Insights, OpinionPOSTED January 15, 2020

New Year Resolutions All Brands Should Seriously Consider

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Resolutions are so interesting to me.  They of course run the gamut – from the superficial “I’m going to go on a cleanse for a week” to the more considered “I’m going to give 500 hours of volunteer time to a cause I champion.”

In either case, the resolution is triggered by an epiphany based on a personal event, peer pressure, new research that gains news headlines and social media traction, or the eventual capitulation to the dissonance of doing something that is contrary to one’s core principles. 

Be it of the superficial variety or one rooted in a more considered manner, a resolution represents a critical (and profoundly healthy) moment of self-reflection.  A moment of pause when we assess our past and current behaviours and then pivot accordingly. 

The thing is, year after year we focus on individual resolutions, but seldom-to-never focus on brand or organizational resolutions.  I think that’s a big miss.  Employees, customers, clients, members or constituents; they all increasingly expect, even crave, to see brands they support as a living, breathing and caring member of society. 

So, in this spirit of self-reflection, here are some resolutions all brands and organizations should consider.  The one key caveat I caution against, is being superficial or jumping on a bandwagon.  Not including our burgeoning roster of billionaires, brands have much larger footprints and responsibilities within the markets where they operate than any individual. As such, their resolutions need to match their scale. 

The Climate

2019 saw the quickening demise of the plastic straw. I know there are much, much bigger fish to fry in our climate crisis.  But, to me, this was truly fascinating as few issues have moved so darn fast.  We started the year thinking that in the scheme of things, plastic straws were pretty benign and ended the year with anybody pushing or using a plastic straw being deemed a pariah. 

The prevailing logic was to start at the top of the plastic pollutant chain and work our way down or tackle it all at once.  Well, lo and behold, going the opposite way by shifting from plastic straws to alternative paper-based or steel straws proved a relatively quick fix and a good chunk of high-consuming society got on board.  Moral of the story: we can shift consumer perceptions and behaviours a heck of a lot faster than most people thought and starting down the chain and moving up holds a lot of wisdom. It should also give us added motivation to move up the plastic pollutant chain pronto. 

Inclusion and Diversity

This one is proving to be surprisingly stubborn.  It’s influenced by such a tangled network of systemic and cultural legacies — from all levels of education to public policy to conscious/unconscious bias and so on — that change is proving tough.  And we’re not just talking about the c-suite and boardrooms that are still dominated by privileged white men.  We’re talking about professional sports: women pro athletes moving in the direction of parity on pay or at least building the foundation to achieving such an end.  We’re talking about the embarrassing lack of women, racialized, indigenous and LGBTQ+ diversity within the ballooning professional services and technology sector; and we’re talking about the ongoing wall transgendered, non-binary and two-spirit individuals face when applying for careers they’re more than qualified for.

Ultimately, we need a band of brands to courageously coalesce to establish some ambitious self-imposed benchmarks and set an example, in unison with public policy, on meeting these challenges so that we ignite some real progress now

Design and Aesthetics

This is an area that is often overlooked by brands, but not by philanthropist and progressive developers.  Whether it’s a restoration to a building, the creative re-imagining of a space, such as Toronto’s Bentway under the Gardner Expressway or Winnipeg’s True North Square, or a fabulously well-designed storefront, beautiful and stimulating design brings unexpected joy to a neighborhood and its public.  In fact, a brand or a band of brands could do a lot to enhance the quality of life to a community or neighborhood through creative and courageous design that is accessible to the public. 

These are but a mere token of the possible new year resolutions brands and organizations could and should consider.   Canada and the globe have a litany of crises and blights that need brand advocacy, be it food security, excessive consumption, water security in First Nations, violence against women, affordable housing and I could sadly go on and on. 

The primary message here is that brands individually, or more effectively, as a collective, need to think more ambitiously and bravely about how they can be involved as active members pushing for positive change within the markets where they operate.  This isn’t about writing cheques or sponsoring an event that is championing a social good (although both important brand commitments).  This is about long-term vision with a strong element of advocacy.

Kenneth Evans is managing partner at APEX Public Relations and ruckus Digital and a practicing brand reputation, as well as media training specialist.