Top Challenges, Opportunities and Trends for Socially Minded Brands

Challenges and Opportunities.

When it comes to social branding there are two key challenges. First, a company must have a clear definition of its brand and an authentic desire to have a positive impact on the world. For many brands this could be a challenge, as motives and marketing have become so fractured and there also exists a fear of leading an authentic conversation across social media in case it invites too much scrutiny, accountability and, potentially, a PR crisis.

Brands also face the challenge of managing real-time messaging across a wide array of social media channels where each has a specific focus and style of engagement. To effectively manage engagement across these platforms, brands must invest in leadership, marketing and employee training in social storytelling.

To address these challenges, brands can pursue three opportunities (using Whole Foods as the example here throughout):

  1. Invest in defining your brand and the positive difference you want your brand to make in the world. In October of last year, Whole Foods announced its defining brand story, Values Matter, to frame its position and the space it aims to own to better the world.
  2. Invest in training that allows your marketing team, employee advocates and customer community to speak on the brand’s behalf with confidence. Whole Foods brings to life its brand stories through the voice of its employees at each store location through unique social media pages.
  3. Commit to leading a cultural conversation while recognizing this requires greater accountability, more transparency and a higher tolerance for risk. In order to lead its conversation of Values Matter, Whole Foods recognized shifts in allocating and communicating investments in support of this commitment.

Trends.

To understand the trends facing the future of socially minded brands, let’s first look at two key considerations. With the intersection of the web, social media, and smartphones, consumer audiences with which brands now engage are incredibly well-informed, media savvy and constantly connected to their friends, family and communities. At the same time, social technologies have facilitated ongoing, real-time dialogue that has reversed the traditional direction of conversations between brands and consumers. In this light, consumers are now driving the conversation and brands must lead with listening. With these two considerations in mind, it’s important to recognize three principles that will define future branding and the use of social media.

First*, the future of profit is purpose –* The consumer base for every brand is now very aware of the social crises we face and is looking to brands to be part of the solution.

Second*, brands must be the chief celebrant, not celebrity, of their customer community –* Only in doing so, can brands talk to consumers in a way that they will actually listen and earn goodwill in return.

Third*, a brand must be a mission with a company, not a company with a mission –* This shift in focus empowers brands to lead cultural conversations that are relevant and meaningful to consumers’ lives and inspire them to work with a brand to build its business and positive impact.

Indeed, every brand will have additional challenges, opportunities and trends that are peculiar to its industry and competitive set and need to be considered. From here, once you decide where your brand is at on its social impact journey you can begin to turn the challenges into opportunities and start to get ahead of key trends.

This post first appeared on the We First blog on August 7, 2015.

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