Many brands, spurred on by armies of self-serving corporate executives, are charging blindly into a generational and technological windstorm for which they are woefully unprepared.
Perhaps that's an audacious assertion, but it boils down to one term: corporate philanthropy.
In short, many brands which choose to shun any real efforts at executing corporate philanthropy and "giving back" are putting themselves on the path to extinction. They will struggle to survive in this new, globalized environment that has been steadily, relentlessly emerging in the 21st century. (Of significant relevance here is the fact that corporate efforts to "give back"— when viewed from the perspective of pre-tax profits that are donated or otherwise invested in any social, philanthropic endeavours— have steadily declined over the past three decades.)
So why do I think that corporate philanthropy (of any kind) is something that brands and businesses can no longer afford to ignore?
It is because of something that has given the 21st century so much of its most remarkable— and sometimes unsettling— characteristics: the blisteringly fast rise of widespread information communication technologies (smartphones, laptops, and so on).
Because of the rampant increase in sophistication and effectiveness of information-sharing technologies, people are becoming increasingly connected across the world. While the idea of "greater global connectedness" is a worn-out, calcified cliche by now, the implication here is not trivial: we are becoming more and more meaningfully aware of the conditions and lived realities of other people.
So now we all know. Through social media sites, smartphone apps, video streams, and a whole cluster of information technologies, we all know that the struggles and difficulties of other people are really happening. It's not just some faceless fact or dreary statistic you read about in the morning paper or hear about on the radio. Now there are faces and voices and millions upon millions of images and videos and chat messages and more. Now it's more real, and thus more emotionally compelling.
Quite naturally, then, because of this massive collective connectedness and awareness experienced on a scale the world has never before seen, there is an increasing demand for businesses and corporations to do their part in creating positive, visible social change. This last statement isn't idle speculation, either; it's borne of the research on corporate philanthropy.
It's no coincidence, after all, that the generation most obsessively "wired in" to modern technology— the millennial generation— favours companies that donate to charity much more than prior generations do.
And, across 60 different countries, 55% of global online consumers are comfortable with paying more for a product or service if the company under consideration is committed to some kind of social responsibility (as of 2014).
The generation most obsessively "wired in" to modern technology— the millennial generation— favours companies that donate to charity much more than prior generations do.
Still, many brands don't give much thought to engaging in corporate "giving back." There are several reasons for this. For one, corporate executives often have a more or less short-term tenure, so they are driven to maximize short-term shareholder profits instead of consistently acting in the best long-term interests of the brand. Corporate philanthropy is thus sidelined in favour of more immediate profit-generating strategies.
This sort of behaviour— steering clear of corporate giving back and social responsibility— is something I completely disagree with. In fact, there are many demonstrated benefits of corporate philanthropy to a brand's bottom line. Despite these benefits, the commitment to corporate philanthropy is in decline – as pointed out at the beginning of this piece.
Yet the trend towards "greater global connectedness" isn't dying anytime soon – in fact, it's only becoming more and more entrenched in the very foundations of culture and society. Just imagine, for instance, how much emotional bonding among people can be forged— across miles and borders— through advanced VR technology that will soon be here. Information communication technologies keep evolving – and quickly, too. (Such technologies are arguably still in their infancy.)
So brands, of all kinds and sizes, need to realize that this technological windstorm— and its implications for consumer brand preferences, particularly when it comes to millennial consumers— is fast-approaching. Its gusty breezes are already witnessed in the research statistics which demonstrate a rising consumer preference for companies that give back.
The leaders behind any brand now have a choice: adopt corporate philanthropy as an important part of their brand's philosophy and business strategy, or get blown away by competitors who were quicker to see "the shape of things to come."