Social media have helped voice consumer praise and criticism worldwide and easily start movements for and against brands. Positive and negative brand experiences are shared on a global scale. More people have started demanding that brands fix issues associated with their products or services. There is also a lot of emphasis on business ethics and addressing social and environmental issues related to the production and distribution of products or services. Rising to social expectations, some brands have taken citizen responsibilities. This cultural shift has given rise to “a new model for brand development called brand citizenship”.
Brand citizenship could be defined as “the strategic alignment of marketing, reputation management, corporate social responsibility, and social media community building efforts”. The combination of brand leadership, loyalty and good citizenship strengthens reputation and equity as well as increases “the return on investment on sustainability activities”.
Customers expect brands to behave better: to deliver a fairly priced product of high quality, fairly treat employees, develop safe supply chains or introduce environment-friendly business practices, to name a few. Citizenship initiatives do not need to be expensive. The focus should be on enriching people’s daily lives, improving their communities as well as making the planet a better place to live in.
In this context, marketers need to shift their mindset to better engage with customers. For years, they have mainly focused on engaging customers to boost brand support by encouraging them to share their recommendations, like posts or share their positive experiences on social media. Fast forward to today, customers are increasingly looking for brands which can advocate on their behalf for the things that matter to them.
More and more, satisfying engagement with a brand is built not through grand gestures or non-stop talking but through “thoughtful, empathic actions, and small, meaningful deeds that both improve and enrich daily life and help us to feel like we belong to a group of like-minded people”. Across generations, consumers demand that brands fulfill their individual needs as well as better society. More specifically, they want brands to provide solutions to their personal problems and needs and address their worries about the economy and global problems.
A 2019 report by Global Strategy Group found that customers expect companies to engage in issues beyond their bottom lines. 92% of survey participants believe that it is important that “companies take positions on issues that are in line with their values as a company”. 2011 consumer research aimed at gauging consumer expectations for the future and business sentiment found something unexpected: “People told us that they wanted business to step in and fix the problems that government was no longer dealing with,” said Anne Bahr Thompson, the former Executive Director of Strategy and Branding at the Interbrand consultancy.
Brand citizenship initiatives pose many questions: “Why do brands aim to become good citizens? Is their motivation a genuine commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR)? Or is it simply creative marketing?” The answers to these questions are not so straightforward. In most cases, brands engage in brand citizenship because they believe they are expected to do so. Perhaps they are also trying to get ahead of any legislation that might be introduced. Regardless of their motives, more can be done to address the most pressing social and environmental issues.