Brand Citizenship Scenarios: Questioning the Sustainability of Brands in an Increasingly Consumer Led Market – Prof Derick de Jongh
“A BigMac by any other name is still a greasy burger.” Or is it? Your company’s brand embodies your company’s values and key messages. At a product level brands differentiate similar products and occupy important consumer headspace. To a lot of people a BigMac promises familiarity. After our fourth meal in China or Spain, where we are not too sure what we just ate, we will settle for McDonald’s PVC mediocrity with glee. A brand communicates with our customer and all of our stakeholders. At its most practical a brand represents a social contract with each stakeholder defining expectations of their interaction with us. At its most romantic a brand represents a banner under which consumer tribes rally.
This is a two-way communication. The brands we choose tell us a lot about ourselves. When you buy Starbucks fair- trade coffee you are signalling things that are important to you. Similarly Starbucks are making you a promise about what their brand represents in exchange for your custom. When you drive a Hummer you are making a strong statement about your world view; a contrarian world view… even to GM who are selling off their Hummer brand and closing 3 SUV factories in the United States.
A current challenge faced by corporations is the dramatic shift in expectation which has consumers holding their brands accountable for a variety of performance indicators, most notably the ethical predisposition of the brand. The question increasingly being asked is why some brands that have been around for generations suddenly lose their value despite their contemporary product offering and competitive marketing efforts? Companies build a lot of value around brands. Imagine the horror of UK tobacco companies when a recent report by the UK Department of Health suggested stripping tobacco packaging of logos and differential colour. Research has shown that consumers seek brands that would satisfy one of two broad goals: First, achievement of ideals in life and the second, to prevent undesirable outcomes. Consumers’ interaction with a socially responsible brand will most likely be influenced by both of these goals. Brands will have to focus on the compatibility of their consumers’ goals with the company’s internal goals if brand citizenship is desired. Therefore, consumers will evaluate a brand negatively if its values of social responsibility do not match those of the consumer. However, consumer education and creative non-traditional methods of marketing and communication is necessary to bring information about the social, ethical and environmental dimensions of the organization/ brand to the consumer in a way that will not generate skepticism. Brand citizenship can therefore be defined as the contextual position the company takes on sustainable development. The company is, through this positioning, recognised for the actions it takes with regards to society, the natural environment as well as its ethics and governance practice.
The rules of the game have changed
Ethical business practice in the modern business environment and the emergence of a myriad of new media create a complex communication landscape if a company is serious about managing information on the practices of the corporation. Not doing the wrong thing is no longer the only prerequisite to being seen as an ethical company. Research has already pointed out that consumers are willing to spend significantly more on products that they perceive to be ethical, and that there is an increase in the influence of social responsibility on business value. This is also another indication that consumers are re-evaluating brands from an ethical and moral value standpoint. An important point to consider, however, is that not all consumers’ values are the same, and that previous experience and perceptions further differentiate consumers’ evaluation of the brand. Corporate Social Responsibility can therefore be seen as a dimension of brand personality, which can have a direct result on a changing mindset amongst consumers, to the extent that some consumers may even request to be informed about the social responsibilities of the companies they support.
Brand Management implications
In a 2007 study done by Zednik and Strebinger, a review of 48 brand management models in Europe was done which resulted in six broad categories. The study was conducted on a strategic, industry and advertising level. Out of the six categories only two were used by all three parts of the industry: The value congruency and the brand value model were the only categories that proved useful across the board. The brand value model aims to emulate in the brand the values that the consumers hold, in this way these models present the brand as having more value for the consumer. These models differ from the value congruency model which functions on the premise that the consumer and the brand are in a mutual relationship and that their values need to be compatible. Through this relationship the brand creates value for the consumer. Both these models are value focused to create better brand equity. The value congruency model, however, seems to be more aligned with the corporate citizenship discourse. Good corporate citizens realise that the social contract has now moved to include all stakeholders. These stakeholders, of which the consumer is one, are impacted by the organization’s everyday activities. Understanding this impact and trying to operate on a “do no harm” principle will result in compatible values. Such an approach undoubtedly builds brand equity and will lead to the desired level of brand citizenship.
Value congruency in brand management As pointed out earlier, the importance of a relationship between the brand and the consumer is widely accepted and should be of serious concern when sustainability of the brand is considered. The evaluation of a brand is determined by the extent to which the consumers and the brand’s dimensions of personality are compatible. A part of this compatibility is the value dimension.
Consumers and corporations may have a myriad of goals, both obvious and salient. These goals will influence the brand experience, but it is unquestionably certain, considering the importance of a citizenship dimension in contemporary branding strategy, that consumers’ goals include thinking about the bigger social picture and what the implications of their purchasing decision is. Based on this premise an exploration of the Brand Citizenship Framework is explored.
Exploring the Brand Citizenship framework
The Brand Citizenship Framework is a Brand Management Model that addresses the interplay between the inherent values that consumers and brands hold. The model focuses on the changing ethical and value goals from both a consumer and corporate dimension. Both the corporation or brand and the consumer’s goals are summarized on an ‘x’ and ‘y’ axis. Where the brand line on the ‘y’ axis runs from the top (Stakeholder view) to the bottom (Shareholder view), the consumer line on the ‘x’ axis runs from (me) to (we). The interplay between these two value statements is explored in each one of the four quadrants through the theories of goal congruency in sustainable brands.
In quadrant one the consumer requires socially responsive brands. The brand unfortunately attempts to enter the market by responding to society’s desire to be supplied by ethical products through misleading and false advertising. These brands might also actively participate in unethical practices to boost profit. A clear incongruence between the goals of the organization and its consumers exists, but a misleading image is created by the brand to emulate a match with the consumer’s goals.
Quadrant two: Brands that acknowledge that their focus is not on social responsibilities fall into this quadrant and the consumer in this quadrant shares this low priority of societal issues. In quadrant two the goals of the consumer and the brands are compatible on social issues and will then, according to the research of both Fournier (1998) and Madrigal and Boush (2008), if other influencers are not considered, be sustainable.
Quadrant three: The third quadrant of the Brand Citizenship Framework describes brands that make just claims about the ethical nature of their products or services but the market does not yet value that position. This quadrant, as in quadrant one, points to a clear goal mis-match and is not sustainable. Brands in this quadrant will either have to meet the goal expectations of their consumers or hope that their market will develop to appreciate the brand’s position.
Quadrant four: In quadrant four, as in quadrant two, the brand and the consumer share compatible goals and ethical views. Brands in quadrant four access their market by responding to consumers’ desire to have socially responsible products that are in line with their own internal values. This goal compatibility makes brands that fall into this quadrant sustainable if other influencers of sustainability are not considered. By this argument, a natural imbalance will cause brands in Quadrant 1 and 3 to evolve naturally to the other two quadrants due to sustainability.
Conclusion: Although the socially responsible dimension of brands only accounts for a single aspect of the brand’s success, it is clear from the rapid development and importance of consumers’ social conscience, that ethical business practice is becoming more important. By exploring various studies on brand management and paying particular attention to the conscientious dimension of brands, a theoretical exploration of the Brand Citizenship Framework as a strategic tool for brand sustainability in the contemporary market shows that brands that fall into quadrants where corporate goals and consumer goals are matched will be sustainable. Unfortunately in quadrant two, the moment the consumer develops to become more discerning or better informed, this match will dissolve.
Brands in quadrant four are in a unique position in that, all things considered, their consumers are well educated on the product, understand the brand’s citizenship dimension and reward the company for it. Quadrant four is not the only quadrant that brands can be successful in, but, according to value congruency research, it is the only quadrant that brand success can be sustainable.
Prof Derick de Jongh completed his Doctorate in Commerce through the University of Pretoria in July 2003. He joined the university in February 2009 as director of the newly established Centre for Responsible Leadership (CRL). The vision of the CRL is ‘Leaders for Good’. The mission of the centre is to facilitate the development of a generation of responsible leaders that are committed to social and environmental justice.
Under the leadership of Derick, together with Mr Brian Leroni (Massmart Group Executive, Corporate Affairs) and Mr Steve Nicholls (Senior Manager at KPMG), a Think Tank was established in 2008 to developed The Brand Citizenship Framework©. Experts (The Think Tank) representing the advertising and branding industry participated over a two-year period capturing the landscape in which brands operate today. The framework is based on Clem Sunter’s High Road / Low Road Scenario methodology.