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Why brands need to take a stand

The UK has been talking about trust in business for more than a generation, but with the challenges the UK currently faces – from Brexit, the huge impact of changing technology to the loss of license for businesses to operate – the debate about the role of business in society is more relevant than ever. Society’s attitudes are also changing – companies are expected to stand for causes with economic security and social justice issues hot buttons.

Brands right wrongs
There is also feeling of the need to right the wrongs of today – whether that’s Brexit, Trump or climate change and sustainability. We also know that businesses are now less afraid to have a point of view or take a stand. One only has to look at ASOS showing stretch marks or Lynx challenging stereotypes of masculinity for examples of this.

Businesses are increasingly taking up the activist mantle, and in so doing, becoming a force for positive change and social good. And by taking a stand and tapping into a value system, businesses or brands become relevant and can take advantage of the need to support causes. Businesses aren’t bystanders in society nor do they exist in a vacuum; in their purest form they are social institutions and therefore have a responsibility to contribute something back.

No licence for bad behaviour
With all the scandals that have rocked the business world, it is fair to say that businesses have the lost the license to operate in ways they used to and want to. This is because the public has realised that companies need to do more than just hiring, creating, innovating, growing and paying tax. They in short need to contribute to a wider set of social objectives both citizens and employees will value. Some label that the three Ps – Profit, Purpose and Planet while some offer the three Cs – Cash, Customers and Community. When citizens and employees do not value your propositions as company and products they’ll vote with their feet and go elsewhere.

The power of purpose
Increasingly, we’re finding with our clients that purpose is becoming more and more interlinked with a company’s reputation. And that’s because while a good reputation isn’t necessarily dependent on a company’s purpose, purpose can protect a good reputation.

Knowing what you stand for and why is critical to managing your reputation; it forms the foundations to amplify your voice when you’ve got something to shout about, and to protect against and mitigate risk when you’re facing challenges. It also allows you to grow your business, engage your employees, connect with your customers and positively impact the world.

Long-term commitment
Business has the opportunity to manage its own reputation. But it requires long-term commitment and investment beyond just trying to avoid the next crisis. There is, like most things, no short-term fix.

Your purpose though needs to be embedded across the business; internally at board level, with employees, across operations and supply chains, and externally with your consumers.

Never forget that it can take a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute. Purpose, if authentic, lived and embedded, can ensure the success of your business today and future proof it for tomorrow.

Written by Eleanor Turner, director of corporate reputation and purpose at Porter Novelli London.

Everyone’s Business, a Business Reputation Tracker, discusses public perceptions of British business based on the study by Porter Novelli London, the CBI and Opinium

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