Reevaluating the Way Forward
REGENERATIVE BRANDS PART 1: The Purpose of Profit
Contributor Kitty Vo
Who Pays What Price?
“Just because people are willing to pay for something, doesn’t mean it’s good for them.”
People are paying for things all the time… just not always with money.
We see this every day: from empty-calorie junk food, to addictive games funded by hidden in-app purchases, to fast fashion destined for landfill, to luxury brands exploiting underpaid factory workers, squeezed for ‘productivity’. True costs are not always recognised until the damage has been exposed.
Brands created to simply serve ‘shareholder capitalism’ have been ignorant, insensitive and unresponsive to real human needs, wilfully depleting our planet in the process. The consumerism that brands advocate has led us to convincing ourselves that environmental devastation, cultural loss and displacement are ‘other people’s problems’. We’ve subscribed to this extractive mentality of the Industrial Revolution, but now that our world is on fire, it’s evidently very much our problem. One way or another, we as people are all paying the price.
‘Marketing 101’ teaches us various schemes to chase sales—short-termism permeates everything we do, from hitting quarterly targets, to throwing money at ads to disrupt people’s lives. But how do we factor in the true cost of our professional decisions? Just who and where are we stealing from, to push products and messaging people could do without?
Is Your Brand Worth It?
As a marketer or business owner, do you truly believe what you’re selling is worth it? Would you buy your products for yourself, family or friends?
What if your friends happened to be the workers exploited to manufacture those products; what if your family’s homes were bull-dozed to make way for these factories; would you still say that your brand is worth building?
It’s worth questioning whether a brand’s existence makes the world better off. Is it worth dedicating our limited time on this earth to ensuring its success? Does your brand extract more than it enriches?
There are promising signs of a collective mindset shift across the developed world. From teenage activists to seasoned venture capitalists, there’s a growing concern about where products come from, how they’re made, and the true cost of their business model. People are rejecting old-world “shareholder capitalism”, deeming it unfit for future generations. What then, is the next evolution of branding and marketing: how might we align profit with purpose?
What is even the purpose of profit?
We’re convinced that the only way to future-proof businesses is to shift gears from “all we can take” to “what we can give”. Businesses have done much damage, but it’s not beyond repair. Ultimately, all business growth and the purpose of pursuing profit should be to benefit both people and planet because there is no economy without a thriving ecology.
Creating the Right Desires
Culture dictates what people’s values and beliefs are, and in turn shapes what people find appealing. Through our professional roles, what we do inadvertently manipulates this shared culture. We, as brand owners and marketers, disproportionately influence what people consider worth buying.
Shareholder capitalism has wreaked havoc through extractive practices and philosophies not because of marketing itself, but because of how we’ve used this tool to create desire for too many of the wrong things.
Marketers have enormous responsibility. If a campaign is successful, the values communicated will spread like wildfire. That is successful branding, a powerful system that effectively spreads ideas. Given the urgent state of the planet, our job now is to build brands that embody the right values, to add more than we take, to create positive value.
Marketers have the power to influence, to inspire change. The fundamental question is, which change? For who?
A caveat: If your chief objective is increasing profits regardless of the impact on the people within and around your organisation, this is not for you. We’re speaking for SMEs who want to be truly future-proof; willing to shape culture responsibly to build a future that’s better for people and planet.
Repairing the Damage
The key to ‘repairing the damage’ lies in Regenerative thinking. Regenerative Agriculture embraces (rather than fights against) nature’s inherent diversity and complexity. This flexibility makes regenerative farms more resilient and thrive amidst constant change in the wider environment. The ultimate aim is to patiently restore depleted dust bowls to abundant topsoil-rich ecosystems that attract diverse species and support sustainable, healthy growth… just as nature intended.
What does ‘healthy growth’ look like in businesses? Businesses with a regenerative mindset are resilient and tend to thrive because they are more deeply rooted in their communities. They provide fertile conditions for creativity and innovation, they attract and retain ambitious, talented people seeking deeper work-life integration and meaning. Because these brands are sensitive and responsive to human needs, they are equipped to influence and shape the surrounding culture.
Healthy-growing businesses create jobs, serve diverse people with useful products and boldly lead the shift from shareholder capitalism to stakeholder capitalism. They build restorative brands that love people and are powered by a higher purpose. Like good farming, it requires courageous, farsighted leadership that’s comfortable with ambiguity, and results in a far richer, vibrant yield in the long-term.
Securing Emotional Investments
All this sounds great, but unfortunately it’s a constant challenge to overcome organisational inertia and resistance to change. Adopting regenerative practices requires opening up, being radically transparent and collaborative.
It’s an uncomfortable thought for businesses that traditionally operate in mystery for fear of leaking ‘trade secrets’ and losing an edge. However, in an age where anything can be copied, a consciously-cultivated network of loyal, emotionally-invested people is much harder for competitors to replicate.
Transparency and a collaborative spirit then is more an ally than a threat. How else will you attract loyal, repeat customers? How will your company be a magnet for ambitious, talented, purpose-driven staff?
Since the equity of a brand is how much extra people are willing to pay for it, above other substitutes. Regenerative brands are future-proof because people love and value them enough to vote for them not only with cash, but also with their hearts and minds.
Components of Regenerative Thinking
There are three main practices that Regenerative brands cultivate, they are:
The remaining parts of this series provides an overview of the above three regenerative practices, outlining what each is, and is not. We include specific examples of brand behaviour that is Aware, Additive and Alive.
Any transformation takes time. Like with farming, healthy growth doesn’t happen overnight. If you’re anticipating a lack of support in your organisation, we hear you.
However, there will never be a better time to start than now. MVP it, start with small initiatives (like eNewsletter A/B tests, micro ad campaigns or tweaks to social media posts). Garner some quick wins and use those to build up a business case for your management.
As a fellow marketer, you’re in a position to infuse these regenerative practices into your daily work. As a culture-shaper with such a huge responsibility, commit to spreading better values, inspiring desire for the right things and influencing the surrounding culture in ways that benefit people and planet.