An evolution has occurred in the world of business. It's traceable, quantifiable and has single-handedly redefined the landscape upon which brands will survive. This turn of the evolutionary wheel comes via the rise of the citizen consumer.
Citizen consumer is a term born from the very real business dynamic in which citizenship has been steadily expanding beyond the boundaries of civics and into the world of consumerism. In our lifetime, the pendulum of influence has shifted. With 60% of US consumers believing that businesses are in the best position to effect positive results on social issues, not government, business has given politics a run for its money in terms of being the pervading force shaping our society.
And this has given new power to the term buying power. People are depending on their spending, not their vote, to effect change. And in our world of mass consumption and 24-hour online shopping, they are voting all day every day.
Beyond voting with their wallets, what makes citizen consumers truly powerful is their united front. They are voting as well-oiled teams with clear, open communication to build their ranks. They share brand experiences through reviews. They share opinions on social networks. And they turn to one another for information long before they log onto your company site to see what you have to say. The combination of commerce and connection is powerful and has brought a fall to an entire brand species known as the brand hero.
Brand as hero is a marketing dynamic that took root in American business back in the romantically portrayed days of our culturally beloved Mad Men and the rise of Madison Avenue. It runs on an energetic that says I, (insert brand name here) am the icon. The leader. It is my job to tell you (insert consumer market here) what your needs are and how you should meet them.
Brand as hero operated as if it was corporate culture's job to manage the information consumers receive and decide how products will save you from the shortcomings in your life. Shortcomings that, more often than not, are illusions created by that same brand's whiz bang advertising messages. Additionally, brand as hero felt the need to operate in accordance with only their own will when it came to the ethics, environmental considerations and human welfare with which it sourced, created and sold its wares.
As the citizen consumer began to grow in rank and power, hero brands responded to a certain extent. This response was known as cause marketing. In this system, brands would throw money against causes of their own choosing as a glorified tax write-off, do an acceptable amount of chest beating about it so everyone would know of their valiant efforts and continue right on operating with business practices that served nobody but themselves. Which was all good and well as long as nobody was the wiser. But armed with the internet, consumers are wiser. Suddenly it was clear that in reality, our brand heroes weren't behaving so heroically. The facade began to crack.
Arms-length brand relationships gave way to intimate knowledge of brands' active principles. Citizen consumers demanded more. And cause marketing ceased to work. In 2010, Carol Cone, the mother of cause marketing, declared it dead.
And so business did what all creatures do when they want to survive. It evolved. What came next was the platform known as Corporate Social Responsibility. And there is no doubt this has done a great deal of good in the world. However, much like cause marketing, CSR still positions the brand as hero and as a whole has very little real, definable measure. As is often the case with an objective that doesn't have a honed focus for being sent into the world, much of the resources have scattered and not done nearly what they might have.
And so, again, evolution is moving the race of brands forward. And this time, in a much more defined way. Brand as hero has given way to brand as catalyst. Those who are leading the way have descended from the ivory towers and become consumer collaborators. They put the power to make the positive impact in the hands of consumers, and in doing so, transform themselves into conduits of purpose, rather than purveyors of philanthropy.
One brand that is doing this beautifully is United By Blue who, in return for every purchase, cleans a pound of trash from ocean waterways. This brand is a catalyst. The difference they are making is tangible, quantifiable and powered by the people who do business with them.
These are brand practices for the new day that has dawned in business. And if your brand is not positioned to keep up, then beware - you may going the way of the brandosaurus. Because in the evolving marketplace, only the purpose-driven will survive.