Say ‘Hello’ to the Societal Brand

The economic crisis has managed to shine a bright light on the fact that business and life are utterly intertwined. What does that mean for branding? It means that it’s not just about the customer anymore. No. It means that people – from customers, investors and employees, to folks on the street, politicians and legislators – will judge and jury companies based on what sort of relationship those concerns have with the society of which they are necessarily a part.

Like Wal-Mart, for many years, does your business treat workers well wage-wise, healthcare-wise, benefits-wise, or well, just like “workers?” Or, like Wal-Mart now, do you take the lead on society-enhancing moves such as determining and communicating the social and environmental impact of everything you sell?

It won’t be easy being a societal brand. It means taking responsibility for how the company behaves overall, not just how it interacts with customers. Speaking of behavior vis-a-vis society, how will GM come out of its morass? All I hear so far is how they’re going to “take back the road”…from whom? And how does that serve larger societal needs, which are at the root of customer creation, anyway? Same question for Citigroup and a host of other economic n’er-do-wells.

Here’s a prediction: Companies that succeed in becoming – and being recognized as – bona fide societal brands will have more customers than they know what to do with. While those that ignore this screaming opportunity will become fodder for acquisition, or simply left in the dust.

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