This post by Robert Jones was originally published on the Wolff Olins blog. The original post from March 2013, together with comments, is available via a link at the bottom of this page.
Turn on the radio in the morning, and one company or another is getting it in the neck. Amazon for allegedly not paying taxes. Barclays for bonuses. Last week, it was British Gas for pushing up prices.
If businesses increasingly need to create social value as well as commercial value (if only to keep BBC Radio 4 off their back), what’s the role of brand in this?
We know brands in the short term can help generate sales revenue. Think about Coca-Cola. And that they can create the internal focus that increases efficiency and so cuts costs: GE might be a good example. Brands also have a longer-term commercial impact. They create permission in the marketplace for innovation and expansion - as with Google. And they protect companies against risk - millions still buy Toyota cars in spite of successive recalls. Could all this work for social value too? A brand like Fairtrade encourages people to buy in a way that improves conditions for producers: it pushes up wellbeing. Brands can also help minimise the harm companies do, by holding them to account: Innocent famously chose its name so that consumers could attack it if it ever did anything guilty.
And brands can work towards longer-term social value too. A brand like Wikipedia creates the commitment of thousands of contributors to build an unprecedented resource of knowledge for us all - on everything from LTE technology to Game of Thrones (my two most recent searches). And a brand like Zipcar motivates people to share rather than own a car. In these ways, brands drive behaviour that maximises the creation, and minimises the destruction, of resources, human and natural.
Two questions arise.
How many brands are great across the board? At driving revenue up, costs down, new opportunities up, risks down? And at increasing wellbeing, decreasing harm, maximising resource creation, minimising resource destruction? Can anyone really hit all eight of these? Google, maybe?
And how do the eight interact? Is innovation more effective if aimed at wellbeing? If you’re seen to be increasing human resources, will your revenues go up? I have created a diagram as a first pass at mapping all this out - see download link below. But further investigation is needed. In the next step in this course, we invite your views on these questions.