Sustainability, transparency, and responsible production are buzzwords that make reality.
They are tightly paired with the modern affluent consumers’ aspiration of doing good through their actions. Ace & Tate, an eyewear brand, recently published a self-critical post “Look, we f*cked up. Our bad moves” in the effort to share its journey towards a more responsible business and the mistakes it made along the way.
This is an admirable effort turned into a trend.
2020 forced brands to go through the crash course in social responsibility. The picture was grim. Crises - like a global pandemic and social unrest - tell the truth about a company. They expose organizational and operational strengths and weaknesses. They challenge leadership. They bring on business disruption, revenue drops, layoffs, and the pressure to reduce expenses and find new ways of making money.
Crises also offer a creative toolbox. They force thinking and acting differently, and force businesses to address problems in new ways. In the process, a business may stumble upon a great new idea, discover an unexpected revenue stream, take a risk it was too cautious to consider before or find a way to be closer to the community it serves. They can also find a PR-able mantra.
Still, if there’s one lasting change, it’s that brands will have to become as much pro-social as they are pro-economic. Eventually, this will become a reality.
Here is what works:
Activate behavioral contagion. If our neighbors install solar panels, we do it, too. Our instinct to imitate and conform should be used for good (the hope is that buying Zara may one day become as uncool as smoking cigarettes). Brands with already existing communities, like Glossier, Telfar, or Tracksmith can use peer pressure to impose positive social action. But any brand with a customer base, from Coca-Cola to Unilever to LEGO, can also mobilize peer pressure. Peer pressure changes both our behavior and the way we view the world and is a powerful tool for more generous, responsible, and compassionate behavior.
Put the strategy behind your brand. The first step in any good brand communication is always to acknowledge your employees, your supply chain workers, and your customers’ needs. A brand story told in a unique tone of voice and ownable messaging works better than witty corporate slogans and “shop 50% off.”
Distribute your expertise in a new way. Brands’ survival depends on their ability to package and deliver their expertise beyond their original business model. Even when consumers are not spending, they still seek acknowledgment, inspiration, advice, guidance, education, and entertainment from brands. What once was a value-add is now a brand’s lifeline. There’s a massive opportunity for other verticals to capitalize on the shift from products to content, from events to subscriptions, from transaction to inspiration, from buying to socializing. Consider it a necessary business adjustment.
Act upon social responsibility, sustainability, and corporate transparency. Just as those living in poor countries feel the effects of climate crisis more disastrously than those living in the developed ones, we have become more attuned to global emergencies and to the role of our social, political, and economic institutions in addressing them. We expect our brands to embrace their social responsibility and act on it. Every brand is a B Corp.
Amp up your services. More flexible thinking applies to online orders and deliveries across industries, from fashion apparel to home decor to pet care to wellness and beauty. The entire area of supply and demand and customer service is forced to rapidly innovate, driven by current inefficiencies and bottlenecks. Online shopping sites can take a cue from theme parks, ski resorts, fitness studios, and some restaurants that provide variable ticket pricing per date, time, or location, and offer discounts for less busy days and charge extra for peak times. They can move beyond rigid ordering and delivery processes and create a more flexible and more tiered program that ranges from high-end concierge care to basic delivery, and that is also customized per what’s in one’s cart.
Slow down. The theme of what social media do to our brains, psyches, and social lives is ongoingly popular, with a good reason. Artist Jenny Odell wrote “How to Do Nothing,” about resisting the attention economy. Doing nothing is what most of us don’t know how to do. We all love hearing about the benefits of wasting time and the dangers of hustle porn. We rarely embrace it. Our belief that we are too busy to cook, exercise, sleep, watch TV, see a doctor, shop for clothes, or get over a jet lag led to an entire economy based on outsourcing and delivering these services.
Shift from the outside to the inside. If the latest trend in modern travel is any indication, the affluent travel for learning, not leisure, and for transformation, and not thrill. Fixing broken pottery, enjoying rituals, or retreating to a monastery required a trek across the world. It’s good for us to sit quietly. We may recognize the superficiality, mimicry, impermanence, and stupidity of chasing the latest Instagrammable street, neighborhood, or vista. In contrast, live-streamed sound baths or at-home recreation of Japanese listening bars may bring us equal delight, save the planet and our money. Brands can play a big role in reducing the thrill of chasing ever-new experiences and helping us absorb better the experiences we already had.