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Joi Sears headshot

What Makes Brands 'Good'?

Words by Joi Sears

Since its inception in 2009, GoodCorps, the consultancy arm of Good Magazine, has partnered with brands, consumers and organizations to design innovative solutions that create real social impact.

Its mission is to create real action -- not just awareness -- by working with premier brands like Pepsi, Starbucks, Dick's Sporting Goods, Puma and the Girl Scouts to engage consumers and causes. Part management company and part design firm, GoodCorps is a true hybrid, creating iconic initiatives that are a win for both businesses and the world.

Strategy lead, Maria Redin, has overseen GoodCorps since coming over from design firm Ideo in 2012. “I’ve always been interested in innovation," she said of her passion for working at GoodCorps.

"How do you create a new product that solves a problem in a different way? I really love the overlap of thinking about how to solve a new problem in a way that is also good for humanity.”

The organization recently launched a research study that strives to define what “goodness” means in terms of companies, foundations and brands. The study grew out of the disconnect Redin experienced between the way that companies and consumers think about social issues.

“GoodCorps realized there is a disconnect between people’s willingness to pay more for products with a social purpose and the purchases they actually make,” Redin said. “Rather than ask people their opinion on pre-existing programs, our research openly explores what people think about the concept of goodness within brands and uncovers what people really care about.”

Five core insights were uncovered from the first phase of research:

1. Brands are judged as people

People evaluate brands the same way they evaluate people. The consumers who participated in the study used human traits and characteristics to describe brands as ‘good.' Values such as integrity, honesty and trustworthiness were considered important attributes of good brands.

2. Goodness is a loyalty driver

The study showed that the 'goodness' of a company comes second to other purchasing decisions, like quality, accessibility and most importantly price. There is a disconnect between what people say and what they actually do. People will say that they are willing to pay more for sustainable products, but at the end of the day, this doesn't translate to the marketplace.

While 'goodness' may not be the reason that consumers make an initial purchase, it can inspire them to purchase from that company again. Responses showed that companies with strong community relations and sustainability programs have very loyal customers.

3. Conscious consumers want more clarity on 'good' identifiers

When it comes to judging the sustainability of specific products, consumers could only comprehend certain categories, such as clothing and food, while categories like consumer technology and automotive felt overly complex. Respondents do not want to spend time researching, but instead, desire more transparency and curation for products from 'good' companies, regardless of category.

People also need better language around goodness. “We work in the space where the idea of ‘goodness’ in companies is something that we are asked to highlight. We started to think about what the actual definition of that word was," Redin explained. "How do you know if a company is ‘good?’ From the company’s side, the words that usually come out are 'sustainability,' 'corporate social responsibility,' 'citizenship' — words that often have little meaning to consumers.”

4. Passionate leaders are memorable

Survey respondents appreciated companies with leadership who speak proactively out about key issues. The CEOs of Salesforce and Patagonia were mentioned as social entrepreneurs who show a fierce passion for their product and are values-driven.

We are moving into an age when winning brands will take a stand and start contentious, painful and necessary conversations. These daring brands will make real, tangible brand sacrifices for people, society and the planet.

5. People care about people

People are the new green. How companies treat people is very important. When speaking about how they evaluate brands, survey respondents pointed to the treatment of a company’s employees as key before mentioning its philanthropy or sustainability efforts. What is that company doing for its employees? How are they bettering the community, and are they being ethical about how they treat their suppliers?

With the insights gleaned from phase one of GoodCorps' research, the consultancy plans to move into phase two this summer, which will include a broader audience survey. Finally, phase three will entail a large-scale, quantitative survey. The second stage of the study will involve surveying people who self-identify as having these values. The third phase of the project will include a much larger-scale survey with the general public — with people who never think about buying a 'good' brand.

All research will be made available to the public. “The more we can share our research, and the more companies create social impact that’s sustainable for them as companies, the better off we are,” Redin said.

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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