In an age when consumer trust is decreasing and demand for transparency increasing, simple, short-term tactics to be seen in the space of ‘social good’ are no longer good enough. A new age of transparency calls for some brand self-reflection, and a true understanding of the impact before a company can even think about communicating around it.
Almost every week a new study is published, painting a picture of a shifting consumer landscape. Millennials want to work for companies where they feel a strong purpose and buy from brands that reflect and support their core values. And it’s not just brand standing. Last month Accenture released a report saying competitiveness is no longer just about growth and profit, it’s about sustainability and trust.
With technology increasing the rate of change and transparency, a CSR strategy or sustainability report won’t cut it anymore. So, what’s going to change the game?
A business’ social and environmental impact needs to be embedded in everything they do, and that includes how they communicate.
Some notable brands are beginning to pave the way in this new era. ‘Doing good’ dominated this year’s awards landscape, with winning campaigns such as Superhumans and Aland Index aligning their true business impact, stakeholder values, and purpose with their cause. This prompted Cannes Lions to announce they’re teaming up with the UN to create a sustainability awards category for 2018.
Meanwhile the D&AD judges took a different tack and removed social responsibility as a category, deeming it integral to all business and marketing activity.
As a result, businesses are under increasing scrutiny, not just from consumers, but also stakeholders and employees who want to know the impact the companies they engage with, and are loyal to, have on people and the planet.
It’s easy to see how, under such pressure, so many have fallen foul when jumping on the cause-campaign bandwagon. It’s not just trying to solve racism with a Pepsi, brands with a track record of getting it right, for example Dove, Starbucks, Skittles have come under fire for aligning with an issue or cause that they had no right to champion and no real intention of progressing beyond ‘awareness’. And even those that seemingly got it right, like State Street Global Advisors with their Fearless Girl statue, who launched a gender diversity index and funded programmes to promote gender equality in STEM industries, failed to look at their own performance as seen in this week’s equal pay row; undermining what had been a widely praised, award-winning campaign.
It comes down to impact. For a brand to create – or at the very least champion – actual social and environmental change, it needs to first look in the mirror. How does its business’ performance measure-up on gender balance, carbon footprint, waste and water usage, workers’ rights? And in our image-driven society, how are they perceived to perform on those metrics when judged by the people that matter to their business: their customers, employees, suppliers, partners, and shareholders?
Even with the right intent it can be difficult to know where to start, and how to go about it without leaving your brand vulnerable to public attacks.
As a way to empower brand self-reflection and transparency, Hill+Knowlton Strategies has developed H+K Better Impact.
Our H+K Better Impact score measures brands against the globally agreed UN Sustainable Development Goals, identifying the goals that most align with a business’ performance, stakeholder perceptions and corporate purpose. In doing so, we can ensure a brand’s communications are credible and authentic while empowering and enabling brands to have a better impact on people and the planet.
In providing an ongoing benchmark that’s agile and nimble, Better Impact enables brands to keep up with the pace of change. We believe that every business can support the UN Sustainable Development Goals in making a better world by 2030.
Suzy Greenwood and Kate Lupton, senior associate directors at Hill+Knowlton Strategies London, are founding partners of H+K Better Impact.