Brands: Getting it Right or Wrong
why are some companies getting it right both on social media and with their brand actions – and thriving as a result – while others are experiencing severe backlash and criticism
social media crisis, backlash, good business
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Brands: Getting it Right or Wrong

So why are some companies getting it right both on social media and with their brand actions – and thriving as a result – while others are experiencing severe backlash and criticism?

As you might expect, it’s complicated.

Obviously people need, and often want, things, but they buy for complicated and emotional reasons and increasingly they are making ‘mindful’ purchases and want to know that their money isn’t being used to fund destruction of the rainforests, for example, or slavery in the garments industry. Mostly it turns out that people want Social Goodness, even if they can’t encapsulate it in a single term because research shows us people fundamentally want care and trust and love, and people spend money with brands they trust and – increasingly – that make a difference.

What do People Want?

Research shows that people aren’t much motivated by vast amounts of money or being ‘special’, whatever advertising keeps trying to tell us. The majority of lottery winners, for example, are brilliant at getting rid of their winnings, mostly giving it away to friends and family and returning to their previous position in their community as soon as possible. People generally just want to be ok, and want who and what we love to be ok, too. It’s actually very lovely how caring we are, all things being equal.

Another part of our very human needs is to feel like we belong and are valued, which for most people is about feeling loved and being part of their community. And yes, research shows that what people generally care about is community, locality, loyalty, benevolence – and love. We want to feel in control of our lives, we believe in benevolence and we want the people we love to thrive. Yet very few of us are keen on being the tallest flower in the yard – we know how that usually ends. Equally, few people are very keen on striding out into the wilderness on their own. Most of us are happiest going with the flow, even if we prefer to be in the vanguard than trailing along at the rear. It’s how we evolved after all – to work with others in a close-knit community.

Yet studies show that the advertising and marketing industry and business leaders frequently underestimate how important these factors are. Most also overestimate how much of a driver having lots of money and being famous is for most people. Funny how we often say “I just want to be comfortable” when asked about our aspirations, which is rather out of odds with the idea that we all strive to be millionaires. So it isn’t at all surprising that research actually shows most of us aren’t fussed about power or being famous.

Most of us really do just want to be comfortable. And safe.

The Lack of ‘Safe’

If there’s one thing that characterises 2022 above everything else, it is how we addressed and tackled the lack of ‘safe’. With the climate crisis affecting the planet there is literally no place to go that will be safe if the scenerio develops to the most extreme predictions. Not even the billionaires with all their tech and money will be able to escape, whatever they think. The Covid pandemic erupted and even hugging a parent or child became ‘unsafe’. People’s rights across the globe have been eroded, often as a result of the pandemic and the Draconian measures many governments imposed on their citizens, and people feel unsafe as a result . The China protests are perhaps the latest, if most extreme consequence of this. As barrister Adam Wagner, author of Emergency State, said on Twitter:

The lack of ‘safe’ is also why people backlash against brands.

Good Business

It is a basic human trait that we will always move towards those who are doing good because it makes us feel happy and safe, especially when we are anxious. Therefore, now even more than ever, we have all wanted to share and celebrate what makes us feel good and steer well away from what didn’t.

There was some fascinating research published by TalkWalker in 2020 called ‘Brand Love Story’, which looked at brand love and underlined the importance of Social Goodness. The study took in global mentions and rated each one for the emotion expressed, from hatred to love. In the report, they suggest that many elements lead to a brand becoming truly loved. These include it being purpose-led, actively supporting their community and issues that matter, treating their staff well, engaging with their customers, and giving excellent customer service.

As an example, a company called Vertex Pharmaceuticals develops and licences drugs that can, potentially, help 90% of cystic fibrosis sufferers worldwide. And boy, are they loved for it. As TalkWalker put it:

“They’re loved for literally changing lives. However, this story was not a one-off. The company engages with their target group, helping them improve their lives in numerous ways, from supporting charities, sponsoring Team Impact, even producing a podcast series on meal-planning. Vertex understands the needs of this group and does everything possible to help.”

And there’s the key – when companies show they care and behave in ethical and inclusive ways to improve the lives of the people they are serving, the result is that the company matters, people are invested and the brand becomes loved and lauded.

Bad Business

The flip side to that is that brands that behave unethically or badly can expect a swift and very fierce response, and usually on social media. The kickback is fast and often fierce. People don’t just boycott bad brands – they will warn others away from using them and often go straight online to flag it up publicly on social media. This can potentially trigger a social media crisis, something that is becoming more frequent.

In addition, people increasingly won’t use or invest in a brand whose ethics they dislike and especially not if they find the leadership’s views or actions immoral, such as not paying staff, bullying suppliers, or shifting their production out of the country and making local people redundant. Instead, people increasingly prefer brands that can show they are acting on their values and don’t just have them mothballed somewhere in the marketing file. This is especially true if brands are doing good for their staff, their communities, and addressing what matters to their clients. In other terms, being a responsible, caring, HUMAN brand, and using influence and wealth for good, rather than just jumping on the bandwagon and ‘greenwashing’, ‘woke washing’, ‘social virtuing’, ‘badging it’, or whatever’s the latest term for being a fake.

Embedding Social Goodness in your brand, in fact, from the top down.