Is it OK for brands to have emotions?
Through a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of an article from Retail Paradox, RSR Research’s weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers, presented here for discussion.
Millennials increasingly demand meaning from the companies they engage with — not only those they work for, but buy from. Thus, we’ve seen the rise of companies like Toms where philanthropy — buy one, give one — is central to the brand.
I can see where Millennials are coming from. Having seen extreme corporateerism nearly destroy the economy as you entered the job market, you might not want to be a part of that world. If you’re giving your time and soul to a company that is not going to return the favor, you might not only demand the company be a good corporate citizen but one trying to make the world a better place. And it’s not a far stretch to demanding this from all the companies in your life, including the ones you buy products from.
Yet I was taught that philanthropy is a private thing. I donate time. I donate money. But celebrating my own giving seems like a really self-serving thing that is antithetical to the meaning of philanthropy.
So if a retailer has a corporate giving program already but it’s not central to their brand, what do they do with this demand from Millennials? How do you marry these different perspectives?
In an address on entrepreneurship at the Sage Summit, Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group’s founder, had the answer. He basically said it’s okay for companies to have emotions. It comes out of an entrepreneurial core — in order to solve a problem, you have to understand the problem. In design thinking terminology, you have to have empathy — and that means feeling the problem; living the problem.
Brands need to have emotions too. They increasingly don’t have much choice. They’re more often being called to take sides in things like what signs they put on the bathrooms or whether they have toy aisles segmented by pink and blue. But just like with anything else — if you don’t have a plan for the emotional components of your brand, then it’s not that your brand has no emotions associated with it. What happens is you cede the definition of your brand’s personality to others. Or it emerges by default — and the default may not be what you intended.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think it’s become more important for retailers to infuse emotion and “meaning” into their brands? How do you view the different perspectives between Millennials and older generations around philanthropy and branding?