Brands must acknowledge their moral responsibility, whether they like it or not

Future Neutral co-founder Oliver Ranck takes the temperature of brands when it comes to trust, values and beliefs.

They say that word of mouth is the ultimate trust mark for customers, but I’d argue that our collective bullshit meter is now so high that anything we read or hear is taken with a grain of salt, even (especially?) if it comes from your mum.

The one thing people do still trust? Companies that provide them with high-quality goods and services on a consistent basis. In many cases, this loyalty runs unimaginably deep – supposedly, ten percent of millennials would rather lose a finger than their phone. Crowds of people will queue through the night for a sneaker drop.

However, with increasing trust and loyalty comes great responsibility. Loyal customers are looking to the companies they love for guidance on how to deal with the world around them, and looking for cues on what’s real or not. In today’s climate of fake news and misinformation, products are something tangible that customers rely on.

Brands must understand the heavy weight of responsibility on their shoulders and act accordingly. For this reason, ethical decision making in marketing and business has never been more important.

Let’s take a look at climate change as an example. There is overwhelming evidence that climate change is occurring, yet obfuscation abounds and denialism still exists. There is confusion around what an individual can actually do, and an underlying sense that the problem is too big for any one person to solve (so why try?).

Despite the roadblocks in their way, the majority of customers still want to help in the fight against climate change. A Futerra survey of over 1,000 consumers in the USA and UK found that 88% of shoppers want brands to help them live sustainably. On our shores, the ABC survey of over 54,000 Australians found that on average, we are happy to spend an additional $200 on climate action per year.

Customers are looking to companies for guidance, and are choosing to shop from companies that align with their values and beliefs. Future Neutral, the company I co-founded, demonstrates that if a company gives customers the choice to take climate action, they’ll take it. People want to make a difference but they don’t want to overhaul their entire lives to do so. If companies can provide people with that first nudge, then it’s a win-win.

Pushing past customer cynicism 

When Google, Microsoft and many others start taking carbon-neutrality goals seriously, customers inherently understand that they’re doing so as a PR and marketing drive. Regardless, the profile of climate change is still raised.

The price of some cynical customers is a small one to pay in exchange for the great number of people who will be swayed (even slightly) by your efforts – 77% of Australian households, to be precise.

Marketers must ask themselves: what are we doing to ensure we’re helping your customers face challenges ethically? This doesn’t just apply to climate change, but to all areas of the ethical spectrum, including social responsibility, corporate governance, and discrimination.

Businesses’ inaction is also cause for alarm, flaccid decision making sends a clear message to customers that ‘we care more about profit than taking a stance’. Fence-sitting is no longer feasible. Nike’s bold choice to support Kaepernick is in stark contrast to those that just posted on Instagram. Being proactive is not just good for business, but it’s our moral responsibility.

An example a little closer to home and just around the corner: we have a choice to make on Australia Day. Your campaigns, voice and choices will be seen and heard. How will you shape the discourse in Australia?

Businesses have a responsibility to make decisions that mean neither people nor the planet are paying the price of their success. Smart marketers know that customers want help navigating this ever-changing world, and want to be part of the solution. As marketers and business leaders, it’s our job to help them make that happen – in whatever form that might take.

Oliver Ranck is the co-founder of Future Neutral.


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