Reevaluating the Way Forward
regenerative brands part3: additive
Contributor Kitty Vo
The Price of Extraction
In the previous chapter, we mentioned the downsides of seeing people we serve as ‘the Other’. This thinking also applies to nature. The Industrial Revolution was built on the assumption that the natural world is distinct from us and ‘out there’, a never-ending, abundant supply of materials ready to be extracted and made into products to feed the machine of economic growth. Our world is on fire because of businesses that ignore their fundamental connections with the environment and see themselves as independent of living ecosystems.
Additive brands give more than they take because they see themselves as part of a living ecosystem. They reject the dualism of extractive thinking and have a holistic worldview that understands the interdependence of people and planet. Additive brands generate more value, positive impact and enduring progress with and for all their stakeholders, human and non-human, today and tomorrow.
Businesses that ignore what’s meaningful to customers, community and nature in order to serve their own interests are shooting themselves in the foot. These brands don’t create value, become known for their negative impact and make little progress in innovation.
Additive brands lead the change to stakeholder capitalism by uniting what’s meaningful for consumers with what’s material to the business. Their products and programs unleash shared value for the long-term, growing the economic pie for all in a healthy, restorative manner. Instead of an ‘us vs them’ mentality, these brands create fertile conditions for creativity, collaboration leading to positive progress across communities and cultures.
Extract → Enrich
Additive brands advocate a shift from extracting value by exploiting people and natural resources to creating value by enriching the lives and livelihoods of employees, communities, customers, partners, shareholders and the environment.
For example, a clothing retailer that differentiates itself through sustainability may review their supply chain to identify areas they can enrich, rather than extract from the environment. Even though it’s more costly in the short term, they are dissatisfied with simply switching to organic cotton.
They decide to channel some of the profits from their sales towards resources for small-holder farmers in the area to transform their land management processes and practice crop rotation and pesticide-free agriculture. They incentivise this by paying for the children of these farmers to go to school.
Hoarding Power → Sharing Power
Additive brands understand that leadership isn’t about holding power, but sharing, uplifting and giving more power and agency to others so we can all succeed together. With the decentralisation of vast swathes of society, traditional forms of power will be seen as less in the public interest and more about corporate insecurity protecting the ‘status quo’.
For example a large beauty retailer positions itself based on inclusion and diversity. It decides to initiate a customer-driven merchandising program that empowers staff to ask customers to request products they’d like to see in their local store. The retailer sets a policy of helping customers place orders, bypassing MOQs required by the supplier, because it makes this in-demand product accessible to their local community.
Individualism → Interconnection
Additive brands go beyond individualism to interconnection. They recognize that success depends on a broader ecosystem of life and act accordingly by prioritising higher-level needs and long-term brand equity over short-term profits.
For example, a B2B wholesaler / distributor may design KPIs for their sales managers based on account-level customer satisfaction, not short-term revenue. This results in positive sales behaviour that shifts focus on customer needs.
The more ambitious sales managers get together and propose to develop products for key accounts because they notice recurring patterns of need in their category. This is of great cost to the business, but it is given the green light because the leadership team recognise the great value to the category and wider community.
Why being ‘Additive’ is Good for Business
An Additive mindset sparks innovation. It’s a “yes and…” approach that demands brands go a step further than the status quo. People can feel when companies see them as ‘resources’ to be harvested or ‘value to be extracted’. A brand that is farsighted enough to look after its stakeholders attracts loyal, repeat customers and easily differentiates itself from the competition.
Truly Additive brands don’t give more than they take in order to earn brownie points. They’re powered by an attitude of responsibility and belief that the purpose of profit is to benefit people and the planet (not the other way around). That is stakeholder capitalism.
Draw out a ‘stakeholder map’ that includes employees, communities, customers, partners, shareholders and the environment.
What matters most to them?
What are some dichotomies that have never been (but should be) questioned in your category?
- How can the above give product managers new insights to improve your products and services?