventually takes hold, the threats of another stock market crash will loom. It will not benefit their business, workers, or investments.
Social responsibility will lead to stronger ties with consumers and communities. Thus, rebranding your image and then taking up the fight by supporting grassroots movements can create a unique impact. In fact, businesses that build new coalitions to collide with grassroot movements can reshape the business landscape. They will be the innovative successors of success.
Better Business, Better World
It’s true that better business makes for a better world, and it can also make for a better profit. A 2011 Strategic Management Journal study showed that CSR firms increased access to finance because impact investing has a very high growth rate. Venture capitalists and their companies like Obvious Ventures, angel investors like Toniic, and even major banks have created Impact Investing funds. JP Morgan has created a fund-of-funds too. It’s predicted that the impact investing market will grow by $500 Billion through 2020. Shockingly, some index funds of impact assets outperformed the market.
Case studies show that businesses who follow the Global Goals Initiative have made some impact. However, the US businesses community needs to step up in various sectors as other foreign governments. Yet, 70% of business now plan to embed these new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within 5 years.
More companies also need to take advantage of the Global Impact Investing Network standards for internal reporting and get third-party impact assessments like GIIRS to qualify for impact capital. Plus, investors report that large pools of impact capital are waiting to be used.
Incorporating circular models will help democratic capitalism survive. If businesses can come together to form initiatives and stay dedicated to global goals, they can help save democracy.
Regardless of one’s political affiliation, having an economic sector create a more fair, democratic, and resourceful world will only benefit the course of big business. After all, a more sustainable future is a more stable future for everyone.