June 12, 2017

Defining the Good Life in Motor City

Consumers around the world are becoming more demanding of the brands they buy, looking for new products, services and business models that surprise and delight while also contributing to a healthy environment and society.”

– KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz, Founder, Sustainable Brands Worldwide

By: Carol Cone, CEO, Carol Cone ON PURPOSE; Advisory Board Member, Sustainable Brands

Sustainable Brands 2017 launched a three-year initiative to explore what “The Good Life” means to brands and consumers. As sustainability experts and purpose-driven leaders from around the world gathered in Detroit – yes, Detroit – it seemed that there was an air of both uncertainty and hope; caution and ambition. In a city all too familiar with failure, regeneration, and redemption, we came together to chart a path forward.

We’ve entered a new era of brand advocacy, one perhaps driven in equal parts by a new administration and shifting consumer aspirations. The challenge – and mandate – to brands is to enable people to attain “The Good Life.”

So, what does that mean?

A number of groundbreaking research studies, the most significant of which was spearheaded by The Harris Poll and Sustainable Brands, took the pulse of consumers to discover what the good life means, how people want to achieve it, and how brands might be part of the journey.

In summation, our idea of the Good Life follows four themes:

  • Balanced Simplicity: The good life is defined by having good health and living a simple, yet balanced life. Americans are seeking reduced complexity and healthy behaviors – striking a tone of moderation, all actions contributing to happiness.
  • Meaningful Connections: The good life is defined by having meaningful engagement with families and their communities, including the environment.
  • Financial Independence: The good life is defined by having a steady job and being in a financial position that allows individuals to support their families and live a comfortable life.
  • Personal Goals: The good life is defined by the ability to pursue and achieve personal and career goals.

Take a moment to dive into the research here to understand what the Good Life means to people, and how companies can deliver it.

“Disruption is at an all-time high.”
 – Erica Parker

“If you’re not disrupting, you will be disrupted.” Erica Parker, Senior Consultant at The Harris Poll, challenged brands to be fearless. Consider your values: what do you stand for, and what do you stand up for? What compels your company, your employees, and your customers to speak out and take action?

Raphael Bemporad, Founder of BBMG, asserts that “there’s a difference between our aspirations of the good life, and our capacity to experience it and fulfill it.” Both brands and consumers face a gap in intention and action. We want to make a difference, but we’re tentative about picking up the megaphone and starting the ripple effect.

Now isn’t the time for stage fright; rather, it’s time to embrace “unlikely unions” to form a bridge between what we know is right, and how we will take action, says Parker. Building that bridge might happen brick by brick rather than all at once, but the key is that you lay that first brick to make your intentions real.

“Authenticity doesn’t have an on and off switch.”
– Carol Cone, CEO, Carol Cone ON PURPOSE

You have permission to share your point of view with the world – but consider how you do so. We know that our actions must align with, and uphold, our values, but this is just part of being an authentic brand.

Your sense of authenticity may evolve to meet changing consumer expectations, but it must be always on. In the words of Jennifer Lindenauer, CMO of Upworthy, “You can’t put a price on authenticity.”  This is about consistency, and sticking with a direction and point of view in the good and bad times.

If anything, this “evergreen” authenticity compels brands to speak up and take action. Embrace it, even if it turns consumers away. New Belgium Brewery, for example, occasionally vocalizes the company’s stance on equality for all – regardless of race, gender, or status – through its marketing – and in return, they get a healthy dose of disapproval from a small segment of followers. Should they stick to their guns or back down and sing kumbaya? Jonathan Atwood, Vice President of Sustainable Business and Communications at Unilever North America, urged New Belgium to stay true to their point of view. “Risk diminishes when we know we are on the right side of our values.”

“If you don’t stand for something, you won’t remain standing.”
– Jonathan Atwood, Vice President of Sustainable Business and Communications, Unilever North America

We’ve established this trend of activist brands, and we’ve determined that authenticity and honesty are key to doing it right. While most trends come and go, we believe this one is going to stick. More consumers are expecting brands to have a voice, be disruptive, and now, to deliver the Good Life. Atwood drove the point home, saying “advocacy can future-proof your business.”

An astonishing 80% of people report that they would be loyal to a brand that helped them live their values. “Expectations for brands have never been higher,” notes Bemporad. Consumers have made it clear that business should play a role in making an impact – and providing them with a better life. But the majority – 65% — don’t feel that brands are actually producing products and services that help them achieve the Good Life.

Not all people know what their Good Life looks like. To deliver on these themes, businesses need to lead the way, and even show consumers what the Good Life looks like. Consider CVS Health’s radical decision to remove cigarettes from its store. With this disruptive move, the company told people: We are a brand that stands for and delivers health – so we have taken a step towards advancing your health and wellbeing.

Today, what a company does is more important than what it says.

Why us, and why now?

Bemporad challenges companies to “use the size, scale, and speed of business to change humanity.”

Think on that for a bit, as you consider that the social construct we know as “business” is perhaps the largest holder of human capital on earth. We spend much of our life at work. We interact with businesses every day. We make our money through business, so that we can spend it at businesses, all in order to meet our aspirations for a good life.

All this gives businesses an almost unfathomable amount of power. In this new era, business is the central player – the hero – in our adventure that leads to a good life, and a better world. And it’s important to remember – especially as brands become disruptors – that “it’s more important to be honest than perfect,” counsels Atwood.

In Detroit – Motor City – we started the journey to redefining the Good Life, and then asked companies to boldly take a stand to deliver on it. Business is the engine. Humans are the fuel. Purpose is the steering wheel navigating us to the Good Life. What road are you going to take there?

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