Brand Citizenship

by, Jessica Tsou

Why Companies Need to Show That They Care Beyond Consumers’ Dollars

The way people shop is changing. Gen X and Y consumers are looking beyond what a brand does just for them, and rather what that brand is doing for the world. Consumers want their purchases to mean something, and care what the brand stands for on a larger scale.

During the early winter months, I stepped into an H&M store to purchase a dress shirt for work.  While I was waiting in the check out line, I noticed a poster about their Spring Conscious Line.  In addition to practicing everyday sustainability, every other season, H&M produces a line called the “Conscious Line” where all the clothes are made from the fabric of pre-owned clothes donated from patrons.  The clothes can literally be from any brand–not just H&M–and for your trouble of lugging all your bags of clothes to the store and for showing a commitment to sustainability, H&M will gift you a 15% off card toward your next purchase. H&M is showing their customers that they not only care about environmental sustainability, but welcome our help and involvement in the process. This is Brand Citizenship.

What Is It?

Brand Citizenship is when a brand exercises transparency about their ideology through effectively connecting audiences with something more meaningful than ourselves. Whether it be environmental, domestic, or social justice issues, it is the acknowledgment that brands have a vested interest in humanity, and not just the money we have to spend.  While this may be a no-brainer to most, it’s a fairly new concept, and one that some have not even begun to consider.

Why It’s Important

In the digital age, consumers are more informed about not only products, but also about the tricks that companies use to sell products. As a result, consumers find it refreshing when brands practice transparency and are seen advocating for and addressing real causes that actually matter to people.  With brands being perceived as always wanting-wanting-wanting and taking-taking-taking, consumers prefer to invest in brands that show commitment to the “bigger picture,” and demonstrate forward thinking about the sustainability of the planet and humanity.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” and this concept is very applicable to the modern day consumer.  Creating a dialogue with consumers about issues beyond what a brand’s product is and/or does is essential for brand credibility and sustainability as well.

How to Develop Brand Citizenship

As mentioned before, consumers are more savvy than ever and know when brands are simply putting on a good show to get more of their money–thus creating resentment and cynicism.  Companies must consider what it takes to develop good Brand Citizenship and create an honest dialogue with consumers.  Take Samsung Turkey, for example.  In early March 2015, ad agency Leo Burnett Istanbul took one month to plan an advertisement promoting a video-call service for the hearing impaired.  It is not until the very end of this elaborate and heartfelt ad that consumers see the Samsung branding, and even then, it is very minimal and non-invasive.  What this does so aptly is put the main issue ahead of the brand–people with hearing impairments deserve to experience a life without barriers.  While this product may only affect a small percentage of the population, this ad brings the issues of the hearing impaired to the world-at-large, making all of us think twice about what we can do as well.

So when you sit down to consider how your brand can practice better citizenship, here are some tips to consider: try advertisements that have little to no affiliation with a brand, and instead highlight people, communities, and issues where the message is put before the brand. This makes it apparent that brands wish to establish a more enriched relationship with consumers, and that they truly care about using their influence and profit to positively impact humanity.

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