Just a handful of unrelated business stories? In fact, these three apparently unconnected stories are all examples of a single, massive shift in business and consumerism. One that’s gathering speed by the day.
It’s shift in the very nature of what it means to be a brand. It presents a deep challenge, but also a massive opportunity. And one that no marketer, strategist, founder or CEO can afford to ignore.
The most effective way to think about? Let’s talk about glass boxes.
Back in the day a business was a black box. For outsiders, it was pretty hard to see what was going on inside. The brand that was visible to the outside world was whatever you painted on the outside of the box. People came and looked at it. They either liked it or they didn’t.
In 2017, a business is a glass box. Outsiders can easily see inside. They can see the people and the processes. They can see the values. They can even see what the people inside the box feel about what they’re doing.
You already intuitively know the reason for that profound change. It’s thanks to the radical transparency made possible by a connected world.
But why is that such a powerful shift in what it means to be a brand?
Take a moment to think about what a brand is. It’s the emotional and associational touchpoints that consumers have with your business. It’s what they see of you, and what that makes them feel about you.
Back when a business was a black box, the brand was limited to what was painted on the outside. The leaders of the business had a high degree of control over that. But now that a business is a glass box, the brand is everything that’s visible. Every person. Every process. Every value. Everything that happens, ever.
Pretty scary, right? So buckle up, grab your CMO and your Head of HR, and keep reading…
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You can sum up in a single word what people see when they look deep inside your organization. They see your culture.
Once, your internal corporate culture was just that: internal. But now that a business is a glass box, there’s no such thing as an ‘internal’ culture.
Whatever happens inside your business, the world can see that. Okay, not with perfect 20/20 vision. Plenty of mundane stuff happens every day that no one gets to know about. But if it’s of any interest to anyone outside the box – from the your Christmas Party to the eco- footprint of your largest factory – it will be seen. Maybe not right away, but eventually. And once people see it, they will feel something about it.
All of this is leading up to an unavoidable conclusion: because your internal culture is now customer- facing, it’s an important part of your brand.
The opportunity here? In 2017, your internal culture could become the most powerful brand and marketing asset you have.
Think about the power of stories such as those told by Starbucks: how they have a program to help staff in London raise a deposit on a home, or how they opened a store in Kuala Lumpur dedicated to hiring deaf people. Or that told by US-based yoghurt brand Chobani, which instituted paid parental leave for all staff after the birth of CEO Hamdi Ulukaya’s first child.
The danger? Internal culture could also become your most powerful brand liability.
But what should you DO about all this? To answer that question, it pays to take a fast deep-dive into transparency and other underlying forces that are making this change more urgent than ever.
The overarching driver here? It’s connectivity that has fueled the radical transparency that’s given rise to glass box brands.
We don’t need to spend long on a transformative force that you already know plenty about. But when it comes to the impact of connectivity on the emergence of glass box brands, three implications can be broken out.
Employees now expect to document and share their lives online. That includes their working lives! The culture of sexism at Uber was split open when an employee blog post went viral.
Ever-more of day-to-day life is being captured in real-time video or livestreamed. Increasingly, consumers don’t just expect to know what’s happening, they expect to see it! One glimpse? This smartphone video from July of unsupervised luggage crashing off a United Airlines conveyor belt ;)
Consumers now expect as standard to know – or be able to find out – pretty much everything about the brands they engage with. In a survey of over 10,000 consumers from around the world, 78% of consumers said it is ‘somewhat or very important for a company to be transparent.’ And 70% said that ‘these days I make it a point to know more about the companies I buy from’ (Havas, February 2016).
A MORE MEANINGFUL CONSUMERISM
It wouldn’t matter that consumers can look right inside your business if they didn’t care about what they saw. But in rising numbers, and with rising intensity, they do.
Millions around the world are searching for a more ethical, sustainable, meaningful consumerism. That’s a sweeping mega-trend that we’ve all been tracking for decades. So where is that mega-trend at now?
A connected world means it’s ever-harder to ignore the negative impacts that our consumption has on the planet, society and our own health. And now, expectations for a cleaner, healthier, just better consumerism are being heightened by a new wave of more ethical, sustainable startups. Think buy one give one shoe brand TOMS. Or even electric car makers Telsa.
Meanwhile, consumption choices are ever-more about creating a story of personal identity: I’m smart! I’m connected! I’m ethical! That means consumer need the brands they engage with to tell a positive, Instagram-ready story about their values. Want to glimpse this shift towards consumption as a story of personal identity? Just search #cleaneating on Instagram and spend some time with the 33 million posts (and rising!) that come back.
Put all that together and you get rising demand that when consumers look inside the glass box that is your brand, they like what they see. The processes you use, the people who use them, and the ethics and values that they reflect.
One snapshot of that? A full 70% of millennials are willing to spend more with brands that support causes they care about (Cone Communications, 2017).
GLOBALIZATION, INEQUALITY, AUTOMATION
In 2017 concerns over the values and ethics inside brands are acquiring a new dimension, and a new urgency.
Why? First, here’s global consulting firm McKinsey with a thunderbolt:
On a global scale, we calculate that the adaptation of currently demonstrated automation technologies could affect 50 percent of the world economy, or 1.2 billion employees and USD 14.6 trillion in wages. — McKinsey, May 2017
We’re used to the idea that consumers care about how brands treat vulnerable workers in emerging economies (think fair trade coffee). But recent headwinds — insecurity over a coming wave of job automation, rising inequality in many countries, and ruptures in the social fabric caused by globalization — are giving millions around the world new reasons to be concerned for the broader social good.
Those consumers are looking to brands to play their part when it comes minimizing negative impacts and building a better future. And they know that starts with an internal culture that prizes ethics and sustainability.
The black box/glass box model of brands is just that – a model. A new way of thinking about what brands are and about how consumers relate to them.
Like any model, glass box brands is not perfect. No brand is absolutely transparent. And of course the complex bunch of associations, feelings and expectations that make up a brand involves much more than only internal culture.
What does this mean in practice? If your service is the cheapest, fastest, most convenient, rarest, most fun or most effective in some other domain, then for now many consumers will continue to engage with you whatever your internal culture looks like.
But the forces driving the emergence of glass box brands are powerful, and they’re not going away. Once you accept that your internal culture is now public facing, then the question becomes simple. Are you SO good that when consumers see damaging or unpleasant aspects of your internal culture, they’ll stick with you?
Don’t want to take that risk? Then it’s time to respond. We’ve got you covered…
So radical transparency is turning your brand from a black box to a glass box. What should you do about it?
Let’s get two truths straight. First, your culture isn’t perfect; no culture is. Second, an organization’s culture is never static; it’s a changing and evolving thing.
Once you’ve absorbed those two truths, the only way to respond to the emergence of glass box brands should be clear. Make positive changes to your internal culture, and tell the world the story of that journey.
Why is that a powerful — and the only meaningful — move? Because consumers don’t expect you to be perfect: they understand no perfect culture exists. But they do expect to see you moving in the right direction.
That is an empowering truth for any business leader. Because wherever your internal culture is now, you can start taking steps to make it better, and start telling people about that.
That’s why in 2017 your internal culture — or more specifically the story of how you are evolving your internal culture — can be your most powerful external marketing asset. If you make positive cultural changes, and communicate that effectively, that story can become a massively powerful part of your brand. One that drives millions of consumers to feel great about your business and actively want to engage with you.
Of course, organizational change is hard. And telling compelling stories is hard, too. That’s why we’ve featured some must-see examples of brands and business already doing this.
Read on and get fired up!
Ikea - Furniture retailer doubles statutory parental leave
Yahoo - Company draws on strengths of neurodiverse employees
First Bank of Nigeria - Bank unveils employee promotions despite economic crisis
Truworth Wellness - Internal program rewards employees for healthy behavior
Time Hotels Management - ￼New hotel in Dubai will be led by and empower female staff
Carrefour - New uniform helps protect staff from colds and flu
Thrive Global - Simple tool deals with the problem of vacation email backlog
Quartet Communications Co. - ￼Agency rewards employees for working le
Renner - Brazil's largest fashion brand starts recycling and upcycling textiles
Public Goods - ￼Brand reimagines household essentials by cutting out middlem
IBM - Initiative pays IBM staff to donate time to key health challenges
HSBC Taiwan - CEO walks gay employee down the aisle
Facebook - Tech giant builds village in response to Silicon Valley housing crisis
Kochi Metro rail - Indian rail company hires from local transgender community
Lush - ￼UK cosmetics retailer protects employees after Brexit vote
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TIME TO START A MOVEMENT.
So you’re convinced we live in a world of GLASS BOX BRANDS. You’re inspired by the examples. You’re ready to apply this trend inside your organization!
We know what you’re thinking ;) What if you’re not in a place inside your organization where you can drive a meaningful change to the internal culture?
You can still take action on this trend. By starting a movement inside your brand! The aim here is to get buy-in from colleagues that will lead to action.
Start talking to those around you about the arrival of the glass box. Start a Slack channel. Share this Briefing. Make a tiny change in the way you work and share that story!
The dream scenario: bring your HR and marketing people together to analyze, debate and strategize over the idea that internal culture is becoming a key part of brand.
EVERY DEPARTMENT IS THE MARKETING DEPARTMENT.
Ready to get to start?
Note that there are two tasks here. First, make a meaningful and positive change to your internal culture – or identity one that you’re already making. Second, tell a compelling story about that change.
We all know that organizational change is hard. Don’t forget that telling compelling stories is hard, too. It will be brands that can push out stories of cultural change that people actively want to consume that will win.
Traditionally, that kind of public-facing communication would be . seen as the job of marketing. It’s time to forget that thinking. In a world of glass box brands, every team needs to be empowered to effectively tell the world their stories of positive change.
That means your marketing function needs to be diffused all the way through your organization. Every department is the marketing department.
INSIDE IS OUTSIDE.
At heart, this trend is about the dissolution of the barriers that traditionally separated the inside of your organization from the outside.
This radically transparent world can seem a scary one. But it’s also one full of opportunity.
Transparency is an amplifier. Not just of your mistakes or weaknesses. But of your epic wins, strengths and virtues, too.
Be catalyzed by the knowledge that the changes you make inside your organization can now impact on the wider world in all kinds of new ways. Embrace this opportunity. Run with it. Have fun with it!
And remember: the world is watching ;)