It’s Not Just Business, It’s Personal

WE Communications Blog: CEO Melissa Waggener Zorkin

— Melissa Waggener Zorkin 

Question: What’s the most recent thing you spent money on? Whether it was your morning latte, the perfect white t-shirt, or just a loaf of bread and a quart of milk, chances are your purchase was motivated by both emotional and rational forces: the balance between what something costs (rational) and how the purchase makes you feel (emotional). In any case, consciously or subconsciously, you consulted your heart and your head before you pulled out your wallet.

There’s an important lesson here. Now more than ever, customers care about what a brand does, not just what it sells. They want to feel good about their decision and find a connection between their own personal values and a brand’s values. For instance, in a recent YouGov study, 48% of respondents reported that they need to believe in a brand’s values in order to say positive things about them on social media. 58% chose not to purchase a brand’s products because they don’t support what the brand stands for. Both findings imply that businesses could shrivel up completely if they don’t turn up the volume and align themselves with customer values.

That means brands can’t just SAY they care, they have to take real actions to demonstrate what they DO matches what they are saying. Brands must STAND UP TO STAND OUT.

For example, the outdoor-apparel company Patagonia lives its mission—“Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis”—by working to shrink its environmental footprint, making durable products that can be repaired instead of replaced, and working with activists to advocate for systemic change. Its CEO, Rose Marcario, has spoken out in protest against the new head of the EPA, who says he doesn’t believe that human activity contributes to climate change. The company led a boycott of this year’s Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City after Utah’s governor asked President Trump to rescind the designation of the Bears Ears National Monument.

And Patagonia hasn’t suffered for its activism; on the contrary, most of its customers have rallied in support. “We have to stand up for our values,” Mercario told Fast Company in March. “Our customers expect it.”

And this commitment cuts both ways. Earlier this year, when renewable-energy tycoon Elon Musk agreed to serve on President Trump’s advisory boards on business and manufacturing, many customers cancelled their reservations for the newest Tesla car—and posted proof online for all to see. When the president announced he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate treaty, Musk quit. “Am departing presidential councils,” he wrote on Twitter. “Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world.”

According to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, a majority of Americans in every single state—and nearly 70% of registered voters—support our participation in the Paris agreement. That means the heat (sorry, I couldn’t resist!) is still on for the other business leaders on Trump’s advisory councils. Only time will tell whether their actions will win—or lose—loyal customers.

So: what can brands learn from all this? What can they do to succeed in this new values-driven culture? WE can help. Earlier this month, we introduced Brands in Motion, a diagnostic tool that will help brands understand which forces are driving them forwards, sending them backwards or leaving them spinning in place.

WE Brands in Motion will help brands answer (and learn from) questions like:

  • In what ways do people love or hate your brand?
  • How likely are they to skewer you or defend you in times of trouble?
  • How might your executives’ behavior impact your business outcomes?
  • Would people care if your brand disappeared from the planet tomorrow? 

So far, the work we’ve done on Brands in Motion has taught us one big thing: the old adage “it’s business, not personal” just doesn’t hold true anymore. WE Brands in Motion shows that if it’s not personal, it’s just bad business.


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