In an age of social media and brand transparency, a new skill – brand value(s) leadership – is becoming increasingly important

Brand managers cannot ignore how their brands behave in their journeys from raw materials to final products or services.

As brand gatekeepers, brand managers must be accountable to deliver consistency on how the brand’s promise and values are delivered across the product lifecycle. In doing so, brand managers will not only protect the equity of their brands but also identify exciting product innovation and partnership opportunities that deliver strategic differentiation and sustainable growth for the brand.

The way we live, work, shop and influence one another has been transformed by the use of internet, smart phones and social networks. News, including information from those that rate and share opinions on brands, is only a click away.

Social media boom

Social network websites account for over 22% of all time spent on the internet, according to a 2010 Nielsen study. They provide efficient and global platforms that shape the public’s perceptions of a brand. In some cases they can start viral communication campaigns that can quickly build or destroy reputation.

With over 500 million Facebook active global users and 175 million registered for Twitter, brand managers cannot ignore the fact that as they become more transparent, social media also becomes more powerful in its ability to shape consumer perceptions of brands.

Consumers buy a brand because they trust its performance and they trust its values. But what happens when the trust is broken? Transparency around the social and environmental impacts of brands bring new challenges and responsibilities for brand managers.

Social or environmental claims made by brands and not supported by consistent actions in the supply chain put the brand at risk of greenwashing – potentially breaking the trust between the brand and its stakeholders.

Kit-Kat challenge

The campaign against Kit-Kat in 2010 demonstrated what can happen to a brand that lacks consistency between its upstream impacts (near the product source, ie raw materials) and its downstream communications (away from the source, closer to end-consumers).

At the time of Greenpeace’s campaign, Kit-Kat had a Fairtrade logo on-pack. The Fairtrade label might have influenced some consumers to think that Kit-Kat was a “good citizen” brand, at least socially. But when Greenpeace released the news about Kit-Kat’s use of palm oil contributing to the deforestation of Indonesian forests and extinction of orang-utans, thousands of consumers instantly lost their trust on the brand.

Greenpeace’s viral campaign demonstrated that with the help of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, it has become very easy for stakeholders to come together on a social media platform to denounce brands’ negative social and environmental impacts.

By asking the right questions of their supply chain partners, brand managers can turn brand risks into opportunities.

Nike’s ‘inspiration and innovation’

Nike is an example of a brand that has demonstrated that positive brand value can be created when marketing connects the dots between upstream actions with downstream brand value. The brand’s mission statement “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world” (where every person is considered an athlete) is strengthened with initiatives such as the Nike Better World Campaign.

The campaign demonstrates how the brand can use its innovation muscle to bring inspiration and choices to athletes who are also driven by making a positive difference in the environment. Beyond strengthening the brand’s values behind a positive message, Nike also creates a new business opportunity with the launch of shoes that use a new environmentally preferred rubber.

Similarly, by partnering with the Homeless World Cup, Nike is able to reach athletes that would normally be excluded, supporting their aspirations. This creates positive differentiation for the brand while raising positive awareness for Nike in emerging markets.

While brand managers are recognised in most organisations as the gatekeepers for internal or external communications affecting their brands, it is rare to find them spending much time looking at the brand’s actions and values through its supply chain journey.

Before the internet and social media boom, brand managers had great control on their brand’s message. But in this new age of social media and transparency, information on a brand’s actions travel fast and brand managers must work harder to ensure consistency of the brand’s values along their supply chain.

If they don’t take control for the actions of their brands during their journeys, others in the social media space most certainly will.

Triple bottom line value

Companies that are committed to best-in-class sustainability look to their brand managers to build strong brands. They also need to realise that besides recruiting and training them  to grow brands effectively using social media, brand managers also need to develop brand value(s) leadership, which will help them effectively drive triple bottom line value (social, environmental and economic) for their brands.

Brand value(s) leadership provides brand managers with the tools to ensure brands can “walk the talk”. It can also be a fantastic collaborative space for marketing and supply chain professionals to work together to identify innovation and partnership opportunities that can deliver both strategic and sustainable brand growth.

Companies wanting to drive strong and sustainable brand growth can start by embedding brand value(s) leadership in their organisations through: 

  • Training programmes that bring brand managers close to the brand’s products lifecycle and their triple bottom line value and impacts.
  • Joint accountability and processes to bring brand and supply chain managers together to discuss the brand’s product lifecycle and its impacts.
  • A collaborative space for brand and supply chain managers to identify opportunities that can strengthen the brand’s values through innovation and partnerships in the supply chain.
  • Revised brand planning processes which include an assessment of the brand’s value(s) performance in the supply chain and where brand strategies and brand plans address how triple bottom line brand value(s) can be created
  • Recognition for brand managers who walk the talk, driving brand values consistency in the supply chain and identifying innovation and partnership opportunities that grow strong brands in an age of transparency and social media.

Paloma Lopez has ten years of brand management and innovation experience with leading consumer brands and is a graduate of the Cambridge sustainability leadership postgraduate programme. Lopez is an independent consultant helping businesses grow behind sustainable values. 

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