Brands must move beyond profit

Brands must create a purpose beyond profit to regain consumer trust in big business and Government, say brand and communications experts.

Tom's gives a pair of shoes to children in developing nation for every pair purchased.

Tom’s gives a pair of shoes to a child in developing nation for every pair purchased.

According to data from Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer financial performance is the “old way” businesses built trust with consumers and the City, while the “new ways of societal trust” come from things like transparency, principles based leadership, business ethics and how a company treats its staff.

Speaking at the Be the Brand conference in London yesterday (26 September) Nick Howard employee engagement director at Edelman PR says that “upgrading” to what the conference describes as “capitalism 2:0” is a “huge opportunity” for brands and businesses.

“It’s not a PR or a marketing thing, it’s built from the inside out,” he adds.

For capitalism 2:0 to work, however, business must act beyond self interest and gain real trust, which requires a purpose beyond profit, according to speakers. Brands such as John Lewis, Unilever, Tom’s shoes and Nike were cited by speakers as brands that have managed to gain trust by shifting their business view from short term profit to long term purpose driven performance.

Sue Unerman, chief strategy officer at Mediacom and author of Tell The Truth, says that the problem some brands have gaining real trust is that marketers “often forget their role is to create value and represent the truth … not just create advertising.”

While many brands have developed comprehensive CSR programmes to address this need for purpose, this is not the same as building authentic trust in your brand, added Tim Bleszynski, strategy director of The Alternative a branding agency that specialises in cause marketing.

He said: “Trust has to be more than a component or function of a business, it has to envelope the whole of what you are.”

He cited BP and Barclays as examples of big businesses with perfectly crafted CRM strategies, that have been proved to mean nothing because there is no “moral compass or business purpose” to shore it up.

Diana Verde Nieto, founder and CEO of Positive Luxury, an online forum promoting “positive” brands, believes that CSR is becoming obsolete as a standalone division.

“It’s becoming obsolete like health and safety used to be. The society we live in needs money to operate but it’s possible for businesses to reconcile people, planet and profit into their business models. We need to stop thinking in silos,” she says.

Bob Thust, head of corporate responsibility CR at Deloitte agrees that CSR should not be a separate division, adding that his aim is to make his own role obsolete by building social purpose throughout the Deloitte business.

Readers' comments (4)

  • While I have great sympathy for the content of this piece with respect to brand trust - one could have wished that a group of marketers could have found a label which does not instantly invoke the image of the business SIM game capitalism 2 !

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  • This is a fascinating article.

    Although profits are still essential for the successful operations of a business, it is becoming clear that more and more organisations are looking to their wider role in the community, not necessarily just as an opportunity to enhance their standing but also to make a difference.

    Certainly the role of internal communications has sped this process up, in my opinion - people are more aware of what is going on around them in the office and subsequently taking more interest in the world outside of their organisation too.

    I still think that there will always be a need for a CSR coordinator, in the same way that news organisations will still need editors - otherwise, it's highly likely that people pull in different directions and although all causes are likely to be worthy, it's difficult to really harness any support or engagement with it.

    As a member of a local sports group, we are always looking to be able to deliver more in the community and would love the backing of larger organisations to help us do this.

    Michael Jones
    PR & Marketing Officer
    Essex Redbacks Baseball Club

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  • The concept here is spot on, and it's heartening to think that even a handful of brands might take some inspiration from this approach, and begin to evolve being profit and commercialism into something more enriching.

    It's true though, the 'capitalism 2.0' tag risks pigeonholing this entire philosophy before it has time to develop. Brands need to be profitable, but have we not long passed the point where capitalism has become a dirty word, a synonym for corporate greed?

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  • Having a PhD in QC affords no special insight into the idiosyncrasies of the causes of corporate greed, the continued use of failed business models, or the flagrant insult of consumers by the $X,XXX,XXX.99 paradigm for profit. Say what you will but since we "vote" on who survives with our dollars, QC has , and always will, determine the survivors. (it's the lawyers who see to that)

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