By Anna Peel. Originally published at ValueWalk.
The term greenwashing comes from the environmental sustainability field, which has dominated the sustainability debate. Bluewashing describes companies that associate themselves with the United Nations for the sole purpose of advertising without actually following its principles. Since we work in the Social Sustainability area – which has historically been a bit overlooked – I came up with the term value-washing because it covers all three ESG areas and not only the environmental or the social activities. Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria are a set of standards for a company’s operations that socially conscious investors use to screen potential investments.
The reason why I am emphasizing values is that people love brands that love them back. People don’t care about your brand or company; people care about themselves to the extent that you align with their values, and fulfill their wants, yearnings, and needs. If you solve a customer’s problem with technology and tactics alone, you’ll own that solution until someone improves the technology. If you solve the problem with brand values, it is untouchable. New generations aren’t paying for products or services anymore. They are paying for trust and transparency; two things that are very hard to fake or manufacture. Building trust takes time, and you have to make sure to walk the talk. If inclusion is part of your values, putting a rainbow flag in your office is not enough. You have to adapt your internal policies, your staffing processes, look at every touchpoint with all your stakeholders and ask yourself how you can make it more inclusive. Then, you have to set goals, measure progress towards them, and if you fail to achieve them, be honest about it. Authenticity is very important. Don’t try to hide what is not working yet. The ones who do are value-washing…
What Brands Should Focus On
On a more practical level, I think that doing what you say you do, is a good way to start building a trusted and authentic brand. The problem is that nowadays this is not enough. Brands should focus on:
- Honesty instead of perfection. Brands need to welcome imperfection and earn trust. Nobody expects you to be perfect, but they do want you to be real. So if you set yourself a CO2 emission target and have not reached it: speak about it, explain why, what you have learned, how you will become better in the future, ask your stakeholders to chime in. Also: be humble, don’t be paternalistic and cultivate a culture where mistakes are OK.
- Generating continuous communication. Inform and connect, be consistent and avoid misunderstandings. The priority should be to foster dialogue vs. monologue. Most brands, especially smaller and medium-sized ones, underestimate the power of defining a ‘Tone of Voice’ and sticking to it in the long-term. You have to define exactly how your brand speaks, so that people will recognize its tone independently of the design. This takes consistency and commitment as well as gifted copywriters. This is a crucial part of establishing a culture around your brand, making people recognize you, know your values, and what you stand for. A brand shouldn’t just show the world as it is, but how it could be.
- Adopting a win-win-win mentality. Cooperating with stakeholders, sharing the same needs and vision, the same values. It’s important to be flexible and learn and adapt along the way. We live in a VUCA environment, where everything can change any minute. In order to survive, you have to get input from as many stakeholders as you can. Do your homework. This will also help you avoid value- or green-washing by mistake.
- Using AI and data optimization to personalize messages. Be more precise and accurate with each target you communicate to. Technology is a blessing when it comes to communication. Personalizing our content also humanizes it and that is eventually what people are craving nowadays, especially in a world where physical contact and connection has been reduced.
Since values are becoming more important for consumers, companies start to fake them with poor strategies and even worse executions. For example, a big financial corporation launched a campaign where they donated 1 meal in Africa every time Neymar or Messi scored a goal. Obviously, this backfired in a big way: How can you possibly make donations dependent on soccer players scoring goals? They pretend to be what they are not and it often happens out of fear of losing consumers. It’s impressive how many join the celebration of Women’s Day or MLK day, or any UNO day on the calendar without having any actual measures in place for the rest of the year. Consumers and employees are not dumb. Fear is a reaction, while courage is a decision on the board.
You don’t need to be perfect to do good. But you need to do good to communicate it, take the Triple Bottom Line into account when you do business: People, Planet, and Prosperity. The old way of doing capitalism where you only please shareholders is dead. The new capitalism is one where you keep all stakeholders in mind when making decisions: the community you do business in, your employees, etc. Ideally, you anchor this principle in your bylaws so that no one can disregard it. Like Patagonia- They have built the brand of the future but it has taken them many years to do that. A good start is a Sustainability Report and ambitious goals with actionable items. Don’t try to say or be something you’re not. Sooner or later, stakeholders will know. People want to see a brand’s position on social issues. So, if speaking up for underrepresented groups is part of your brand values, do it when it is uncomfortable and work consistently on the topics you care about as a brand, not just on International Women’s Day, for instance. In order to talk about inclusion, you have to first become an inclusive organization, and this happens on the inside. Analyze your current culture and define what kind of culture you want to curate. I really believe that successful companies of the future will be those that align their core business with values. The best people want to do work that contributes to society with a company whose values they share, where their actions count and their views matter.
A good company is ‘the brand of the future’. And there are millions of good companies out there that deserve to stay around and to connect with their audience in a better way. A bigger logo isn’t going to get someone to care about your company if your values don’t resonate with them. The new marketing won’t be about a bigger interruption. If you really cared about solving the problem, you’d change the situation, you don’t just talk about it. It’s about actively being part of the change. Patagonia is not only talking about the environment, it shares innovative inventions such as its natural rubber Yulexwith its competitors. Let’s turn marketing around and ask consumers what they want instead of telling them what they want. It starts by doing research and really understanding your target inside out, and it continues by moving the focus from ME to YOU. So many brands out there are very selfish: “I am the best. Give me attention. Buy me…”. Becoming more empathic is the key. Gillette produced an ad where a dad helps his transgender son shave for the first time. The brand acknowledges that cisgender men might not be the only ones who will have their first shave experience. It also puts itself in the shoes of an underrepresented group of people and by putting them in the spotlight, providing a role model for many young trans people out there. The American Psychological Association says that the pain of being excluded is similar to physical injury. Being such a big brand and taking a public stance on a societal issue that is still controversial is very powerful because it helps shape the new narrative and the new normal. People just love brands that love them back.
Businesses can stay relevant by respecting their consumers as human beings rather than targets. This shift of perspective towards a more human-centric approach will change your entire Marketing Mix. You will do everything differently from how the customer care personnel picks up the phone to how you sell your product. If marketing doesn’t translate that, it’s worthless. There’s something that brands need to remember: nothing changes if nothing changes.
Article By Alberto Jaen, Founder and CEO of the independent Social Impact Agency plus305 in the USA and Switzerland
Social Impact Lab: https://www.plus305.com/lab
More about Alberto:
Alberto worked as a Creative Director and Executive Creative Director for multinational companies at Leo Burnett, BBDO, and JWT NY for twelve years. He had worked for international brands like Toyota, Orange Telecom, Pepsi, Johnson&Johnson, P&G, IKEA or MTV among others. During this time, he had received 23 international awards and recognitions from Cannes Lions, Art Directors Club Europe, The One Show, Cristal Festival Europe, Young Guns, Eurobest, New York Festival, and FIAP. He also was a jury member at different International Advertising Festivals like the New York Festival or AdStar in Asia.
Alberto then founded plus305 Inc in 2014 and has been the CEO & Executive Creative Director of plus305 ever since. plus305 has been working with clients in Miami/Zurich, some of them have been VIACOM/CBS, Real Madrid, Air Europa, Miami Dade College, 3M, SONY Music, Swatch, Santander Bank or Baloise Group.
He also co-founded HULA App. Hula is a Zero Waste bartering App for products and services which was the winner of the UN Global Contest for Circular Economy in 2020.
He is a Board Member at Voices For Children Foundation in Miami. Alberto also collaborated as a mentor at FIU (Florida International University), MDM (Miami Dade College), The One Club Miami.
More about plus305
plus305 is an independent Social Impact Agency. plus305 is a new model of communication agency elevating the Purpose of Brands with meaningful Creativity, Culture Building, and Social Sustainability. plus305 has a sustainable business model that is based on the Triple Bottom Line of People, Planet, and Prosperity. We have supported global corporations such as Real Madrid, 3M, Viacom/CBS, Banco Santander, and Swatch etc. but also small innovative organizations and NGOs and Foundations on their purpose branding and sustainability journey.
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