Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR, has traditionally been associated with the corporate size of companies and less identified with brand management. Social responsibility and brands have lived in two separate worlds. Today the rules of the game are changing and for the first time, CSR is out there on the pitch playing alongside the brands.
Companies worldwide have suffered the worst economic crisis since the great crash of 1929. Consumers are more likely to trust a recommendation from a stranger than trust a company or a brand. According to the annual international survey on professional credibility by Ipsos Mori, business and marketing professionals are ranked at the same level of credibility as politicians and bankers, right at the bottom.
In order to restore consumer confidence, business and brand professionals must, more than ever, look to creating ways of gaining consumer trust, beyond the traditional policies of corporate social responsibility in companies, by creating brands with true meaning and social actions which are capable of transforming current and future social concerns.
In times of economic crisis businesses can no longer allow their CSR not to be linked with economic performance. More than ever they need to demonstrate the return on their social investment policies and bring social responsibility down to brand level. In addition to this, the economic crisis has become a crisis about values, and consumers demand that brands become more involved with current social issues, because to a large extent it is considered that they form the majority of the each country’s economic capacity.
The era of 3.0. brands has begun. A new era in which the challenge faced by brands has become a question not only of connecting on an emotional level with people, but also of bringing value to society as a whole. Brands need to be based on real meanings and social values, which are also relevant to consumers and at the same time make an impact and bring about social transformation.
On a functional level, in the quest for new driving forces behind economic growth to help ease social difficulties, 3.0. brands aim to invest in social projects in the same way that traditionally, investment has been made in product research and development (R&D). On an emotional level they are brands which transcend their more self-centred character to define a more social side, which is more involved in relevant causes with different communities.
In order to create a 3.0. brand it is vital to take into account the following 7 essential criteria:
1. Define the mission, vision and social value statements of the brand.
2. Identify the social needs within the community.
3. Understand the business opportunity.
4. Generate product innovation.
5. Build the creative personality of the brand.
6. Launch a 3.0. communication.
7. Apply co-creation as the base to creation.
1. Define the mission, vision and social value statements of the brand: mission, vision and values have always been ingredients that define the corporate dimension of the company. And now they are key elements of the brand. These 3.0. brands find the most philosophical side of their existence within the marketplace, rather than in mere economic results. Their mission statement defines the raison d’être of the brand, their real meaning in the market. Their vision looks to find the transformative side of the brand within its category, in other words, how the brand will be capable of transforming this category on a social level. In 3.0. brands the vision statement can also be perceived from the perspective of a dream, which would mean already visualizing the benefit of the brand’s vision becoming reality in the long term.
Both mission, and vision statements and even the brand’s dream must lead to inspire and define the main social value that the brand wishes to transmit on a social level, recognizing the value as the main belief behind the brand.
For example, the mission statement of the brand Dove within the beauty category makes women feel attractive just the way they are (let’s not forget that currently only 4% of women worldwide perceive themselves to be attractive just as they are). Their vision statement as a brand is seeing how women enjoy their natural beauty and the brand’s dream is to define a new concept of beauty in a more real society, which accepts natural images and eliminates extreme stereotypes which many beauty and fashion brands have created. The central value statement that the brand inspires is therefore, self-esteem in women. In addition to this, Dove created the Self-esteem Foundation, aimed at helping children and young girls with illnesses of anorexia and bulimia.
It is important that the whole social vision of the 3.0 brand is coherent with its positioning and with the brand’s meaning, so that its social statement is credible. It is credible that a brand like Dove should talk about real beauty, because it is a brand that exists within the category of beauty care focused on mass consumption, and that is aimed towards a general population of women.
2. Identify the social needs within the community
Consumers have more and more a sense of community. This is due to the technological revolution of the last twenty years. They are learning to no longer think just on a personal level but to do so on a communal level. Social networks and digital platforms like Facebook, unite groups of people due to their affinities, whether they are friendships or family or because they share the same values and life-styles. Brands are learning to become less individualistic and communicate with entire communities or social groups which have similar experiences and values. In order to create a 3.0. brand it is therefore essential to identify social needs in order to improve that community’s quality of life.
We’re talking about social groups which are connected through digital platforms which aim to actively participate in the content and experiences that brands provide them with. The brand then becomes more of a service provider rather than main part. For example in the case of Nike Running, the brand identifies a social need, because running alone can be very boring and not very exciting. However if it is done in company it is much more motivating and fun, and encourages you to do physical exercise. Nike then starts a joint venture with Apple to create running shoes in which a chip can be incorporated in order to calculate how many kilometres you have run. Then you can download the information onto a digital platform which allows different users worldwide to compete among themselves or create their own personal groups of friends to enjoy running experiences together. The brand also connects the experience offered by the digital platform with real races in different cities through a campaign called We Run the City. The brand transforms running into a social event and makes it a sport for everybody, not just professionals.
3. Understand the business opportunity
Generally, 3.0. brands start from economies of scale from projects for economic growth in each country. Sector by sector, new business opportunities are identified, which are based on social issues, coherent with the brand’s vision statement and help to improve the quality of life of a given social group. For example, a company like Telefónica in the communications sector has already identified energy efficiency, people with disabilities and the elderly, as big social projects. Additionally a bank with an ethical positioning, Triodos Bank, identified the opportunity within the population of the need for a bank which would be more transparent and involved on an economic level, in social and sustainability projects. The bank makes a direct claim of wishing to change the world and the current relationship that we have with money, creating a new blue ocean within the banking world.
4. Generate product innovation
A tangible part of brands, product innovation, plays an essential role in building the 3.0. brand. Technology and collaborating businesses are essential ingredients. We can see how brands which have achieved annual growth rates of more than 50% in recent years, have been those which are innovative and based on collaborative business and in which technology plays an important part. For example, the new chain of daily apartment rental, Airbnb, which has managed to become a main player in the hotel category by creating a platform that connects people with apartments for rent on a per day basis, and people who would like to stay in cities worldwide and enjoy a more local experience. The car-sharing company Avancar, has also created a collaborative platform, in which you can simply hire cars per hour in city centres, saving the economic cost and impact on sustainability that having your own car entails.
On the other hand the increase in sustainable materials used in making packaging and in the contents of products has become more relevant and is higher up on the scale of criteria when choosing to purchase the product among the population worldwide. Certain things previously considered as luxuries are now gaining ground and becoming the main criteria for purchase.
5. Build the creative personality of the brand
In 3.0. brands it is also essential to build the brand’s creative personality. Often policies concerning social responsibility have had a serious ring to them, causing alarm or have even often given a sense of guilt. This type of approach to social issues is becoming less relevant because consumers intend to participate in a positive and fun way when it comes to issues of social relevance.
For example, this would be the case for Coronita, the Mexican brand of beer which uses the slogan Coronita Save the Beach, inspiring its consumers in a positive and motivating way to contribute by cleaning and keeping clean, the main beaches around the world. It does this in a fresh fun, and happy tone. This same brand built hotels made out of waste which had been found on beaches around the world in order to raise awareness in tourists that they must contribute to keeping beaches clean and therefore to add to their enjoyment during the holidays. The Coca-Cola brand has also launched diverse social initiatives like the cash machine of happiness which hands out money to passers-by, on the condition that they will invest it in social causes for their local areas. The brand delivers this with an optimistic and happy tone, in line with the personality and positioning of the brand.
6. Launch a 3.0. communication
Communication of 3.0. brands is totally focused on a unique social and community experience. Creating a participative community is the focal point of the communication strategy. The brand should engage the community with content and conversations that motivate people to participate and interact between them. People have little interest in interacting with brands, but they do have great interest in participating in experiences that help them to connect between themselves. Those brands which understand this desire are the ones which will be successful.
For example, the brand Aquarius in one of its last communication campaigns put people from tiny villages in contact with people from the city who needed to disconnect for the holidays. The RED platform against AIDS, created a social platform with the latest music trends and designer product purchases to raise money in the fight against AIDS. It presented a much more positive and modern image to make more people interested in joining, while at the same time defending a contemporary cause.
Other mass media such as television or the press continue to be important although they play less of a leading role. Mainstream media now plays an important part in inspiring the new vision statement of the brand, while digital social platforms are responsible for ensuring that consumers participate in live these experiences and collaborate with different causes.
7. Apply co-creation as the base to creation
Finally, in order to create a 3.0. brand it is of vital importance that a process of co-creation is implemented. Multi- disciplinary teams willing to collaborate in order to generate new ideas and create new social platforms. The sheer complexity of today’s markets means that collaboration must be sought in order to find ingenious and effective solutions.
Co-creation is also based on the notion that all the teams that make up the process can bring strategic and creative value to it, which more and more actively participates in the processes of brand development. We have entered fully into co-society, in which creative and talented individuals are the backbone of the economy. For example, the company Google teams up the greatest talent within its company to work on different projects of a social nature in different fields. Each employee may dedicate a certain % of their time to these types of projects, outside of their daily responsibilities.
The growing tendency towards collaboration among consumers has also affected the world of business and social activities. Companies no longer have absolute control over their brands because they now compete with the collective power of their consumers. Consumers now play an important role in generating value through the joint creation of ideas.
We have entered fully into an information era in which intellect, collaboration, and technology are key elements, essential to a company’s social policies. To a great extent, 3.0. brands depend on the capacity of companies to perceive the concerns and wishes of individuals and channel them by means of proposals and creative actions developed by brands.
In addition to this people are also looking for a sense beyond just an economic one, in their relationship with brands and companies. They have already begun to get together to support social causes while worldwide concerns for poverty, injustice, environmental sustainability, community, responsibilities, and social actions, are becoming greater.
According to a recent study by Havas Media, for the majority of people they wouldn’t mind if 70% of brands ceased to exist (Source: Meaningful Brands for a Sustainable Future). How can they make companies and brands gain in credibility and relevance for their current and future consumers? The answer would seem clear: by creating brands which are much more than products, which are much more than emotional assets, brands with a true social vision which inspire their consumers to co-create and collaborate to resolve social issues in an ingenious, creative, and optimistic way.
The era of 3.0. brands has already started; now in order to build business, companies must move corporate social responsibility down to brand level. Brands that have to make a firm commitment to the social difficulties faced in the 21st Century and show it by demonstrating their actions to their consumers, who are today the true owners of the brands.
Are you ready?
Agnès Rovira, Director of Creative Strategy
DBRAND DREAMS – Creative Brand Planning
Co-Director of the Postgraduate course in Brand Meaning Management 3.0: Brand Creation, Definition and Implementation Master in Creative Brand Management at UPF-IDEC