The value of brand citizenship in business relationships
Anne Bahr Thompson, founding partner of Onesixtyfourth, examines the value of brand citizenship within the B2B environment
A new business era
Brand citizenship has never been higher up the business agenda. Trust in the ‘establishment’, from politicians to industry experts is at an all time low. At the same time, businesses are coming under increasing scrutiny in how they are run as is evident in the case of Sports Direct’s treatment of its workers. Consequently, consumers are turning to brands rather than traditional institutions to help improve quality of life and progress society and the importance of brand ethics and values has never been higher.
As a result business to consumer brands are looking to their suppliers and partners to align themselves with their values so that their products and services truly reflect their brand ethics. Therefore, ensuring that an organisation is built on the right business values and ethics will be the difference between a company becoming a leader in its field or being left behind in today’s new business environment.
The 'me-to-we' continuum of brand citizenship
Our recent research into people’s shifting relationships with brands has shown that nurturing faithful business relationships is increasingly similar to cultivating loyal customers.
All of these relationships begin with a ‘me-first’ orientation –‘satisfy my wants and needs’– and then stretch across a continuum of brand citizenship that culminates in a ‘we’ orientation—‘address the issues that are important to my community and the broader world’. In between the ‘me’ and ‘we’ extremes are a variety of ways for organisations to promote their values to clients, employees and communities alike.
Today, few companies occupy all five points on the me-to-we continuum of brand citizenship; the best, however, are moving along the spectrum. There are a number of steps that companies can take to input brand citizenship and engender loyalty in their working relationships:
1. Trust - Don’t let me down
Delivering what you promised, on time and at a reasonable price, is the first step in developing loyalty and the cornerstone of forming good business relationships. Whether you are offering a product or a service, being dependable is key and it is important to demonstrate that you will give clients the service they expect.
2. Enrichment - Enhance daily life
This step makes you invaluable to your client and is where your company goes above and beyond, exceeding expectations. Show you understand your client and can anticipate their needs by flagging new services that may suit their needs or potential problems before they arise and offering solutions.
3. Responsibility - Behave fairly
Businesses need to treat people fairly, behave ethically and be proactive in their practices towards suppliers, business partners, employees and other stakeholders. This doesn’t mean that your clients will expect perfection from you 100% of the time. Indeed, people respect businesses that exhibit human traits and are honest about their shortcomings, providing they are not duplicitous and are making a concerted effort to improve on their faults.
4. Community - Connect me
Create a network around your business, connecting your clients and business partners to you. Use this network to share news about your organisation including new service offerings, team members and industry award wins. This will help partners have a greater understanding of your full service offering and also feel more connected and more likely to come to you with additional business.
5. Contribution - Make me bigger than I am
Businesses prefer to work with other companies that contribute to the communities they care about and help fix society’s worries, provided they do so without overtly political intentions. Rather than developing one-off social responsibility or cause marketing initiatives, companies should focus on making a difference in a particular area. This could be backing a specific charity, supporting other local or independent businesses or fighting an inequality such as the Gender Pay Gap.
It may also be that the companies you work with have their own corporate values, which they will look for you to dovetail with as brands are looking for their values and ethics to be reflected across the supply chain and want to work with like-minded businesses. For example if a company promotes itself as environmentally friendly, it will not be able to work with a company that has a hugely negative impact on the environment.
Supporting employees and suppliers across the me-to-we continuum of brand citizenship encourages more holistic relationships and more loyal connections. Not only does it help to retain key clients but through mutual understanding, mutual respect, mutual reliance and mutual benefit, it also helps businesses achieve their full potential.