Michael Smollan
Michael Smollan

Brand power: show, don’t tell

by Michael Smollan. Smart brands are starting to realise that creating an image is far less important than keeping things real.

by Michael Smollan. We find ourselves in a world where information is more freely available than ever before. Couple that with savvy consumers who insist on plugging in to that which is authentic and supporting brands that have a social conscience. Perhaps now more than ever before, smart brands are starting to realise that creating an image is far less important than keeping things real.

Brands that have long relied on stellar marketing campaigns and wide distribution networks are finding this is not the silver bullet for a young growing population buying the bulk of their products. Again, I draw on my go to guides Nike and Unilever when it comes to brand values. Nike realised a number of years ago that exercise is not just for those who look hot in tight training gear, instead extending their reach and tapping into their market’s heart and wallets. They’ve understood that people want authenticity where brands represent that which is right and not just what looks, feels, and tastes good.

More than 60% of US consumers say that brand values are of paramount importance and over 60% of under 35’s, expressing that the brands commitment to social responsibility is key to making a connection. What this means is the bulk of the rising consumer population is telling brands to act better; to become more responsible and ultimately to be more socially attuned.

Nike have long had their finger on the social pulse. They, along with their main rival Adidas, have focused heavily on diversity and inclusion and in recent years made significant strides in consciously managing the recycling of goods. These companies have understood, as market sentiment has shifted, that they need to be who they claim to be on the billboards and not just faking it for the cameras. They’ve done this by doubling down on diversity and inclusion. No longer filling their campaigns with the prettiest and skinniest but now more the most diverse and inclusive range of people. They have transformed their brand promise from being something unattainable to being something representative of us all and its working.

This week, Unilever tabled their market and industry leading promise, which is to make sure all of their people and those who work on behalf of Unilever will earn a living wage. Not a minimum wage – a living wage. I had to take a minute to digest this and wonder how we can live in a world that pays people what is deemed ‘the minimum’ when the reality suggests that it’s nowhere near possible to live on. Yet despite this, I know from what I have seen around the world that even minimum wage is still a long way off being the norm.

Unilever have understood that the bulk of their consumers want to know that the company they are giving their money to is doing something responsible with it, whether it be taking a stand around wages, reducing packaging and plastic from their supply chains, or creating the world’s first refillable deodorant in North America. They have long been the poster child for purpose led organisations and with their relatively new CEO Alan Jope at the helm, have doubled down on that promise – one that is resonating with consumers globally and rightly so.

It is now horrifically apparent that governments and regulation will never hold corporations to the standards we expect. It is astonishing that we cannot get governments to act with urgency around major global crises like climate change or diversity and inclusion. It has therefore become apparent that public and private organisations need to lead this societal change as quite simply, they have a duty to do so. Until now they have had to answer primarily to their shareholders, however more recently they have to answer to a woke consumer base that won’t be ignored. This is where systemic change can finally start to happen because action will directly affect revenue be it positively or negatively.

Smart organisations like Unilever and Nike have long realised that brand power is a large lever to unlock long-term growth and that it can be attained by working with a committed agenda, one that is focused on current social dilemmas. The sad truth is that until brand values became a profit driver, they are destined to be a part of the tabled, ‘to be decided’ driver in any given strategy.

The reality is that we have never in human history found ourselves at a more significant crossroads. We must, as organisations and citizens, think of our impact on the environment and change our ways. To make sure we listen, to affect real change in our communities as we consciously do a better job at helping them, along with taking into account the people we employ as we do our utmost to upskill and uplift them. Ultimately, to take on the challenge as corporate citizens because it is the right thing to do.

This approach in turn, can also drive more customers to our products and services and that may finally start to move the needle and shift momentum in the right direction as brand authenticity breaks above the noise, makes stronger connections, and stands out from the competition.


Main image credit: Photo by Akil Mazumder from Pexels.


Michael Smollan is Chief Growth & Innovation Officer of Smollan. Smollan is a leading retail solutions company that delivers growth for retailers and brand owners across five continents by covering every aspect of how their brand is managed at the point of purchase, from field sales to in store and digitally. Smollan partners with brand owners and retailers to deliver accelerated growth by increasing reach, driving availability and visibility, increasing efficiency and delivering superior shopper experiences; operating across emerging and developed markets, in modern and general trade, and across physical and digital channels.


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