Rethinking The Role Of Brands In A Global Crisis

It’s time to attack problems like the refugee crisis with the ambition and strategy of a Fortune 500 launch. Step up for global solutions. Your brand will thank you.

Rethinking The Role Of Brands In A Global Crisis

The urgent humanitarian situation in Europe has pushed the ongoing global refugee crisis to the forefront of U.S. consciousness in recent months.

And it’s not going away anytime soon, despite the slide of the crisis from the front page to the mid-fold. Currently 60 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes because of war, conflict, or persecution. We keep hearing about the “European refugee crisis,” but this crisis is global, and it demands a global response.

Addressing the global refugee crisis is a shared responsibility—and a strategic opportunity for the most forward thinkers in the U.S. private sector.

Alleviating the immediate impact of this crisis and the other pressing social issues of our time requires money, yes, but durable problem-solving hinges on U.S. companies’ integrated investment in solutions—that is, businesses using their knowledge, products, and market positioning to change the status quo of humanitarian work and develop synergistic solutions.

Take A New Approach To CSR

Here is what we know: The consumer segments that are the most desirable to brands care about refugees. At the top of that list are tens of millions of young people—Millennials and Gen Z—who care about doing business with companies that are doing something good for the world.

This socially conscious market is a lucrative one. The Millennial and Gen-Zers most likely to engage around the refugee crisis are those on track to become the largest cohort of economic actors in the global economy. This group is expected to represent 75% of the global workforce by 2020 and will control the lion’s share of global wealth and disposable income. Marketing to them means immersing your company and brand in the issues about which they are passionate.

The benefits to brands that get involved in the action are substantial. They will get the opportunity to collect and analyze data on their customers’ habits and behavioral levers that they couldn’t previously in traditional business dealings. Additionally, they will be able to connect the dots between issues of engagement, brand connection, and purchase behavior.

Until recently, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has taken the form of a one-size-fits-all blanket strategy that might ease some corporate consciences but rarely involves a lasting investment on the part of the company and nearly never goes the distance in terms of putting insights into the demographics, motivations, and actions of customers to work for the business. By engaging their products, brands, infrastructure, and communities in a symbiotic way around pressing social issues, companies have the opportunity to collect data about the customers that stand up and take action, which allows them to draw new parallels between their broader tastes, habits, and the issue at hand.

In September, President Obama addressed the UN General Assembly and challenged the private sector to respond to the refugee crisis. Swiftly answering this call, companies like Facebook and Kickstarter have made strides in recent weeks by bringing Internet access to refugee camps and mobilizing the community via its platform (raising $1.7 million in one week). See, Kickstarter didn’t just hand over a big check; it used its product and infrastructure in a way that delivered a better outcome for not only refugees, but its company and community.

Exchanging Data For Good

The opportunities for impact go beyond donation of product or infrastructure. Brands that are successful in marketing to their customers can and should also share data on consumer behaviors and teach NGOs how to better market to potential supporters. Such collaboration enables each partner to do its job better. As former U.S. Chief Technology Officer Beth Noveck articulated, this means allowing data to do “double duty as rich social assets—if shared wisely.”

The NGO sector is expert at raising awareness, but historically its efforts have not translated to meaningful, measurable actions. While many cause-related efforts generate donations, the potential benefits that could come from brands or companies—namely innovation, sophistication, infrastructure, and reach—are not being applied or even pursued. In collaboration there is far greater potential for brands and companies to apply their ingenuity and intelligence to addressing social issues and simultaneously for sophisticated non-profits to help brands understand how to remain relevant and vital parts of customers’ lives.

NGOs are starting to take cues from the private sector to rethink ways to solve the global humanitarian crisis. This means thinking like the most sophisticated brand marketers and leveraging some of the most advanced data available to understand how messages connect to people on their terms.

Combining data from the world’s largest brands with their own insights on who engages around a given issue and how, NGOs can identify more powerful channels and tools for telling their messages and identify those messages that will resonate most effectively on an individual level. NGOs can also use these insights to create new products, systems, and media platforms for engaging people on a crisis. Think using the Donors Choose model to bring solutions to market more quickly and tapping engaged audiences primed to read, share, and contribute.

This expanded data set can also help NGOs identifyentirely new markets of consumers and co-creators. In-depth attitudinal and psychographic modeling might allow brands to use predictive marketing to reach a consumer when he or she is most likely to take action on an issue or click “yes” on a survey—or might allow a brand to explore a new line of business to reach these primed and addressable audiences.

It’s time to attack problems like the refugee crisis with the ambition and strategy of a Fortune 500 launch. True innovators will heed this call. Step up for global solutions. Your brand will thank you.