There’s no doubt that consumers are asking more and more from brands. But it’s not accurate to say that the response from companies like Patagonia, Lyft and Airbnb are politically motivated: in fact, they’re motivated by each company’s core founding vision and the consumer expectations related to that.
That was the key takeaway from Saturday’s ‘Brand: The New Political Reality,’ panel which included panelists Joy Howard, CMO of Lyft, Corley Kenna, senior director, global communications & PR at Patagonia and Nancy King, director of global guest marketing at Airbnb.
“In many ways, it’s not about politics. This is about the 40+ years of advocacy that this company has, and standing up behind it. I think that’s what allows us to, no matter where we are in the world [. . .] to take the positions that we do and to challenge governments to do better to protect the environment,” said Kenna.
For Patagonia, initiatives such as securing Bear’s Ears national monument, or preventing the construction of dams in the Balkans are existential to their business.
“We’re still in business today because we fight to protect those places.”
“It’s not [a] political statement. Amid a world that is becoming more polarized: What are our values? How do those manifest in the world, and how do we make decisions based on those beliefs?” said Kenna.
Nancy King of Airbnb echoed the sentiment.
“Our CEO talks about, what does it mean to be a 21st-century company? It’s that we have to support all of our stakeholders—and so those are shareholders and communities. Without our community, without our hosts, without our guests, I don’t know where Airbnb would be.”
King also had choice words for so-called corporate social responsibility or CSR and whether it’s sufficient for brands.
“Now that I work at a company where the language is values and purpose, the idea of CSR is kind of like eating your peas: something that you have to do. I really hope that it changes [. . .] a lot of companies see it as a marketing lever instead of something that’s baked into the DNA of the company and actually shapes the way they behave, and the decisions that they make. My hope is that more companies will start to embed that thinking into their decision-making process.”
Why is embedding values into a company’s mission statement so important? It all goes back to what consumers expect of brands in the current political climate. Or, as King explained: “Making decisions now becomes marketing.”
“I think being a CMO is getting harder and harder,” said King, noting the obligation to drive culture through brands. “Especially at tech companies, there’s an appetite for marketing to move closer and closer to the product development process […] At Airbnb marketers sit on product teams, which is amazing because we finally have the opportunity to share what’s being built and not just how to talk about what’s being built. ”
Lyft’s Joy Howard stressed the point further: “You’re not just a marketer anymore, you’re not just a communications person anymore. There’s an appreciation for [. . .] the mission we’re going towards. I love it when someone from accounting is like, ‘did you see what’s going on here? Shouldn’t we be talking about this?’”
What does this mean for the bottom line and shareholder value?
“I don’t think you can be a great brand and not be close to your customers,” noted Howard.
Kenna put it bluntly. “Patagonia’s revenues, profits have quadrupled in the last 10 years […] for us, it’s absolutely benefited business.”
King agreed: “We see that as a key driver of our growth.”
According to a report from Sprout Social, “Sixty-six percent of consumers say it’s important for brands to take public stands on social and political issues.”