If you look at recent trend reports of the type that come out toward the end of the year and predict what will happen during the next, there is a theme becoming more and more dominant. It's "brand citizenship," the idea that corporations have the wherewithal to take on roles that hitherto have been the domain of NGO's, the government and the United Nations.
It's kind of amazing, if you think about it, that we have come to a place where brands and their parent companies are acting on their own accord. Not long ago, it was enough for a corporation to put its name on a check. One might have scoffed at the idea that corporate largesse would one day mean more than largesse, and a major consumer brand would actually be its own global positive-change agent, however you define it. But research sees a redefinition of good business practices to include environmental stewardship, and/or creation of production and delivery systems for material assistance, water, food or medicine to disparate, desperate places.
Both on the consumer and brand sides, is this an acknowledgement that there doesn’t seem to be much that organizations like the aforementioned U.N. can actually do, assuming they have the will to do it? Is it this the perception that intergovernmental treaties, programs, protocols and other ideas for coordinated global strategies don't seem to get off the ground because of nationalistic resentment, blackballing or friction? Is it the idea that NGO's have limited budgets and, therefore, can only do so much? And is it, finally, that people everywhere see so many dangerous trends happening simultaneously that they are throwing up their hands as individuals and hoping for deliverance from someone with real power, and at least the appearance of separation from political entanglements that make any change virtually impossible?
All of the above from the citizen/consumer side, but how about what’s driving action on the corporate side? How about the salubrious influence of peer pressure? "If Bill Gates' foundation vows to eliminate preventable diseases in countries with essentially no health care, we’d better do something, too?" And perhaps it's not just contagious corporate enlightenment at work when one company's good turns start a trend. Maybe it's also pragmatic, negative reinforcement. If CPG brand A is doing something great and has no bones about telling the world all about it, CPG brand B may well feel it had better follow suit or face a competitive disadvantage. Nothing wrong with that, either, if it works.
More broadly, several trends in a November study by OneSixtyFour dealt with issues around personal and corporate virtue, how well companies speak with individual customers, and how well companies and brands behave around overused items like "authenticity" and "meaningful experiences" as key areas where you can build or kill trust.
One trend researchers report is that people can tell when a company is just paying lip service or making token gestures instead of really doing something meaningful. And they also report that Fortune 500 companies, more and more, are investing expertise, time and money on paying forward to the next generation. Whether it’s a virtuous circle driven precisely by the data c-suite executives get from market research studies like the above, or by consumer pressure, or competitive pressure, or by spontaneous acts of enlightened goodwill, or from God himself, let’s hope the pundits are right and companies keep increasing their commitment to the causes they care about. The world appreciates it. Happy new year!