Is a brand supposed to be neutral? For decades brands have existed as blank slates, allowing us as consumers to attach our own meaning to them. And that worked with Baby Boomers and Gen X and the era of the big box store with no personality.
But both retail and cultural tastes have changed and they are converging. Millennials and Gen Z want more personalized experiences and they want to share values with a brand. That's a statement, often used, but never incorrect. Millennials are now the largest buying group in the United States. So, they are impossible to ignore.
Dick's Sporting Goods made the announcement yesterday that they will no longer sell AR-15 assault rifles in their stores. Specifically, they will no longer be carried in their Field & Stream stores. That's sure to cause a reaction, both positive and negative, from their customers.
Dick's didn't make a business decision. They made a personal decision not caring about the business consequences. But it's that authenticity, albeit not even intentional, that will create more business for them among Millennials and Gen Z.
Brands are getting more intentional about their work in the community because they know that shared values matter.
"We support a diverse range of issues locally and nationally, partnering with hundreds of organizations that share our values," Adrian Durbin, Director of Policy, Lyft. "So far we have raised over $4 million for a dozen organizations, including the ACLU and Black Girls CODE, and look forward to continuing to grow the program. We've also started a Relief Rides program, designed to help those in need during crises, such as Hurricane Harvey and the California wildfires."
Make Authentic Decisions
What this means is as a small business, looking for a chance to carve out its spot in a market, that you should make choices that matter to you. Those are the decisions that will matter to Millennials. They won't care about your specials, or your sales team, or that fun office photo you posted to Facebook. They will care about what you stand for.
Your business does not need to be neutral. It should absolutely have a bigger, deeper purpose than driving money. 1980s executives wanted to show off wealth. Business leaders, who grew up through the financial crisis of 2008, are more driven by showing their purpose to the world.
Understand the Future Needs of Your Customers
In a growing delivery market market where Uber Eats, GrubHub and others exist, Postmates is thriving. Last year they recruited Vikrum Aiyer, a former senior White House advisor, to become their Global Head of Public Policy.
"At Postmates, our CEO Bastian Lehmann & co-founders Sean Plaice & Sam Street, unequivocally understand that the very communities we are able to unlock through the power of our app, only thrive when we stand up for an American promise that works for all," said Aiyer. "A promise that we are all worthy of protection, we are all equal, and we all count. That's why we have partnered with the ACLU to defend the freedoms and liberties of immigrant restaurant owners and Dreamers who make deliveries on our platform."
In that year, Aiyer has used their logistics technology to support emergency management operations and route essential supplies to evacuees of wildfires and hurricanes. And he has formed national working groups around the Future of Work, understanding that if Postmates is going to automate jobs in one place then they must have a plan to create them somewhere else.
Having a purpose can be a differentiator, especially in the sharing economy where neither Postmates or Uber own the infrastructure.
There Are Plenty of Causes Where You Can Make a Difference
Using technology for good can have an impact on how your brand is perceived and employee retention. People stay longer when they are tied to a purpose rather than a paycheck.
Qualcomm produced a short film called Power of 9, focused on the social and economic impact that can be achieved if everyone has access to mobile broadband technologies. In 2015, world leaders agreed upon 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030. SDG 9, alluded to in the film title, is about the need to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.
"We believe that mobile broadband technologies are an ideal solution for connectivity in remote and rural areas because they are fast, affordable and prevalent," said Nate Tibbits, SVP Government Affairs, Qualcomm. "Through our Qualcomm Wireless Reach initiative, we've seen how lives are changed when people simply have access to things like education, health care and business opportunities."
Your business is most likely not the size of Qualcomm, or even Lyft and Postmates. But a couple years ago they weren't large either, sitting in the same position you are now. And in a business climate where market share is determined more so by brand affinity than economy of scale, then you're looking at an almost level playing field.
And the only thing standing between you and success is can you connect on a personal level with your customers.