Clarity, Context, Conversation, Community: 4 C’s for brand development in a social, mutual economy

Over the past three years, insights on leadership and favorite brands from Onesixtyfourth’s ongoing CultureQ qualitative and quantitative research project demonstrate that we are entering a new era for business, one that is characterized by mutual benefit and win-win-win.

Welcome to the new normal
People have accepted that daily life will remain uncertain. While anxiety levels about what tomorrow will bring may not be as high as they were at the peak of the recession, they have not disappeared. Participants in our CultureQ research tell us they are concerned about security, poverty, injustice, sustainability and most especially their own futures. And, after years of inaction and waiting for things to change, they have accepted this state as the new normal and are proactively seeking ways to move forward in their lives.

With divisiveness and obstruction a theme on the geopolitical front, people are looking for symbols of unity, tangible things that demonstrate the global interconnectivity that technology fosters. Connections that have a positive impact on daily living. They want to feel in control of their own lives and participate in creating solutions that will better society. With faith in government and political leaders low, many would rather partner with businesses – most especially the brands they love – noting that they are more likely than government to be effective in solving the very real challenges we face, as individuals, as countrymen and as global citizens.

Leaders of all kinds share the same characteristics
The seven characteristics participants in our research point to when describing ideal leaders, in general, apply as much to brands as they do politicians:

  • Visionary: inspire people with a clear view on how you will help shape society
  • Courageous: take considered risks that move us forward and appeal to our cultural need for progress.
  • Sincere: while paradoxes are allowed, contrived authenticity is not; you must be genuine in your claims and come from the heart.
  • Empathic: understand the values, ethics and challenges of real people and what more can be done to help or inspire them.
  • Transparent: be honest about what you’re doing, and what you are not doing
  • Efficient: strip out excessive bureaucracy and hierarchy
  • Practical: satisfy individual needs first by delivering actionable solutions that empower people in their daily lives

Brands mirror people’s values, share their dreams and embed these ideals into their business model
Our research into brand loyalty continues to demonstrate that favorite brands not only possess the characteristics of leaders but also mirror people’s values and help them to make a difference. Brands that help change the way consumers master daily tasks or bring more joy into their lives enter their inner circle of favorites and become integral to day-to-day life, in many of the same ways as a close friend. This is especially true for Millennials.

In fact, in a world of ever-accelerating technology, communication and social challenges, more consumers are seeking brands that act as proxies on their behalf. When a consumer buys a brand that offers fair value for quality, empowers them to be more in control of their life or enriches their world, treats employees right and manages its production sustainably, their purchase is a win for them.

In turn, when a brand sells more widgets because consumers know that the company behind their purchase is doing good, it’s a win for the brand.

And, when the world benefits from better treatment of employees, an ethical supply chain and sustainably produced products, it’s a win for society, the environment and ultimately our shared future. In other words, everyone involved in the exchange mutually wins.

A more mutual economy naturally fosters more loyal producer-consumer relationships
As consumers demand more than functional and emotional fulfillment from the brands they buy, brand development is necessarily shifting to emphasize more human-like characteristics such as integrity, sincerity and originality over credibility, authenticity and differentiation. And marketing initiatives are centering more on benefits associated with actualization over validation: empowerment, nurturing intimacy and fostering good citizenship.

A new framework for developing brands is clearly needed for a social, more mutual economy. Synthesizing the characteristics of leaders with the qualities of favorite brands, we’ve developed four C’s to guide brands in empowering people, enriching their lives and doing good on their behalf.

Clarity

  • Represent an inspiring philosophy that integrates a meaningful purpose into your business and brand
  • Embrace simplicity of presentation 
in delivery
  • Consistently tell your story ensuring that your audience’s needs, concerns and dreams are in the center alongside your brand

Context

  • Show how your products and services make everyday life easier and less stressful
  • Stretch beyond your product and services to help people to accomplish their goals – offer selfless content and related initiatives
  • Reflect and respond to people’s values and dreams in your communications

Conversation

  • Make people feel proud to be associated with you by speaking sincerely and operating with transparency
  • Be bold, start and own important conversations others haven’t
  • Use big data and customer insight to engage people so they become actively invested in 
the conversation you’ve started

Community

  • See yourself as the facilitator of communities, not the owner or in the center of them
  • Enable a sense of belonging to a wider, virtual and physical community by connecting people through shared concerns
  • Involve people in the brand’s evolution by collaborating with consumers, employees and other stakeholders to give back in ways that matter to them

Brands that think of in terms of me-we-us from the beginning to the end of their product lifecycle will gain more fans and ultimately enhance their financial and social value. They become badges that their customers, employees and partners alike wear, declaring their values and connecting them with like-minded people. Stimulating a social, mutual economy can only lead to a win-win-win for all!

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