We’re entering a new era of accountability, transparency, and urgency in how businesses engage customers.
It’s not enough to create a sustainable business or product if brands don’t create a meaningful, measurable impact. Consumers who care about brand conscience aren’t looking to make one-time purchases.
From the most inspirational purposes and reasons for existing down to every experience, interaction and moment with customers – words must become action, ideas must become experiences, and the claims of being “customer-centric” must be put into practice.
In 2020 and beyond, many of the challenges CMOs and brand leaders face can be summed up in a simple idea: Show, don’t tell what you believe in.
The Case for B Corp
In August of 2019, the Business Roundtable made a landmark announcement, declaring that the purpose of business was no longer simply to serve shareholder value but rather all stakeholders—including customers, employees, suppliers, and communities. The announcement, signed by 181 CEOs of global companies including IBM, Procter & Gamble, Visa, Target, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Honeywell, General Motors, and Amazon, marked a significant shift in the evolving conversation around the impact and social responsibility of corporations around the globe. But not everyone saw the announcement as a milestone worth celebrating on its own.
Six days after the announcement, the CEOs of thirty-three B Corp-certified businesses took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to send a clear response: “LET’S GET TO WORK” read the headline. The ad urged and invited CEOs of the Business Roundtable to “walk the walk” and make their promises of positive impact verifiable, legally accountable, and transparent to the public.
Led by B Lab, the B Corp movement gained significant momentum in 2019, now boasting over 3,000 certified B Corps in over sixty countries. Joining brands like Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, and Allbirds, global food conglomerate Danone became the largest B Corporation yet in late 2018.
B Corp certification requires companies to maintain significant and quantifiable standards in the treatment of employees, communities, and the planet. Particularly as global climate change reaches new urgencies, the B Corp movement is poised to be a definitive and leading voice in the evolving role of businesses around the world.
Exemplified by their response to the Business Roundtable announcement, they are the businesses demonstrating the stark contrast between words and actions. Allbirds, the San Francisco-based wool-shoe manufacturer, has centered its sustainability commitment around an ambitious but quantifiable goal: going completely carbon neutral. By measuring the carbon footprint of its manufacturing process, the company has invested in building solar plants and wind farms, planting thousands of trees, and capturing methane.
Data Intelligence and Real Value Exchange
By February of 2019, social media app TikTok had reached 1 billion downloads. Eight months later it added another 500 million. In November, Pitchbook valued TikTok’s parent company at $75 billion, making it the most valuable privately held company in the world.
Centered around short bite-sized videos, synchronized music, and seamless content editing, the explosive success of TikTok has largely been attributed to the personalization of its user experience, specifically a fundamental departure from the typical social media playbook: ignoring what users’ “friends” are doing in favor of content based on predictive analytics of what they actually want to see, regardless of who created it.
Although the company has begun fielding concerns about data usage and censorship, the success of TikTok reinforces a truth that brands need to note: Delivering truly user-driven experiences means constantly rethinking the value being exchanged. In TikTok’s case, this is reaching 1.5 billion downloads and 500 million active users with a streamlined, simple offering: one format, one platform, driven by content it already knows they’ll love. Nothing more, nothing less.
The Importance of Inclusive Design
In July 2019, Domino’s Pizza was sued by a man named Guillermo Robles, who is blind and was unable to order food on the company’s website or mobile app despite using screen-reading software. After a lower court ruled in favor of Robles, Domino’s petitioned the US Supreme Court, claiming accessibility standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act didn’t apply to websites. The Supreme Court denied the petition.
The decision was a major victory for disability advocates and a landmark moment in the clear standards of inclusivity and accessibility for digital products of all kinds. While they have always been important considerations, inclusive design and accessibility have become a significant movement in the digital space, presenting both a new mandate and new opportunity for brands.
In 2020, designing with empathy—taking into account gender, race, class, ability, and other forms of diversity—means more than box-ticking for legal, moral, or ethical reasons. Particularly when considering people with disabilities have a global spending reach of $1.2T, expect brands to design more inclusive experiences that better welcome people who may have previously been left behind.
What Leaders Can Do to Make Progress
- Be Imperfect – Particularly regarding claims involving social and environmental responsibility, proof points need not be perfect. Brands such as McDonald’s have shown how quantifying the progress made toward lofty goals can demonstrate authenticity and commitment.
- Be Specific – Hollow CSR value statements will start to be seen as relics of old thinking. Particularly as younger members of the workforce become more socially conscious and engaged, the need to translate purpose into specifics will be key to attracting and retaining talent.
- Get Creative – Answers might lie outside the everyday operations surrounding your product or service. Like Allbirds’ efforts to measurably offset its carbon emissions, brands can take action and spark enthusiasm with activity that lies outside the expected.
- Design for Reality: The information and choices available to customers have never been more abundant, and customer decision-making processes are far from the linear, repeated, and logical models that so many businesses still rely on. In 2020 and beyond, expect empathy, participation, and the truth to be key components of a more holistic perspective on customers.