Perhaps the most powerful lesson other brands can learn from Nike is the need to act in accordance with the reality of the world we live in. In a mutually dependant, intimately connected global community facing several major crises, brands need to operate with an expanded definition of self-interest that includes the greater good.
There's an adage that is an apt description of the new dynamic at work between brands and consumers connected through social media: People support what they help to build. But now that many brands are launching community-driven cause marketing campaigns, the challenge becomes what to do next?
There is an overwhelming amount of information available to us all on the web each day, not to mention what is shared with us by our family, friends, fans, and followers. This necessitates the need to filter through all that information and to decide for ourselves where to put our attention.
Corporations, consumers, and citizens must begin acting in concert to create a powerful third pillar of social transformation if we hope to meet the social challenges we currently face with equal force. This begins with corporations that choose to alter how they practice capitalism in two ways to serve the greater good.
Radical transparency has an enormous impact on our personal lives. We can no longer share thoughts, quips, photos or personal opinions anywhere on the web without being mindful that they may turn up where we least expect it (notably job interviews, divorce proceedings or public media).
With the never-ending stream of new social technologies, apps and platforms rolling out every day, its easy to get lost in the minutiae of social media. Yet for there to be effective change, especially within large, top-down, hierarchical institutions, a company must have an over-arching understanding of the new role it has to play.
The most potentially transformative impact of social media is its ability to encourage brands to marry profit and purpose. The reason brands participate is that such outreach earns those companies social currency enabling them to start or participate in conversations that connect them to consumers in meaningful ways.
More brands are waking up to their social responsibility and doing good work through cause marketing campaigns. Yet too many still go about it the wrong way. I mean 'wrong' in two senses. Firstly, they are marketing ineffectively, and secondly, as a consequence their positive social impact is not maximized.
For decades, media companies have largely controlled the tools through which consumers were told what to buy, wear or think. Now consumers possess the same ability to produce, distribute and curate content and distribute it to their peers in real time across social media platforms.
Today's consumers are eager to become loyal fans of companies that respect purposeful capitalism. They are not opposed to companies making a profit; indeed, they may even be investors in these companies - but at the core, they want more empathic, enlightened corporations that seek a balance between profit and purpose.
If a brand genuinely wants to make a social contribution, it should start with who they are, not what they do. For only when a brand has defined itself and its core values can it identify causes or social responsibility initiatives that are in alignment with its authentic brand story.
Companies and their brands need to reach out and speak directly to consumers, to honor their values, and to form meaningful relationships with them. They must become architects of community, consistently demonstrating the values that their customer community expects in exchange for their loyalty and purchases.