Mildred Thabane: Brands that serve will ultimately take the lead

Communications professional at The Comms Avenue

Mildred Thabane is the Chief Executive at Pekuzi Projects in South Africa.


Ever heard of servant leadership?

It is an idea that has been around for a few years and the idea is that the typical hierarchy where employees serve their bosses is reversed. Instead, leaders serve their people.

Right now, while we are experiencing one of the most severe economic and humanitarian crises in a long time, consumers are looking for leaders and brands to take a stand and help rectify the social ills that have been laid bare by COVID 19.

The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer found that 74% of respondents want CEOs to take the lead on change, rather than wait for governments to impose it, while 64% of respondents believe brands can be a powerful force for change, expect brands to represent them and solve societal problems.

Here is how your brand can step up to create solutions that serve in an authentic way and garner the right response from your stakeholders:


Your purpose is not just your North Star

Purpose can no longer just be marketing speak – it must be intrinsically linked to bettering the communities it operates in.

As a Harvard Business School article explains, Japanese businesses have a unique capability for long-term survival due to their strategy of investing in community over profits during turbulent times. After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, businesses prioritised responding to the needs of employees and the community first, all with the moral purpose of serving the common good – less important was pursuing layoffs and other cost-cutting measures in the face of a crippled economy.

It is also interesting to note that Japan stands out for corporate longevity – 40% of companies that have remained in existence more than 300 years are located in the country. A reward for thinking beyond profits.


Listen in order to produce the right responses

Active listening right now is so important – this is how brands can evolve to meet the changing needs of consumers.

We have seen how brands can so easily get it wrong. Look at how Nikon created a campaign that highlighted how far removed it was from the public discourse of the day.

On a positive, Airbnb managed to pivot their entire product line just by listening. Brain Chesky, CEO of Airbnb said while speaking to Simon Sinek, “It was important to listen and be curious – it is not about having ideas but being a receiver of ideas.”

The company now successfully offers online experiences as they’ve been forced to move from offering connections in the real world.

Consumers want brands to show up in moments that matter.

According to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer, belief-driven buyers can either choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues.


Have human-to-human conversations with consumers

The Braze Brand Humanity Index adds that effective brands are the ones that feel human to their customers – by conversing with consumers in a way that stimulates emotions.

Dove has been doing this exceptionally well – by addressing societal issues of what defines beauty, they have not only created conversations around sexism but have empowered women to start defining beauty according to their own terms.

And it is not just about talking.

New Zealand’s parliament recently unanimously passed an Equal Pay Amendment Bill that ensures workers are not paid less because of their gender. This move has ensured that New Zealand’s brand is seeing as competitive for progressive people looking to live and work in an equitable country.

These seismic culture shifts should be seen as an opportunity by leaders and brands to recalibrate and reframe consumer thinking in a way that can change behaviour for the better.

We all want to live in a better world – it’s time we rolled up our sleeves and created it.


Meet the Writer

Mildred Thabane is a seasoned communications professional with over ten years experience under her belt. She has worked for some of the world’s most exciting and innovative brands. She loves reputation management and is currently offering digital communications services across Africa.

Connect with Mildred on LinkedIn.


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The Comms Avenue

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