Businesses and charities are in a mess. Power, attention and attitudes have shifted and brands are struggling to keep up. More fundamentally, they’re not sure what their relevance in the world is now – and that deep uncertainty is showing in brand, marketing and fundraising propositions and campaigns everywhere.
Why? Well, one answer is that traditional brand thinking has always been about adopting a leadership position. Models like ‘brand archetypes’ (invented out of thin air by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung 100 years ago) offer brands the chance to be the expert, the sage, the magician, the caregiver. To the hero of the story.
And unfortunately, that’s as true for charities – who often assume they’re allies just by virtue of having ‘beneficiaries’ – as it is for corporates.
But heroes don’t behave like that these days. The heroes we believe in are as likely to stand up for others as take a leadership position for themselves. Heroes like Tarana Burke, Terry Crews and even Andy Murray, whose repeated refusal to let female tennis champions be ignored has endeared him to everyone.
These people are very different. But they have one thing in common. They’re allies. And the truth is, people feeling the pressure of economic, societal and environmental change need allies more than they need brands right now.
So how can brands learn from allyship not leadership? How can they take a powerful, authentic, supporting role that will help them be different, noticed, loved, valued – believed in?
Brands like Nike, whose Nothing Beats a Londoner campaign put young Londoners and their struggles front and centre. WaterAid, whose recent #Untapped appeal beat all records by making space for the people of Tombohuaun, Sierra Leone, to play the leading role in their own story. Or ESCADA, who we’re working with to support women of all ages struggling to achieve success on their own terms.
Being an ally is powerful. But it’s hard too. It’s a hard sell to leadership teams who, not surprisingly, identify power with being in charge. It’s hard to identify your own privilege and take responsibility for the social and environmental problems your brand has a role in. And it’s hard to make space for others – to give up your voice, your influence, your position of power (and your media budget) to allow others to be heard.
But these are the shifts, as we move from a world of ‘old power’ to ‘new power’ that brands are having to embrace.
‘Purpose’ has become such an all-encompassing term these days that it’s hard to know what it is, what it isn’t, how to get it right or where to start.
Allyship can help. It isn’t the answer to everything (let’s be honest, nothing is). But it’s a model that brands should learn from, explore or at least watch carefully as the world continues to change around them.
Watch this space. Or at least, think about who should be in it.