Companies who have a higher purpose than simply making a profit are more likely to attract loyal customers, according to brand expert Anne Bahr Thompson. In her book, Do Good: Embracing Brand Citizenship to Fuel Both Purpose and Profit, Thompson begins by noting the business case for doing good, citing statistics from a 2014 Harvard study on companies that showed that 87 percent of executives believed companies perform better "if their purpose goes beyond profit," and 90 percent believed that business purpose increases customer loyalty.
The founder of a brand consultancy, Thompson conducted her own three-year quantitative and qualitative study, called CultureQ, through which she explored with thousands of participants what customers expected from brands in the areas of social responsibility and purpose beyond profits. From the responses, she developed a model for a 21st century approach to doing good that she calls "brand citizenship."
Five Steps to Citizenship
Thompson’s brand-citizenship model consists of five steps that progress steadily from a ME focus (on the individual customer) to a WE focus (the community and the world at large). Specifically, the five steps of brand citizenship are:
Step 1. Trust. Don’t let me down. This is the straightforward expectation that brands will clearly state what they are offering to customers and then deliver on that promise.
Step 2. Enrichment. Enhance daily life. Customers want brands to make life better for them. As Thompson writes, “People identify more with — and are less price sensitive toward — brands that understand the things that are important to them individually and that help them to simplify their routines, make mundane tasks less dull and enrich their daily lives.”
Step 3. Responsibility. Behave fairly. The Responsibility step expands beyond the customer and concerns the ethics and business practices of a company towards its employees and partners.
Step 4. Community. Connect me. Beyond business practices and customer satisfaction, customers are attracted to brands that can help them connect with others with similar interests and passions.
Step 5. Contribution. Make me bigger than I am. The most ambitious of the five steps involves the brand's contribution to making life better on the planet.
Thompson uses in-depth case studies to build the case for each of the five steps. For the Responsibility step, for example, she describes the many efforts of H&M fashion stores to be a responsible corporate citizen in an industry infamous for its irresponsible behavior. H&M’s initiatives include, for example, the sale of a line of clothes manufactured from recycled clothes — clothes gathered in worldwide in-store collection points.
In some cases, the companies chosen by Thompson are somewhat of a surprise. She makes a strong case, in her chapter on trust, for Walmart, although she acknowledges that in her surveys, Walmart was cited more often as an untrustworthy brand. However, Thompson cites the company’s sustainability initiatives as well as specific decisions, such as removing all items that bore the Confederate flag after the church shooting in South Carolina and stopping the sale of semiautomatic weapons in 2015.
For Thompson, it’s important that companies understand that brand citizenship is a journey on which they should embark even if they cannot immediately be rated in the top 10 of citizenship.
At the same time, customers should make an effort to learn about and support brands that have embarked on this journey. “The more we know about a company’s priorities and the advancements it is investing in, the more we can make smarter buying choices and choose products and services from brands that mirror our values,” she writes.
Do Good helps both brands and their customers identify and appreciate the important core elements of responsible business today.