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Joi Sears headshot

#NowTrending: Enlightened Brands

Words by Joi Sears

Ever since Oreo won the Internet with its infamous ‘Dunk in the Dark’ tweet, marketing gurus, brand strategists and social media experts everywhere have been on a mission to craft the most ‘human brands.' These are brands that use empathy, accessibility and a dose of humor in an effort to better connect with consumers.

However, somewhere along the line this trend took a turn for the worse, leaving us with sex toy manufacturers tweeting about 9/11 and “brands saying bae." It is no longer enough for our brands to simply be human; today’s consumers are looking for brands to be enlightened.

According to TrendWatching, enlightened brands are brands that have evolved to a higher state of consciousness. They take real, meaningful, sometimes even painful, action to make their lives – and the world we share – better. These brands are restless. They are constantly in search of new ways to make the world a better place. They hold themselves to higher standards of fairness and responsibility.

Enlightened brands are empathetic. They understand their customers’ pain points and work to make their lives better, easier, and more enjoyable. Enlightened Brands are also demanding. They push consumers to be the best that they can be. Here's a summary:

Restless brands

In a global survey, 63 percent of consumers said that they only buy products and services which appeal to their beliefs, values or ideals. It is becoming increasingly important for brands to not only be eco-conscious and socially aware, but for them to actually take action toward these beliefs. Enlightened brands take steps toward a better world by developing products, services and systems for the greater good.

One powerful way big brands are moving closer to enlightenment is to let change start from the inside. They are creating new, fairer, more equal ways of approaching internal corporate culture. In March 2015, Vodafone announced that it would implement a worldwide minimum level of maternity pay. All women would be entitled to 16 weeks of maternity leave on full pay, plus full pay for a 30-hour week for the first six months after they return to work. The company, which has over 100,000 employees in 30 countries, will support those who do not have a legal provision for maternity pay.

Enlightened brands use new, innovative processes to reduce waste and benefit the environment. Cambodian fashion brand Tonlé manufactures its garments from scrap materials and then collects its own scraps to create new, usable fabric with zero waste.

Enlightened brands also empower their consumers to do good. Gramming for Good and Gramforacause are two platforms that connect socially-conscious Instagrammers with nonprofits. They use photography to spread the word about the work of the nonprofit, while offering photographers the opportunity to earn cash for their effort.

Empathetic brands

Enlightened brands are empathetic. They are human-centered. They understand their customers, how they live and what they can do to make their lives better. In order to make things more convenient for their patrons, the Grand Hyatt hotel in Melbourne, Australia, recently launched a Leave it at Hyatt program which gives travelers the option to leave items at the hotel between stays.

During the SXSW Festival in March 2015, U.S.-based battery manufacturer Mophie teamed up with the St. Bernard Rescue Foundation to offer a mophieRescue service. Attendees were invited to send a tweet to the brand along with a screenshot of their dying battery and current location with the #mophieRescue hashtag. The rescue dogs arrived shortly with a charger.

Finding new ways for customers to make constructive use of infrastructure is good for society and the planet. Idea Bank is a cafe and co-working space for entrepreneurs. The bank offers free beverages, offices, Wi-Fi and printers to entrepreneurs and small companies.

Demanding brands

Enlightened brands push consumers to do better and be better. In an effort to push customers to do more physical activity, the Mexican government installed 30 motion-sensitive machines at subway stations across Mexico City. The machine issues a token that can be redeemed for a subway ticket to any commuter who completes 10 squats. This project was introduced in response to the 2013 United Nations report stating that 32.8 percent of the Mexican population is obese.

Enlightened brands encourage consumers to be more responsible. In May 2015, U.K. television station E4 shut down on the day of the general election to push young people to go out and vote. The station, which reaches 8.7 million people between the ages of 16 and 34 every month, acted in response to the fact that less than half of the country’s youth voted in the 2010 British general election.

Being demanding also means finding innovative ways to improve customer behavior. Australia’s Art Series Hotel Group recently launched a promotion that offers guests the chance to earn discounts and upgrades in return for their behavior in the hotel being reviewed. Any guests who have a rating of four stars or higher are rewarded with complimentary food, beverages, stays or upgrades.

The future of enlightenment

The truth is, there are plenty of big brands that are still resolutely unenlightened. As of May 2015, the shareholders of eBay voted overwhelmingly against releasing information about the gender pay gap in the company while companies such as Twitter and Facebook were sued for sex discrimination.

Then, there are companies like Starbucks, which launched a Race Together campaign to open up a discussion about race relations in the U.S. and was accused of being opportunistic. Innovating around the right trends can see any brand get closer to enlightenment but consumers can often sniff out any attempts that don’t appear to be genuine.

Even In 2015, few brands are anywhere near true enlightenment. Most are deeply mired in eco, social and service sin. But any business can learn from the major brands that are taking their first steps and the startups introducing the kind of enlightened innovations that can change the world for the better.

Image credits: Gramming for Good, Flickr/MarkScottAustinTX, Art Series Hotel Group, Flickr/Rekre89, Flickr/Brian James Henry

Joi Sears headshotJoi Sears

Joi M. Sears is the Founder and Creative Director of Free People International, a social enterprise which specializes in offering creative solutions to the world's biggest social, environmental and economic challenges through the arts, design thinking and social innovation.

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