Brand, organization and society. What's "S" got to do with it?
What does the “S” stand for? Society and Systemic Strategies. What’s society got to do with the brand and your company? Why do we have to approach it systemically? Let us first take a closer look at our three musketeers: brand, organization and society.
What do they have in common? First – brands, organizations and society are relational. They do not exist without the interaction of elements, reciprocation, constant communication and negotiation of identities. Secondly – brands, organizations and society need the same ‘natural resources’ for healthy functioning: stability, transparency, and accountability. And where do they come from – stability, transparency and accountability? We arrive at the third commonality that brands, organizations and society need to survive: trust. Trust is the ace of spades for our three musketeers. Where does the trust come from? From people – those intangible humans that make it or break it when it comes to societies, organizations and brands. How can we engage and mobilize people to trust our company and brand? And why would we need something as abstract as a society to deliver on it?
Let’s look at relations between brands, organizations and society and see how we can make sense of the mysterious “S”. We’ll begin with the brand and brand identity. We can talk about the visual (how we look) and verbal (what we say) layers. Brand identity can serve different needs in corporate, employer and consumer segments. All of them have one goal: make or change the unknown agent’s image into something that has agency, something that sparks trust. Within the organization, within every company, various departments will have to do exactly that: gain trust. Through announcements, advertising, guidebooks, handbooks, policies, emails, and calls, they want to get internal and external stakeholders on their side. At this level – if you react to events, facts, crises, conflicts and unforeseen events: you manage the (crisis) reputation of your organization and brand. Yet, if you add trust: you proactively shape all relationships inside and outside your company, prevent issues from happening and on top of that – you build social capital enabling the whole system to function effectively. But how can you grow trust as a company hiring and managing hundreds of stakeholders?
To build strong, purposeful relationships with all your stakeholders all we need is a simple start. We need to begin with accessing our ‘natural resources’: stability, transparency and accountability. Shortcuts won’t do it, talking about it is not enough, you can’t pick one and leave the others out. Why? Let’s look at the following example: you have the stability: a good product at a fair price, and your company has been performing well over the years. Yet – stability alone does not win people’s trust. For trust to grow there needs to be transparency. Yet, in times where everyone is ‘honest, authentic and transparent’ what does it mean? Every company makes a positive impact, everyone does positive change, and everyone stands for sustainability. If that were true, we wouldn’t be facing climate disaster and we wouldn’t have to deal with social inequalities. The only way forward? Total transparency and honesty. For example, reporting not only positive but also negative effects that your product, price and performance have on society and the world around us. Only from here we can claim accountability. Only from there we can start fixing things.
In the current societal landscape, people trust organizations and brands more than they trust governments. The question is: what will we do with it? If we use it right, that social trust can help us engineer a real positive change. What makes it real and positive? It is designed outside-in and inside-out (which means that any company taking this approach is held accountable not only by its policies but by the whole society or by public opinion, if you will). Brands and organizations are systemically linked to society – there is no escaping it. This future-proof link and proactively shaping those relationships should become a strategic guide for any business that wants to keep up with the changing times. When those bonds and relationships are left out, there is no engagement and there is no trust. Where there is no trust: nothing ever happens and nothing ever gets done. If businesses do not act, if they do not deliver on their promises, we risk losing it all together: reputation, relevance and trust.
What’s “S” got to do with it? Applying the systemic approach and including society in your organizational design puts a mirror of the outside world in front of your company and brand. It allows you to build and grow stakeholders’ trust and stay relevant. Once we learn how to read and connect with the society, we can use those learnings to get ahead of the pack that only reacts to the outside world (which is not only reactive, it is also a short term strategy). If you choose to design your strategy long-term and approach it from stakeholders’ trust – you become the one who transforms the markets and industries to enable that positive change you’re talking about. You become the company that no longer just says things: you become that company that actively builds your stakeholders’ trust because it contributes to building social capital.
Would you like to find out more about the systemic approach and stakeholder engagement?
At Kremer & Company, we help organizations transform their markets with impactful systemic strategies. We do that by accelerating the synergy between brand power, reputation management and social impact and bringing it to mobilise stakeholders to drive inside-out transformative, actionable results.
 All theoretical frameworks for defining the relationship between social capital and trust are based on the theory of social change and social capital by Prof. P. Sztompka, see the example reading here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21515581.2018.1448279