Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A Brand's Social Priority

Recently, I've been thinking about social responsibility, both corporate social responsibility and my own responsible choices as a consumer. The first step was to ask myself, as a consumer and marketer, what social responsibility means. I kept going back to two qualifiers, priority and longevity of impact. Those seem to work both for judging a brand's social responsibility and a consumer's commitment to a cause. CSR can get a bad rap, oftentimes simply because a cause program or brand can't demonstrate the priority or impact of its social stance. Consumers aren't held to as high a public standard, so we get off relatively easy. So I started thinking in terms of brands and their social priorities?

I'd love some feedback here, as to what brands you recognize making an issue or cause a true priority. I'll fall back on one of my favorites, Patagonia. Since its founding, Patagonia has been tied directly to the environment, not as a marketing program or initiative, but as a way of life. A part of the employee and brand DNA.

Priority: Does the brand live its cause/social issue? If I crashed the company HQ, would I see a culture that embraces the cause? Or does the cause live only within the walls of the marketing department. If I met an employee at a bar, would that employee get excited - or even be aware - of what his or her employer has deemed an initiative?

Impact: Does the initiative/cause/charitable interaction truly enact positive change? Are the hands that hold a large check presentation callused with hands-on effort? And what is the longevity of the impact? Was the initiative set up to buckle down and impact an issue, or will the whole dang thing be forgotten in a year's time?

I'm already predicting I'll spend a good deal of 2007 blogging on emotion. If I can focus on one thing, as a marketer, this year, it will be emotion. At its core, CSR is emotional. Brands stick their necks out to take a stance on sometimes polarizing issues/causes. No matter how far those necks are exposed, a cause is always connected to consumers' emotions. The great brands have identified what matters to (or seek input from) consumers. They've created social priorities, not just programs. They share emotion with consumers.

Two recent examples have energized my thoughts on this topic. The first, relating to my beloved Apple brand.

In the past week, I've bought a new MacBook, visited the Apple store twice and received a new Mac as a work computer. So I was especially in tune with the brand when the "Green My Apple" campaign from Greenpeace came to my attention. Emotion played an instant role in my impression of this campaign - before sense or logic even entered into the equation. I'm a die-hard Apple brand loyalist. I'm also growing much more passionate about my environment and my role as a greener consumer.

As with most anti-brand campaigns (Note: Greenpeace does not call this a campaign against Apple), one has to search hard for both sides of the story. And as with most anti-brand campaigns, the side that harnesses emotion normally wins. Oftentimes with facts aside. First impressions matter.

First impression scorecard for this campaign:
Big score for Greenpeace in creating a nice parody site, and providing lots and lots of ways consumers can interact should they choose.
Big fumble for Apple, as it's innovative image is marred by its lack of action compared to its much less technologically innovative brand peers.
Spike in the end zone for Greenpeace, which understood its audience (hip, young, creative, viral) better, it seems, than Apple on this issue.

On to another example of brand priority, Starbucks' treatment of Ethiopian farmers. Oxfam launched the "Day of Action" to raise awareness for the 3 cents Ethiopian farmers make on branded "Ethiopian" coffee. Watch this video first.

Starbucks, to its credit, utilized YouTube to post its response.

Now, as a professional communicator, I am impressed with what I imagine is Coffee Team head Dub Hay's ability to read printed cue cards. Nice response. Well written. And, though he takes a page out of "How to be interviewed on camera/always look at the interviewer," he is less than emotional. Kudos for joining the fray, but you're Starbucks! Take a film crew to Ethiopia and show me, don't read to me. Engage me, make me stand next to your spokesperson.

Facts aside (and again, I was impressed by Starbucks response), if you're going with emotion, Oxfam wins.

Two social issues. Both campaigns deal with more than CSR (Apple and Starbucks have admirable CSR/environmental programs). These campaigns deal with Starbucks' and Apple's social priorities. They deal with emotion. Pictures of the affected. Heartstrings. You get the drift.

From a crisis communications standpoint, both brands would benefit from grabbing onto these issues and making the necessary changes or explanation a priority. Both scenarios are great illustrations of a "crisis" where neither brand has yet lost the reputation game. Both are great opportunities for these brands to prioritize their social outreach and in turn, build a relationship with a group of passionate consumers.

Where do the brands you champion stand on social issues? Are they doing the minimum to play the field, or have they prioritized an effort to the point it is ingrained in your overall brand impression? Are you proud to hold that to-go cup or wear that shirt? Have you purchased products to support your own social priorities?

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Blogger Jeff said...

Woolard, if you haven't already, check out method - http://www.methodhome.com it's available in most target stores and I'm hooked.

Congrats on the new Job. Happy New Year!

4:06 PM  
Blogger Andy Woolard said...

Clinger: here's a little ditty on Method from a branding blog I follow. You'll dig. http://wheresthesausage.typepad.com/my_weblog/2006/12/method_the_gree.html

10:12 AM  

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