Your brand story doesn’t get you very far if you are just puffing your chest out and telling people what you think they want to hear, with the most ‘leading’, ‘innovative’, mealy words that your bored copywriter can muster. Today, whether you are selling soft toys or software, to engage with a consumer every brand has to have a story with some soul – and a social point of view. With the Bobby Byrd/James Brown hit “I Know You Got Soul” on repeat, Ian Truscott digs deeper. 

I know you got soul

The importance of having a brand story is well documented. Not only does it evoke certain feelings in consumers, it shows how well that brand aligns with an individual’s own views, reflecting their lifestyle, embodying their aspirations and even identifying them within a certain tribe. 

And it’s not always about appearing premium and the bling. Some consumers want to appear sensible or thrifty, and now increasing, one facet of the brand story driving consumer behavior is the culture and ethics of the company behind the brand.

Consumers are empowered, overwhelmed by choice and when it comes to the fickle fine line between making a decision with their dollars for product X or product Y, a brand’s alignment with their social point of view now holds sway. In short, being ethical has become a point of premium.

If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be in here

Whether you’re selling soft toys or software, the social conscience of a brand could have a real  influence. For instance, the conscientious parent who at the weekend is actively looking for a cuddly toy that wasn’t stitched together in some heinous sweatshop, could, during the week be making B2B buying decisions or defining a company’s procurement rules.

I know you got the feeling

Regardless of the business transaction, this ethical consumer will be interested in the social point of view of who they buy from and what this brand is doing to fulfill those beliefs. The same consumer that worries about a heinous sweatshop will be interested in the lives of the ‘off shore’ employees your software or services company employs, and what the company is doing in their communities. 

The way you move over there

This is a mainstream topic that’s in the minds of all consumers, not just those ‘millennial’ shoppers that we hear so much about in the marketing press.

For example recent research by Neilsen showed that different generations have a similar approach to this new conscientious brand behavior. In their survey questioning people aged 15 to 64, the percentage of respondents who said that it’s “extremely” or “very” important that companies implement programs to improve the environment, only differentiated between 72% and 85%. This clearly shows that the bulk of people, regardless of age, care about this stuff. 

Don’t let them clean rep fool ya

“Inevitably, companies that do not consider their social responsibilities become a poor investment.”

Sandra Crowl, member of the investment committee at Carmignac.

Boardrooms around the world are now seeing a new face at the senior management table, with CSR firmly planted in their job titles. One of these, Leon Kamhi, head of responsibility for Hermes Investment Management was recently quoted in the London Financial Times saying:

“Today, CSR is becoming an integrated part of how a company operates as they need to demonstrate what they are doing as part of their business for customers, employees and society at large.” 

Not renowned for its social conscience, even Wall Street is paying attention to these ‘do good’ companies, including Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs in their company valuations.

I know you don’t like a faker

“Authenticity means; acting in a way that we expect you to act, being consistent, even when we’re not looking. And that’s when brands fall apart, when we discover that behind the scenes you’re not who we thought you were. But if we’re consistent in being who people think we are, then we’re seen as authentic. When we’re seen as authentic the promise of the brand becomes more valuable.”

Seth Godin

This is not new advice, in fact we touch on this many times on Rockstar CMO (we even devoted a whole issue to the topic), but when it comes to having a social point of view, you can’t just make this shit up.

Poor products or poor service might make people grumpy, but mess with what people hold in even higher esteem, their values and feelings, then to affront these, to be a liar just makes people angry. 

An airline may fail to deliver on its product promise, with flights that might be consistently late, but that’s not going to make the news. However, they break their promise of social responsibility and mistreat an employee, then the world blows up; which is of course why investors are paying such a keen interest.    

While on the subject of employees, it’s not just consumers who are going to get vocal. A company with an overstated set of values for how it treats its employees is going to make the news if it has to lay off a bunch of people. And for those people being laid off it will feel more cruel because they’ve actively lived this lie.

You have to be authentic and that has to run through the whole business.

Lighten up, it’s okay

If you have an authentic, socially responsible story to tell, you should lean into it, be the hero of that cause. You should prioritize it in the marketing mix, understand how important it will be to the customer’s buying decision. It’s no longer a side bet, something people do in their spare time or an experiment,  a buyer may choose you based on this over an equal competitor. 

“What’s growing is the boldness of the marketing messages and the commitments that brands are willing to take. We’re seeing a bigger trend towards ‘visible and emotional sustainability’— brands taking a stance on social and political issues and making major commitments to eliminate waste. At the most extreme end, we see brands being personified—being referenced as ‘brave brands’ or ‘hero brands,”

Crystal Barnes, SVP, global responsibility and sustainability, Neilsen

And shake your moneymaker

As a marketer, having something interesting to share, an added strand of your brand personality is important in differentiating from all the other ‘leading’ vendors in your market. Exploring the soul of your business, and defining how you as a company feel about social issues is a good place to start. 

Frankly, it’s often hard to be bold, to get a business onside with a new creative marketing idea, but who can argue with a brand trying to do the right thing?

Say yeah, say yeah…

It’s over to the wise words of Bobby and James to play us out….

I know you got soul
If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be in here
I know you got the feeling
The way you move over there
Don’t let them clean rep fool ya
I know you don’t like a faker
Lighten up, it’s okay
And shake your moneymaker
Say yeah, say yeah.

Bobby Byrd/James Brown – I know You Got Soul
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