Anne Bahr Thompson
Anne Bahr Thompson 25 January 2018
Categories Research

How to embrace brand citizenship to fuel purpose and profit: key steps to success

Based on three year’s of in-depth research involving interviews with thousands of consumers, these five steps can help organisations embark on the path of Brand Citizenship.

Profound changes in technology, politics, the global economy and the rise of social media have dramatically reshaped the landscape for businesses. Indeed, the digital world in which brands now operate has had a marked effect on the traditional pact between companies and their customers, employees and stakeholders. 

People’s expectations for their relationships with brands have shifted and increasingly, businesses are finding that their success is tied to their ability to demonstrate that they are committed to doing good. This means going above and beyond traditional CSR or philanthropic activities, to advocating for issues that really matter to consumers. 

However, this is not something organisations can take a short-term approach to, either from a financial or reputational stand point. To maximise shareholder value over the long-term, a business must balance the bottom line with the needs of a virtuous circle that includes customers, employees, suppliers, communities and society at large. 

Those businesses that can engrain social responsibility and good corporate citizenship across their operations will create greater financial and social value over the long term. All brands, regardless of size or industry have the potential to reap the benefits of this ‘Brand Citizenship’. Encouragingly, many are interested in actively engaging in progressing on a continuum from a ‘me’ to a ‘we’ approach but do not know how or where to start. 

Based on three year’s of in-depth research involving interviews with thousands of consumers, these five steps can help organisations embark on the path of Brand Citizenship. 


Trust needs to be the starting point not the endgame for brand loyalty. There are five characteristics that are essential for earning lasting trust from stakeholders – clarity, reliability, sincerity, reciprocity and active listening. Of these, reliability is the cornerstone, but digital communications and information have increasingly made reciprocity one of five key requirements for fostering trust. Farrow & Ball’s The Chromologist is a fun example of this. 


Brands that deliver holistic, integrated experiences underpin their relevance to customers with more than product features and thereby position themselves for continued success. For example Plum Organics enriches parents – and their babies – with wholesome foods, packaged in innovative, environmentally friendly ways. 


Customers expect brands to treat their employees fairly, behave ethically, and be proactive in their business practices. In particular, being perceived as acting fairly towards employees is a pivotal point on the me-to-we continuum. From the very beginning John Lewis has put employees (partners) at the centre of its business model, which has contributed to its continued success. 


Brands, like people, express their social identities by joining and creating communities. For example, mobile operator Giffgaff has built a highly successful, award-winning brand by creating a community based on fair pricing, an online forum at the centre of its network, and reaching out to customers in a variety of creative, entertaining, and practical ways.


‘We’ brands are not angry or radical activists, they’re companies making choices congruent with their brand purpose. Take Lush as an example – it is the outcome of its founders’ determined journey to live their personal purpose and embody the positive side of activism. The brand continually expands its reach and how it connects loyalists to sustainable products, fair trade, and philanthropic causes.

Brand Citizenship is a journey, not a destination. It requires courage to step forward. But brands that step forward and are clear about their purpose, integrate relevant policies and practices into operations, and emphasize creating social impact as much as bettering their reputation will shape a better future by doing good and doing well. 

Anne’s new book, DO GOOD: Embracing Brand Citizenship to Fuel Both Purpose and Profit, is available now. 

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