Why we are reconsidering the existence of our clients and their brands
Ash Phillips and Miro Laflaga, founders of Montreal-based strategic design agency Six Cinquième, discuss the important role agencies play in helping companies think differently about their existence beyond profit.
Many companies exist or go into business for the wrong reasons: profit. Although profit is important for businesses to thrive, it can no longer be the main driving force of a company. Co-founders and execs that we’ve worked with often get so caught up with the numbers and the day to day that they forget their company’s existence actually impacts lives. This has always been the case, but is especially relevant today.
As we adapt to living in a ‘post’ pandemic world, consumers have become more and more conscious of how both their own and corporations' behaviours will affect our collective future. We are more aware than ever before of social, economic and environmental injustices in the world, and there seems to always be something new every week. These issues are becoming top of mind and are affecting consumer behaviours.
Old habits die hard, but if companies are going to survive this new reality, they are going to have to start thinking long term about the future, in the same way consumers are beginning to. This means questioning the status quo of business which prioritises profit over everything. We believe that creative agencies can and should influence this change in mindset by working with clients to think strategically about how branding affects companies inside and out.
From experience, most clients are focused on the short to medium term. This keeps them in a mindset driven by the need to grow for growth’s sake and generate more and more profit, no matter the cost or impact on people and the world. We get it. Businesses need profit to survive. However, it becomes an issue when this need distracts from providing actual value to consumers’ lives and pushes companies to compromise on their own integrity, morals and values for the sake of profit.
This is a reflection of an outdated culture of toxic productivity and overconsumption. Over time, this results in poor company culture, inauthentic communication, lower quality products or services, lack of purpose or direction, which in turn results in movements growing in popularity such as ‘quiet quitting’ and ‘the great resignation’. This impacts companies negatively, becoming a vicious cycle that affects brand equity, productivity, profit and that is very difficult, costly and time consuming to get out of.
So what role do agencies play in all of this? It’s our job to help companies avoid or get out of this vicious cycle by making purpose, not profit, part of their brand DNA and helping them live up to it through genuine, concrete action. To be genuine, we must start internally by building or reshaping brands around a purpose that will become the foundation of a strong, consistent company culture that can then be authentically and naturally expressed externally.
Companies need to act now rather than scrambling to reposition themselves only when unpredictable world events happen and become popular. Consumers see through it and can sense the lack of authenticity. As branding experts, we can help companies genuinely stand for something and start thinking about their long-term legacy. We can have a say in creating positive impact in the world and people’s lives by influencing those who have the power to create change.
For the longest time, despite our better judgement and intentions, we have become and still are financially dependent on companies offering convenience at the cost of the wellbeing of humans and the planet. But with Millennials, Gen Z and beyond becoming the main buying power, perception of companies and the responsibility they owe consumers outside of convenient products or services is changing. Younger generations care more than ever about the impact companies have in the world. It may not be the case now, but sooner than later purpose and impact will eventually become one of the most important factors in driving profit and a company’s longevity.