As customer needs and habits change, brands have the added responsibility to be able to mirror their customer’s personality to stay relevant in their purchase journey. Empathy and kindness hence not only become a business necessity but also a brand reality. Modern brands need to vouch for being good enough for the world rather than the intimidation of asking are you good enough for me. Inspiration takes precedence over aspiration.
Millennials and especially Gen Z are the purest cynics. They don’t trust your advertisements, headlines and world-changing declarations. And that’s the thing about trying to convince atheists, only absolute sincerity stands a chance. Earlier this year to tackle racism in America, Yelp tweaked its product to add an alert to flag businesses accused of racial misconduct. Red icons are attached to the profiles with notable spikes. Even otherwise proudly snobbish categories of luxury now understand the need to walk the talk at ground level. French luxury goods group, Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, during the advent of Covid19 started using their perfume production houses to produce hand sanitizer gel and got them delivered to French hospitals for free. High street brand Zara during the same time started to manufacture scrubs and hospital gowns for coronavirus patients and healthcare officers in Spain. In Italy, Lamborghini shifted production from cars to surgical masks and medical shields. They all could have donated some token press note money and made a social media creative yet got directly involved to actually be of service. For your customers, you are the sum total of your actions and stands much beyond your promises. And that’s the kind of active relationship that would be expected from brand leaders in the coming decade.
How you treat your partners is the window to your corporate soul. Sexism, misogyny, racism and predatory behavior by powerful people is now rightfully called out almost instantaneously. In the era of movements like #MeToo, there is a raging public pressure on organizations to hold people accountable for abuse of power. You may have created one of the most valuable brands of the decade like Uber and WeWork, you can still get fired. In spite of being seemingly indispensable CEOs of corporations like Intel and McDonalds, you can get fired. As the Chairman of one of the most influential media networks in the world – Fox News, you can get fired. Nobody is impenetrable now and because of the internet nothing is quite hidden for long, your only defense is creating a genuine culture and lineage worth holding on to.
And an essential clarity, kindness isn’t a shield to replace incompetence. If brands like Netflix are providing year-long parental leave policy and unlimited vacation days then they also have the prerogative to fire unproductive partners lacking self-drive. But in the middle of the pandemic, Twitter announcing the option of permanent work from home policy for their employees stressed about traveling during such a time and providing them that psychological comfort is the kind of leadership we all need.
Not every brand is expected to go above and beyond for their employees but your intentions are definitely judged by your decisions. So on one end of the spectrum world’s most valued IT services Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) promised that the company will not lay off any of its 450k employees and will also honour the offer letters that were given to the freshers. While on the other end, although AirBnB made a critical mistake of laying off 1900 employees globally in the midst of the pandemic citing total shutdown of the hospitality industry, they partially salvaged the situation by showing genuine intent to help the affected. They launched a microsite with the complete listing of all ex-employees with their profiles, résumés and work samples. Chief Brian Chesky himself tweeted – ‘We have great people leaving Airbnb, and I think other companies will love them as much as I do. If you are hiring, reach out to me at [email protected] and our team will connect you.’ and promised a “significant portion” of its in-house recruiters to spend the rest of the year helping the laid-off employees find a new place to work. So while TATA’s ethics lesson should be the pinnacle of corporate culture, AirBnb’s rehiring effort should be the welcome bottomline benchmark of empathy for any brand in the world if they want to keep attracting an enviable talent pool across the world. Your brand can no longer stay an enigmatic concept; to stay relevant with the times it needs to shed all the facade and elevate itself to being the person you really aspire to work with.
A separate legal entity was never meant to discount humanity.
The Domino Effect
Possibly the biggest shift in the eyes of stakeholders of yesteryears and today is the clarity of how every business decision has an indelible impact on our planet. And this tiny blue ball right now needs our kindness most of all to literally survive. As much as the conventional wisdom of running a business old school meant increasing the profit margin by all means, today it can’t come at the expense of nature mutilation. Every year people are getting more aware of the impending climate catastrophe and they just won’t support it with their money anymore. Colgate has promised to switch all their products to recyclable material by 2025. This September Google became the first major corporation to announce a zero net carbon footprint. And dozens of billion-dollar ventures will follow in the next two years.
If you peel off a brand to its bone, you will find its purpose at its most vulnerable core. A purpose that is meaningful, sustainable and inclusive. And that purpose needs all the empathy and kindness this world has to offer to be preserved. As Gibran once said, tenderness and kindness are manifestations of strength and resolution. The greatest visionaries of this world wouldn’t have achieved what they did just with their gifts without a deep-rooted desire to change the world for far, far better. As writers of TBWA/Chiat/Day two decades ago perfectly surmise – because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do. And please don’t for a second think that you are trading your billions by trying to make the world healthier. Elon Musk would agree with his electric cars and solar roofs.
Related: The Value of Kindness in Business
Branding experts have repeatedly preached the importance of finding topics people really care about to frame your communication. Emulation-worthy brands for some time now have been using hot words like relatability, positivity, empathy and sustainability. Do you think in a world with open media, woke customers and accountable partners there is any scope for arrogant, indifferent and pretentious megalomaniacs? Kindness is ground zero if you desire respect and demand growth from any stakeholder. And if you think faking it for your gullible audiences than actually being it comes without repercussions, I have two polarising names for you. Ellen DeGeneres and Fred Rogers.
After all, in a divided world, the belongingness and warmth of inspiring brands is both a distraction and cure from all the hatred around.