Shifting brand responsibility

By Mark Di Somma

Shifting brand responsibilityLet me make a suggestion to brand owners in the interests not just of transparency but of greater consumer belief. Stop communicating your efforts in sustainability, diversity, traceability, environmental contribution, fair trade etc as corporate social responsibility obligations. Instead, act on them, and account for them, as differentiating inclinations.

And frame those inclinations within a broader, singular superset: your brand’s distinctive sense of its responsibilities.

To that end, let’s stop talking about reporting. It smacks of obligation and compliance rather than commitments and contributions. And I would suggest, change the way your responsible actions are shared to make them more involving. Less paperwork, a wider range of sincere and honest conversations, with more people, across a broader range of platforms. In other words, make the discussions around how you behave ongoing, less formal and truly “social”.

Just so we’re clear, I’m not for one minute advocating that the activities identified above go unaccounted for. Quite the opposite. I am advocating a change in spirit. I am suggesting that the underlying question that has driven corporate social responsibility reporting for so long – What has [our corporate] done that could be deemed socially responsible? – is fundamentally, even cynically, flawed because businesses have been able to engage in behavioural offsetting: announcing and promoting their contributions to good at one level and, at the same time, masking or downplaying the damage they are doing elsewhere.

As consumer demand for brands to be genuinely and holistically responsible continues to climb, let me suggest two shifts:

A change of platform: from the Corporate section of the website to part of the ongoing dialogue on popular social media.

And, as part of that dialogue, a new set of questions to which answers are both given and sought:
1. Where do our responsibilities lie? (scope)
2. Who are we responsible to? (stakeholders)
3. What are we responsible for? (actions)
4. How responsible have we been? (analysis)
5. What can all of us take responsibility for helping to change? (community-sourced innovation)

Acknowledgements

Photo of the cover of a leaflet from Starbucks by Howard Lake, sourced from Flickr.

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