Beyond CSR to the Citizen Brand
Over the course of the last several years, there has been a seismic shift in the relationship between company and customer. Where businesses used to promote their products and services in one-way “push” communications, today it is a two-way street, and the customer is the driver at the wheel.
What your brand represents — and your company’s success — is no longer rooted in just quality goods and services and its surface reputation. It is now a top-down culture regarding the way you do business and the value you create in people’s daily lives, a term known as “citizen branding.”
While the term is relatively new, the philosophy harkens back to the basic hallmarks of a brand leader: product durability and reliability, services that meet and exceed expectations, exceptional customer relations and value in the purchase. Only now, add being a good corporate citizen who cares about others and wants to help change the world, or at least your own little corner of it. Citizen branding is of, by and for the people.
You have no doubt heard the phrase “corporate social responsibility” and the need for an organization to be involved in initiatives and causes that support various human services, the environment, nonprofit institutions and even art in public spaces. While admirable and certainly important, oftentimes it is an isolated endeavor that does not reach deep into the corporation’s culture, nor does it result in enhancing the businesses’ long-term brand position.
To become a citizen brand, the messages you share, information you provide, products or services you offer and values you espouse must resonate with your audiences and make them want to have a relationship with you. They choose you; you do not choose them. Where they used to advocate for you, now they want you to advocate for them.
While citizen branding begins with making customers’ lives better or easier — like helping to manage day-to-day activities and tasks more effectively and efficiently — it needs to go beyond and be more about the personal enrichment and fulfillment that comes from your positive contribution to and the betterment of society. From the CEO to the receptionist, raw materials to the end product, or first encounter to the provision of service, it must guide business operations and brand development.
It starts by carefully shaping and sharing your brand’s value proposition. You build trust in your audiences by communicating how you will help them and then doing it. That leads to how they will benefit through your operational practices, such as the use of sustainable or renewable resources, fair price purchasing, employee-centric policies and community investment. Done authentically, your brand and your customer become “us,” with they and you having a shared investment in your continued success.
If you are not convinced that citizen branding is not important, consider the 2017 Meaningful Brands study by the Havas Group, a strategic consulting firm. They found that 74 percent of people would not care if the brands they use disappeared. And while 75 percent of consumers expect brands to make more of a contribution to their well-being and quality of life, only 40 percent believe brands are doing so.
Even the content you distribute is being critiqued, and unless you are providing value in your communications, you are very likely to turn off rather than attract today’s customer. In the same study, Yannick Bolloré, chairman and CEO of the Havas Group wrote, “We live in a world of content overload. A world where every day 500 million tweets, 4.3 billion Facebook messages and 500 million hours of YouTube footage are sent, posted and uploaded. In this world, only brands that form more meaningful connections with people will prosper. It’s no longer enough to produce products that work. Companies need to know why people care and what makes their brands meaningful.”
This is especially true for Millennials and the upcoming Generation Z or iGen, who are more loyal to brands that mirror their values of improving society than their Baby Boomer and Gen X counterparts. These next generations expect brands to be more positive and life enhancing for themselves and the communities to which they belong.
So, what steps can you take to become a citizen brand? Begin by relating to your customers on a personal level and create individualized, intimate experiences through your communications. Give your customers a voice in how you develop and grow; your digital platforms are one of the best places for this. Be transparent, empathetic and sincere in your interactions with your customers and stakeholders. Do things that truly work to make a difference in your community, country or across the globe. And lastly, make your organization’s culture one that walks the talk in terms of truly caring about people and the planet.
Build your brand like you would build your ideal world. Only then are you a citizen brand.
Geo A. Ropert, APR is the founder and president of Ropert and Partners Public Relations – Marketing Communications. His firm develops and executes customized PR and marketing strategies for businesses and organizations that want to “rise above the noise” to grow their brand and business. Learn more at RopertAndPartners.com or on Twitter @Ropert_Partners.