“How to Become a Brand Activist”

Our economic system of Capitalism is both praiseworthy and blameworthy at the same time. We need to acknowledge that worldwide Capitalism has lifted many out of extreme poverty. But almost half the world — over three billion people — still live on less than $2.50 a day. While we have seen substantial worldwide growth in basic education and literacy and health systems, there is much to be done. Capitalism is also blameworthy. There is no justification for 62 persons in the world owning as much wealth as half of the rest of the world. Our companies have historically practiced “pirate” or Predatory Capitalism which aims at making the rich richer.

Peter Drucker, in his early writings, saw companies not as our oppressors but more as our possible saviors. He developed the idea of management as a science. Companies would be run by enlightened managers who pursued profitability and sustainability and rewarded all the stakeholders. Drucker saw business management and unions working together as our bulwark against instability – both fascism and communism. He saw companies not as our threat but as our salvation.

This can’t happen unless more of our companies go through a transformation.

CEOs must become servant-leaders, not emperors. Workers need to be represented on the company’s Board of Directors, as in Germany. Companies must formulate a set of principles and values to guide their behavior.  Much of the answer now lies in whether more of our companies can adopt a new set of values that go beyond just making profits for their stockholders and managers.

The evolution of brand activism in business is an opportunity for differentiation and purpose-driven engagement. This sentiment is explained in “Why Making Money is Not Enough” (Sloan Management Review)

The problem with industrial capitalism today is not the profit motive; the problem is how the profit motive is usually framed. There is a persistent myth in the contemporary business world that the ultimate purpose of a business is to maximize profit for the company’s investors. However, the maximization of profit is not a purpose; instead, it is an outcome. We argue that the best way to maximize profits over the long term is to not make them the primary goal.

Will companies embrace brand activism?

Elsie Maio, a leading Business Values guru, helps companies undertaking a process of soul branding or spiritual awakening. We see this happening in a handful of companies around the world.

A company that wants to be a brand activist must ask:

  • What kinds and how many consumers are likely to care about our company’s level and type of activism?
  • Will consumers believe that our company authentically and passionately believes in the cause(s) we support?
  • Will the cost of implementation require us to raise our prices? Will our consumers be willing to pay a little more?
  • Does the governance structure and executive leadership understand how and why brand activism makes a difference?
  • How does our activism make us a workplace of meaning to engage and inspire our employees?

Will you join the movement?

Also needed is a way to recognize and award those companies that practice sustainable, stakeholder-oriented business management. Perhaps we need to set up a Brand Activist Award for Business and each year cite and award certain companies as being leaders in brand activism. Our hope is that more buyers will make their purchases from activist brands, in recognition of their enlightened business practices.

READ: Brand Activism: From Purpose to Action by Christian Sarkar and Philip Kotler 

Christian Sarkar is the editor of this site, an entrepreneur, consultant, artist, and activist. See the $300 House project and FixCapitalism.com.

Philip Kotler is the “father of modern marketing.”  He is the S.C. Johnson & Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He was voted the first Leader in Marketing Thought by the American Marketing Association and named The Founder of Modern Marketing Management in the Handbook of Management Thinking. Professor Kotler holds major awards including the American Marketing Association’s (AMA) Distinguished Marketing Educator Award and Distinguished Educator Award from The Academy of Marketing Science. The Sales and Marketing Executives International (SMEI) named him Marketer of the Year and the American Marketing Association described him as “the most influential marketer of all time.” He is in the Thinkers50 Hall of Fame, and is featured as a “guru” in the Economist. Sign up for his newsletter>>