Champion Brand Roundtable: Preferred status [Extended]

Leading communicators joined Gideon Fidelzeid in New York at this APCO Worldwide-hosted roundtable to highlight how select brands are standing out by forming lasting connections with multiple stakeholders.

Leading communicators joined Gideon Fidelzeid in New York at this APCO Worldwide-hosted roundtable to highlight how select brands are standing out by forming lasting connections with multiple stakeholders.

Karen Buerkle, senior director, corporate reputation research, APCO Worldwide
Marcy Cohen, VP, senior business leader, MasterCard
Edward Freeman, university professor, The Darden School, University of Virginia
Aedhmar Hynes, CEO, Text100
Chris Loncto, director of marcomms, Sharp
Maril MacDonald, CEO, Gagen MacDonald
Jessica Oster, external communications manager, GE

The educated consumer
Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
More informed consumers have facilitated notable changes to the corporate brand's role in the past 20 years. How has that impacted your outreach strategies?

Karen Buerkle (APCO): Ten, 15, 20 years ago, we developed communications strategies much more audience by audience. With the informed consumer, that segmentation doesn't work. Your investor messages now get to everyone. Your environmental messages not only get to everyone now, but everyone really cares about it, including people who you wouldn't necessarily assume would do so.

Jessica Oster (GE): As a b-to-b company, the idea of the informed consumer is exciting. GE likes to say it works to make the world better for our customers, society, and our employees. Our challenge and opportunity is to figure out how to connect with those consumers so they can see the value of the work we're doing. We work in the airline industry, for example, and that affects consumers. How do you make that connection? It's an exciting challenge.

Buerkle (APCO): A lot of the b-to-b companies we work with say, “We don't sell to consumers. We communicate to our customers.” There's a temptation to dismiss the more general population audience as not invested in their business because they sell to other businesses. It's good to see a different approach.

Oster (GE): We think about our audiences so many ways. We have the insiders – our employees. There are decision makers, which are customers. As a global company, the government is an audience. There are the enthusiasts, which really help you hit on the consumers. We're also a technology company, so we communicate with those excited about technology. It's a broad group, but the overall message is the same. However, the way you deliver it and engage with the different groups changes.

Aedhmar Hynes (Text100): The shift we've seen in communications is really all around this concept of influence, whether it's b-to-c or b-to-b, which is really b-to-b-to-c. Our stakeholders are consuming information and getting stories, content, and messages from all sorts of different places. PR has had to shift quite radically to have media be only one portion of what we believe now influences the ultimate decision maker, whether that's the purchaser or somebody who actually influences the purchaser. In turn, consistency in communication has become more crucial than ever.

When talking about brands, the look, feel, and values of that brand must be consistent across all platforms, too – a position communications didn't necessarily hold in the past.

Marcy Cohen (MasterCard): PR used to be able to control the message a lot more. Now it's somewhat out of our hands. Many consumers are also brand publishers. MasterCard is doing a lot of social listening now so we can create content that really meets their needs. We're not shouting messages. We're not just saying what we think they want to hear. We're trying to really listen to what they want, what challenges they have, what the gaps are, where the miscommunication or confusion is around our brand and figuring out how to make their lives better.

Edward Freeman (University of Virginia): Language matters. The days of telling a story to an audience, having them listen politely, and applaud at the end are gone. There are folks out there with a stake in brands who want to be engaged in those brands. That's less about what you say and much more about what you do.

We used to talk about the value chain, how value gets created from raw material to the customer. Today, you ought to talk about the responsibility chain because iconic brands are held accountable for everything from where the raw material comes from to what I put in my stomach. PR pros are the keepers of the responsibility chain.The other change we've seen is that interests aren't stakeholder by stakeholder or audience by audience, but they're intertwined. The trick is how to do something so that customers, suppliers, employees, and communities all win at the same time. It's telling that story and keeping it going in the same direction.

Maril MacDonald (Gagen MacDonald): We often talk about the consumer being informed as though it's something that happened to us. We ought to think about how great it is that it's happened for us. For so long, companies complained that no one understands their business. We were mediated through the media. Now we have a great opportunity. The most important thing is that we get really clear on who are we and not be afraid of the informed consumer.

Hynes (Text100): We're talking about the more informed consumer, but it's also a more progressive consumer. They are making purchasing decisions based on what they believe in, as well as ethical and moral issues. That's a big change from just 10 years ago where people bought something because they liked it as opposed to saying, “I like what this company stands for.” That latter sentiment requires brands to rethink what they are, not just what they sell. 

MacDonald (Gagen MacDonald): Another interesting part of this story is that people inside companies care a lot more about what's going on and what they stand for. They're looking for meaning not only in the companies they engage with, but the companies they are.

Freeman (University of Virginia): Solely worrying about money is not how you build a great brand nor a great company. The global financial crisis brought that home for a lot of CEOs. In truth, people always wanted meaning, just now it's OK to talk about it. CEOs now also understand their business is to help build society. They need to see their business as being set in society. The younger generation certainly sees it that way.

Proper alignment
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
Four elements in which brand differentiate themselves are alignment, authenticity, attachment, and advocacy. We'll look at each one separately. What are the key factors to achieving alignment?

Chris Loncto (Sharp): Sharp is a subsidiary of a Japanese company. It's more about alignment of message, getting that across, and making sure it's consistent across every channel. For example, making sure you're not going into a Best Buy or the like and hearing something different about the product than what's on our website.

We also have to think about what a product of ours says when a consumer puts it in their living room. What does this product say about that person? We listen to what consumers tell us about how our products make them feel when they use them. That feedback very directly tells us how consumers feel about our brand. In turn, we use that in our communications.

Cohen (MasterCard): MasterCard divides stakeholders into four key categories – merchants, partners and issuers, governments, and cardholders or consumers. We're trying to talk about our value story, but what makes it difficult is a lot of people don't even realize where MasterCard comes into the equation. People see our logo and know if they have a problem, we're there to help. However, it's really the bank that issues the cards. That education of some of our key stakeholders is critical to help people truly understand the value we bring to cardholders.

Also, 18 months ago, research revealed MasterCard was exposed to about 30 million people per month globally through social media. We took part in less than 1% of those conversations. We saw this great opportunity. The result: today, MasterCard is exposed to 40 million-plus people a week globally on social media – and we engage them at a much higher rate.

Freeman (University of Virginia): After years writing about getting stakeholder interest aligned, I've come to the view that we need to move on from alignment. We need to harmonize stakeholder interests, not align them. In harmony the notes are different, but they sound good together. In alignment, the notes are the same. In today's world, it's impossible to get the notes to be the same, but you have to think about where there's some harmony in what employees are saying, what customers are saying, in what others are saying.

Sometimes you play a note that is called a chromatic passing tone. That's a mistake. Of course, most musicians see it as an opportunity to do something different. That applies to brands. Where there's conflict with stakeholders, it's not about getting their minds right, but rather seeing the conflict as an opportunity for value creation, for innovation, for imagination. Champion brands can move from alignment to harmony, or alignment to thinking about value creation.

Hynes (Text100): An issue we often deal with is that brands aren't sensitive to aligning with cultures – religion, history, local environmental issues, and so on. They are American brands operating in Japan, India, or China and they suddenly have a massive misalignment because they don't have that sensitivity.

Thought leadership is a great way to become aligned locally. You have to factor in the position of the country. You can take your global proposition, but then make sure it's relevant locally. Otherwise, you won't have that harmony.

Loncto (Sharp): Sharp is a Japanese company with a very strong presence there. Japan, however, is a very different market from the US. Our challenge is taking the things that are great about our company but may not necessarily translate to a US audience and using them effectively in outreach here.

Buerkle (APCO): Alignment isn't about making sure we adjust people's minds to our story. Alignment can be thought of as the harmony and opportunity to meet the needs of the diverse set of stakeholders. How do I meet the expectations of my customer while still being respectful to the environment, local governments, the federal government, and so on? The opportunity is creating something new out of that conflict, rather than seeing it as a burden of making everybody's mind align to what I want them to think.

Pursuit of authenticity
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
Authenticity is a huge word in brand communications, but definitions can vary. What does it mean to be a truly authentic brand?

MacDonald (Gagen MacDonald): The concept of authenticity is really about being true to one's origin and being comfortable in one's own skin. It's a basis of groundedness. It's one thing to be an authentic person, but to be an authentic corporation of so many people is quite a different matter because of the different geographies and backgrounds.

Authentic brands aren't afraid of conflict. They welcome it because they understand the very nature of the world is being different.

Loncto (Sharp): Authenticity is backing up what you say by the actions you take. Consumers can see pretty quickly if a brand is not authentic by looking at its actions.

Oster (GE): It's understanding who you are as a company. For an entity such as GE that works in so many industries, it's what we stand for across our broad portfolio. Being an innovative tech company defines our brand and reputation. Staying true to that, even when facing tough issues, is crucial.

A major factor is the channels we have opened up to connect with the consumer.

We can hear what's on our consumer's mind. We strive to humanize the company, speak one on one to them, and really have that authentic voice.

Hynes (Text100): I'll echo the point about being true to who you are as a brand in the same way the truth resonates with people in terms of who they are as individuals. I'll add, though, that the notion of taking a personality to a brand is very powerful. It's the easiest way to ensure that what you do is who you are. Regardless of how many employees you have, if you have figured out what you stand for authentically, everything you do in terms of how you treat your people to the decisions you make during a crisis should all bubble up to who you are as a brand. The continual reinforcement of that will ensure that those who are your best ambassadors will actually speak with one voice.

Some brands actually self-perpetuate or become almost like an ecosystem. They will reject those that don't in some way adhere to their values, but will embrace those that do. The authenticity almost manifests itself based on the values being incredibly strong.

Cohen (MasterCard): Authenticity is about brands realizing that it's not all about them. It's about being part of a larger conversation and tapping into other ideas and concepts that peripherally affect their brand.

Financial inclusion is basically tapping into the unbanked and under-banked around the world and giving them the resources to enter the financial mainstream. We're looking for all those conversations and stakeholders who are invested in financial inclusion. It's not making it about our brand, but tapping into that larger conversation and then eventually showing value and figuring out who our advocates are. Even empowering our employees to be able to speak about it credibly.

Freeman (University of Virginia): As Polonius said in Hamlet, “To thine own self be true and thou canst not then be false to any man.” People who talk about authenticity love that quote. The problem is Hamlet doesn't know what he stands for nor what his values are. The play is around that.

Authenticity starts with what you think your values are, but it doesn't end there. Authenticity must be a process. It's your values, but also understanding your history and why the brand is what it is. So it's your values, your history, the set of connections you're engaged in, and your aspirations. Authenticity is much more than getting your values right, putting them on a card, and thinking you're set forever. That doesn't work in today's world.

Buerkle (APCO): In thinking about how authenticity helps to make a champion brand and how corporate brands are built in this age of the empowered consumer, it's very simply whether or not a company's actions line up with what it says it stands for. Are words and deeds matching?

There's a temptation to tell people what they want to hear rather than what's true to you. That's where authenticity comes in – not as a separate dimension, but as an insight into how you're meeting other needs in a way that's true to yourself, true to your values, and is open and honest.

Cohen (MasterCard): A lot of authenticity comes from the top. It certainly does at MasterCard with our CEO Ajay Banga. He infuses that within the organization and everyone wants to live up to that characteristic. The leaders of an organization really dictate how authentic a company can be.

MacDonald (Gagen MacDonald): Truly authentic people or corporations are also not afraid of being judged. If you're true to yourself, you will stand on what you really believe and not try to please everybody. Trying to make everybody happy is where we often get in trouble. Corporations are often spoken about as if they need to make everybody happy all the time. However, that's not really their role. One of the key things companies struggle with – but it's also something they need to figure out – is determining who matters and why.

Freeman (University of Virginia): If you can't make it so your employees feel empowered to be themselves, it's very difficult to be authentic to other stakeholders. The stronger brands are OK with employees being themselves. The window into how authentic brands think will show that it can't be about being everything to everybody. The world is too complicated today.

One thing [Harvard Business School professor and former Medtronic CEO] Bill George says about authentic leadership is that you've got to start with who you are. As simple as that sounds, it's a really powerful starting point.

Emotional attachment
Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
What are the most important consideration for brands when seeking to create emotional bonds with consumers?

Loncto (Sharp): You put a Sharp television in your living room. There's a reason why you buy a 70-inch, 80-inch, or even 90-inch TV. You want your friends to come over. You want your family to gather around on movie nights and those kinds of things.

When we first started selling these large-screen televisions, no one had sold anything of any significance more than 60 inches. We went out and talked to the people that might buy these products and we learned that having their friends, neighbors, or family congregate in their homes to watch the big game or a movie was a huge consideration for them. Creating the emotional attachment in a product like this is a key factor for us.

Buerkle (APCO): We're not all just rational creatures at the end of the day. If all we ever do is communicate to this rational side and all of your bonds are built on rational things, the instant there is a rational reason for someone to doubt you, they will.

It's about layering. It's about building a bond that's stronger than just a pile of facts. When identifying some of the top corporate brands, they all have created strong emotional bonds. It's easier for b-to-c companies to build those bonds because people can hold those products in their hands. But even for b-to-b companies, cultivating that bond with a variety of stakeholders is crucial to building those enduring relationships that last through crises and the like.

Hynes (Text100): In the b-to-b space, it's often overlooked that your target audience is not necessarily the buyer or the decision-maker. My agency does a lot of work in the tech space. Research suggests the chief technology officer will be influenced by 17 different influencers before making a purchase for his or her company. As communicators, we must think about how we connect with those 17 influencers because their perception of the brand is as important as anyone's.

Look at IBM's Smarter Planet brand campaign. My mother in Ireland will never buy an IBM product, but it's critically important consumers on the street have a positive opinion of the IBM brand and what its technology does for the world. That perception, that emotional connection through the 17 influencers I mentioned before, will impact the CTO who will decide whether to buy from IBM or a competitor. And when looking at products that can be quite similar, that emotional connection becomes a key part in that overall decision.

Buerkle (APCO): The emotional part can be seen as the tone by which you're communicating. When Gary Sheffer was speaking earlier, he was talking about imagination and positivity as being part of what defines the GE brand. That was really as much about tone as it was content.

Oster (GE): GE has been in people's homes for more than 100 years through our appliances business. Consumers are very familiar with the brand in that area. Many of our other business are b-to-b and storytelling focuses on the outcomes we can deliver that make the world work better.

We're in the aviation business, for example. Airlines are our direct customers there, but the conversations we take part in or the content we create focuses on how we're helping everyday people get to their destinations faster and safely with GE engines. There is a definite connection to be made with how GE is helping to make the world work better for our customers, our stakeholders, and society.

Cohen (MasterCard): Creating emotional attachment is about raising the voice of the consumer and enabling that stakeholder to tell their own story. We do this through a program called Cashless Pioneers.

MasterCard is on a journey to a world beyond cash. In this video series, we highlight merchants and governments who are embracing a world of cashless business. For example, we profiled a man who owns a food truck in Mexico who only took cash. One day he decided to start taking cards and his sales doubled within the first week.

We then promoted him through the Cashless Pioneers program and his sales increased exponentially. We've done about 50 of these in the last two years. In each case, we identify merchants – who are key stakeholders – in these local cities who are embracing a world beyond cash. We give them that opportunity to tell their story – and storytelling is what creates the emotional attachment. And it really starts with that person on the ground who is experiencing a struggle or a challenge. Being able to tell those stories and having a platform to deliver that creates a powerful emotional attachment to what brands are trying to do.

Freeman (University of Virginia): Creating an emotional attachment is tricky. I don't try to create an emotional attachment to the brand of The Darden School. In fact, if I try to do that, students will figure it out and it will have the opposite effect. I try to inspire them. If I'm successful, that creates an emotional attachment. It's dangerous to think about creating an emotional attachment separate from what the brand's purpose is. Creating inspiration is how brands will achieve emotional attachment. And it always goes back to the actions they take, not any concerted effort to create an emotional attachment.

Advocates for the cause
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
One definition of advocacy is to be a champion on behalf of stakeholders' interests and applying unique expertise and assets to add value to society. How is this playing out with brands today?

Buerkle (APCO): It's important to establish that brands first must be champions for people before people will become champions for them.

Hynes (Text100): There's a new fashion design company called that sources products for a conscious consumer. Its mission is based on the belief that a huge swath of the consumer world is made up of conscious consumers. It's interesting how so many new companies are going down that route.

One of the brands that influenced me a lot growing up was The Body Shop. Its founder Anita Roddick flew in the face of the cosmetic industry by saying, “I will design and develop a full set of products that are about what I believe in and become a global phenomenon.” It goes back to being confident in who you are and knowing that if you are true to yourself, you can build a brand and find enough of an audience or enough stakeholders or consumers who will align with you. The truth in who you are and the confidence to stand up and believe in something is the best place to start with advocacy, as opposed to finding something for which you want to advocate.

Freeman (University of Virginia): I'm on the board of nonprofit group Conscious Capitalism. Companies such as Whole Foods and The Container Store are corporate members who embody that. They don't separate economic and social. They see the purpose of their companies in part to be something bigger than making profits – whether it's getting the world to eat better food or solving people's problems around organization.

There is a movement of companies who understand this purpose is important, multiple stakeholders are important, some idea of conscious leadership and culture is important – and they're out doing it. It generally starts from things such as John Mackey running a health food store in Austin, TX, because he was a vegetarian and then growing that into the multibillion-dollar business that is Whole Foods.Stories such as those highlight how business and brands can be at their best. And those are stories we need.

Cohen (MasterCard): Toms is a brand that springs to mind because my kids are actually aware of what it's doing. It's simply magical when my 10-year-old daughter says, “Please get me a pair of Toms. They have this one-for-one program where some child in a foreign country will get a pair of shoes when I get a pair.” It's fabulous to see companies doing programs like that. Toms is built on that and it spans so many generations. You see children, adults, the elderly, everyone walking around with Toms. It's very pervasive and very exciting.

Freeman (University of Virginia): On discussion boards in which I've participated recently, which included people from around 100 countries, there were conversations and examples of this type of business activity going on around the world. There was talk about a company in the Ukraine trying to do this. There is this global conversation bubbling up around making business better and getting us out of this debilitating story that it's only about the money. It's never been like that before.

Hynes (Text100): Companies are beginning to realize in their CSR efforts that it's no longer just about donating to the CEO's charity or some other organization because it's a chronic issue. They're beginning to align this concept that they are the enablers. They have a skill or a business acumen they can lend to a cause that creates a situation where there is not just a giver and a receiver, but rather two organizations trying to work towards a common goal that is meaningful to both. It's only when you take money out of the equation that you get an enabler for the real movement of something that is meaningful in a cause.

I realize that many of the examples we've given today are newer companies. It can be perplexing for corporations that have been around for 100 years and have been operating a certain way. Yet, such companies can make what they do more meaningful if they take their vast skills and acumen and make that the investment in social responsibility as opposed to the money. That's so powerful.

Look at Starbucks. They managed to find the farmers who couldn't grow the beans necessary to become Starbucks quality beans and invested in helping them to yield better crops. It was amazing because it was taking people out of poverty, but also aligning with a particular skill of theirs.

Cohen (MasterCard): MasterCard partners with the World Food Programme. We call it our digital food program and it basically enables people to buy food on prepaid cards. They don't have to carry cash. We actually just launched a program for Syrian refugees where the World Food Programme is giving out prepaid MasterCards and really helping to feed them. We have a product, there's a need, we've come together, and we're doing well and doing good.

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): A lot of companies we've highlighted were created out of advocacy in a way. What about companies that have been around for a long time who were not established under that premise? How can they become true advocacy-based organizations?

Freeman (University of Virginia): Maybe they were and they've just forgotten it. Very few entrepreneurs start a company just to make money. What happens somewhere is they forget about it. That's why this idea of rediscovering history is so relevant.

MacDonald (Gagen MacDonald): If a company's in business, it's advocating for something people care about somehow because those people are supporting them over and over.

As this discussion developed, I started thinking about Herb Kelleher and Southwest Airlines. Everyone talks about Southwest making money quarter after quarter, but they started with the Freedom to Fly philosophy and everyone laughed at them. Kelleher was the joke, so he made himself the joke. It then became the company's personality. Southwest just said, “Here's who we are,” they took the world on, and look at what's happened. There are a lot of examples. Think about GE with Thomas Edison. He was just out to do something important.

Oster (GE): We've talked a lot about purpose, which is something GE thinks about a lot. What is our purpose? What's the reason our employees wake up every day to come to work? We're working to make the world work better, but we still have our shareowners and others, so we're expected to make money. Again, it's marrying that up. Ecomagination is a great example of that. We're very straightforward about the fact that this is good for the world, but it's going to make us money.

Loncto (Sharp): Sharp is a 100-year-old company. It started with belt buckles and then took its name from the Ever-Sharp mechanical pencil, which was one of our founder Tokuji Hayakawa's first inventions, and we've evolved through the years. The one constant was Mr. Hayakawa's credo of sincerity and creativity – and you're reminded of it every day.

Our company has gone through some definite challenges over the last couple of years. Our new CEO Kozo Takahashi has said that everything in our company needs to change except for that sincerity and creativity.

Buerkle (APCO): Aedhmar's focus on advocacy being about the use of a unique business expertise or acumen to work toward solving an important social problem is powerful. Some companies, though, just have a better story to tell because they make something that's an obvious social good. It's easy for them to be perceived as advocates.

The challenge for all companies is to see they don't just make a widget with a price list attached to it and certain specs. They're doing it because it fits into society in some way.

Take Disney, which is a strong brand that creates emotional connections. Its role, the cause it's fighting for, its social reason for being is families spending time together, whether around a TV set watching ESPN or going to one of its parks.

A slightly less obvious example is WellPoint, one of the largest insurance companies in the US. Insurance companies aren't an obvious social good. So what is its cause? As one of the largest insurance companies in the country, it can spur innovation in the healthcare delivery system for everyone. As an insurance company that grabs data from doctors, it knows what makes someone land back in the hospital and has more data about what is and isn't working. How can they use that information to improve not necessarily their healthcare plans for their people, but new models in healthcare delivery? The company can take its relationships, all the people it touches, and pull them together in a room to solve something bigger than itself.

Global perspective
Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
Are there regional differences in what makes a champion brand? How must one communicate in order to establish that status?

Loncto (Sharp): In Japan, Sharp is part of the fabric of society. The company employs a lot of people in a lot of factories. It is a technological marvel that operates the world's most advanced LCD plant, so it's a source of national pride. In the States, none of that resonates as much. People in the US don't care as much that a Sharp TV comes from the world's largest and most advanced LCD factory. They care more about what the brand says for them. We have to work constantly on that balance.

Communicating on price is another challenge. Price compression is one of the key regional differences between American and Japanese consumers. Our corporate parent doesn't have to work as hard to convince the Japanese consumer that Sharp is definitely the best because the company is in the news all the time and employs so many people. Here, not so much.

Oster (GE): Being a global company that acts locally is something we talk about constantly at GE. A lot of our customers are governments. It's aligning with those issues that really matter. We can bring the scale of GE to our global operations, but if we're just viewed as an American company that doesn't resonate as well.

In truth, we do more business outside of the US at this point. I've worked on a lot of our reputation polling globally and we're viewed much more favorably in the countries where we are seen as a local company that's aligned with those region's issues.

Cohen (MasterCard): MasterCard is in 210 countries around the world and 60% of our revenue comes from outside the US. We're headquartered in New York and it's important from a communications perspective to set strategy from there, but we really want our regions to make it all come to life in a very local way.

A lot of our storytelling is developed on the ground. When it comes to communications, it's important for us to show value at the center, but we don't want to dictate too much because something that resonates in the US might not resonate in Brazil, Singapore, or China.

MacDonald (Gagen MacDonald): It's interesting how often a company's culture is most true the further away you get from headquarters. At corporate headquarters, people often get distracted by all the “head” factors, they lose track of the “heart.” The spirit of the company is usually strongest out in the field.

Buerkle (APCO): APCO has done research in about 14 different markets around the world looking at how people relate to corporate brands, what they expect from them, and how they engage with them. There is a fairly universal trend that people are paying more attention to corporate behavior, expecting more from companies, even saying things such as, “Global corporations have more power over my life than they did 10 years ago.” They are even saying global corporations have more power over their lives than government. Plus, they expect global corporations to fight for things that are important to society. Around 60% of people globally feel that way.

The biggest difference is in the amount of people actively scrutinizing corporate behavior. When we think about the hyper-empowered consumer, the lowest incidence of that consumer is in Japan. There's more societal trust there, perhaps. People peek under corporations' hoods a bit less in Japan. It's greatest in the developing markets such as India and China, with the US and Europe being somewhere in between.

Hynes (Text100): Any company that sets up internationally has an obligation to that country and that culture to be a good corporate citizen. The most successful companies are those that have a moral and social conscience of the role they play within that country.

The concept of corporations taking on some of the government's role is interesting. I'm assuming that's in countries where government is either not trusted or does not have the necessary resources. Any successful brand coming into that country would be seen as having the resources, but it is also mining for that country's talent and skills, so there is a necessity to give back – not financially, but to society. It makes complete sense, but not all brands are sensitive to that.

Freeman (University of Virginia): There's an assumption that if you're going to give back and be socially or environmentally responsible, it's going to cost you. That's not true. In fact, it pays to do so. Once a brand gets rid of that idea that it will cost them to do the right thing, they'll find different ways to do it with NGOs and others. In doing so, you'll get that emotional attachment and harmonization we spoke about earlier.

In today's world, there are so many exciting and imaginative things you can do – and brands are discovering this, whether it's Unilever doing bottom-of-the-pyramid things in India or Whole Foods through its foundation doing microloans to their 100,000 suppliers and communities all over the world. People are finding ways to put these things together, which is really what being a champion brand is all about.

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