Among the many questions being asked of brand professionals during this crisis of confidence and commerce is whether companies can afford to be good. That is, with all the cost-cutting and down-sizing, should companies shelve initiatives relating to social responsibility until better times return? My short answer is, no. In fact, at this time of distrust and missteps, consumers will look even harder at the totality of the brand promise as they ponder the value of potential purchases. What they’ll consider as things continue to get tougher is that value cannot just be measured in price-value, but in corporate values, ethics-wise, humanity-wise, or green-wise. While some may think that getting through this economic tsunami alive requires belt-tightening and belt-tightening only, I believe just the opposite. It’s precisely during times of scandal, bogus bonuses and breaches of trust that organizations must demonstrate that offering a good product is only half the reason for consumers to buy in; the other is the character of the brand doing the offering. This is not the time to break down the wall between the business side and the brand side of the equation, but the time to shore it up. Pushing aside all endeavors that don’t directly keep the lights on will, in my opinion, simply turn consumers off.
While in the past it was okay if do-good activities were merely a reflection of the CEO’s favorite philanthropic cause, this is no longer the case. In today’s transparent world, with money squeezed so tight and consumer confidence so low, it’s critical that companies do everything possible to draw attention to what makes their brand’s promise meaningfully different from the competition’s. Aligning social initiatives with the brand promise is not just the responsible thing to do; it makes good business sense for bad times.