How to make a brand stand out from the crowd? Make people’s lives--and the world--better and more meaningful.



The Brands That Survive Will Be The Brands That Make Life Better

A new study of consumer engagement finds that companies that aren’t making a difference—to the world and to consumers—aren’t going to be around much longer. Instead of just making your product incrementally better than the competitor, you need to create impact.

We interact with brands almost every moment of our day. From the moment we wake up, we’re being bombarded with logos, advertisements, and products, all designed to make our lives easier but also to make us feel a connection to companies. But most of that work is totally meaningless: most people don’t care about brands, and think that only a few positively impact their lives. More importantly, brands that are perceived as irresponsible or just creating products with no meaning are in danger of being severely punished by consumers.

The state of brands and how they affect well-being was measured by media consultancy Havas Media. Umair Haque, the director of the Havas Media Labs and Harvard Business Review blogger who writes frequently on how business can create real value, says that the study is about discovering how people are interacting with businesses in a world where many people feel that institutions are crumbling: "In an age where institutions are failing and contracts are broken, and people are clamoring for more—pounding their fists for better—we’re asking: What is the role for a brand? And how is the relationship between people and boardrooms changing? People are beginning to say: 'What you’ve been able to give us in the past isn’t good enough.'"

The most tangible outcome of this is that the Meaningful Brands survey—which spoke to 50,000 consumers in France, Spain, the U.K., Germany, Italy, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, China, Japan, India, and the U.S.—found that only 20% of the brands they interact with have a positive impact on their lives. And they feel that 70% of brands could disappear entirely without them noticing.

What’s the trick to making a brand meaningful? Focus on outcomes, not outputs. The criteria, says Haque, are simple: "Did this brand make you fitter, wiser, smarter, closer? Did it improve your personal outcomes? Did it improve your community outcomes? Did it pollute the environment? We’re trying to get beyond "did this company make a slightly better product" to the more resonant, meaningful question: Did this brand actually impact your life in a tangible, lasting, and positive way?"

Haque cites Nike+ as a prime example. "Instead of putting up another campaign of billboards with celebrities saying 'Buy our shoes, they’ll turn you into a master runner,' Nike+ actually helps makes you a better runner. That’s a constructive way to build a meaningful brand."

But the 10 most positive brands aren’t necessarily the do-gooding corporate entities you might expect: The top 10 are:

  1. Ikea
  2. Google
  3. Nestlé
  4. Danone
  5. Leroy Merlin
  6. Samsung
  7. Microsoft
  8. Sony
  9. Unilever
  10. Bimbo

There aren’t a lot of companies on that list that you might associate with anything but outputs, and certainly none that would be on any list of major companies giving back (though company founders like Bill Gates have, of course, become hugely important in terms of personal philanthropy). But that’s starting to shift. More than half (51%) of consumers want to reward responsible companies by shopping there; 53% would pay a 10% premium for products from a responsible company. And they want companies involved: 85% of consumers want companies to be engaged on global issues, but only 22% think they’re getting enough. Haque says that if companies don’t start responding to these trends, they’ll be punished:

"If you have a company where a small but significant number of people are saying this is beginning to negatively impact us—I think for companies that face that challenge, unless they take the idea of difference seriously, those numbers are going to grow. We don’t see intensely negative feelings [for companies] at the moment, but my guess is that for companies that don’t get their acts together over the next decade, we will see those numbers begin to shift."

Want to make sure your company doesn’t fall into that category? It may sound simple, but it’s difficult to execute: "Impact people’s lives. Focus on well-being from your product. That’s tough. You have to have that right from the get-go."

Add New Comment


  • Guest

    This article hits on a lot of great points. The great companies of tomorrow will no longer be solely defined by great products and profits; that's just not good enough anymore. 

    We, as consumers want more and we have the power to change things and expect more. 

    Check out our blog at buypositively.com 

  • Brice Auckenthaler

    I totally agree with Havas labs analysis but would add something which deals with supporting evidences.
    My consulting company Tilt ideas [specialized in branding, innovation and trends, both in BtoB or BtoC markets] strongly believes that a company corporate statement [ie. the meaningful vision of what the future could become and what the company's consumer promise should be] must definitely be demonstrated thru 360° solid rational and emotionnal supporting evidences. Starting with internal initiatives [if all people inside the company are not proud to belong, how could you hope that one day the outside world could even believe you and perceive your difference ?]. Then demonstrating that promise to customers outside, thru specific breakthrough or small and easy to implement initiatives. On and on, day after day, in order to ''silently transform'' a market... or the world.
    Never forget -if i may- that a company is a body with 2 legs : the mission statement being the supporting leg, on which new and astonishing initiatives are built, consistenly... whatever happens.  
    To quote Steve Jobs : ''Stay hungry, stay foolish...''. I would add ''Stay consistent and meaningful''. Make your customer a simpler and better world. 

  • Janelle Klander

    I'm not sure how they rated these top 10 companies, but some of them I know negatively effect society.

  • Roger Darnell

    I respectfully disagree with missdelite on this point in particular:  "The ADD / video game generations don't care about social causes - they want slick, fun and exciting in that order."  My children are 8 and 10, and they are already very socially conscious and supportive of causes they believe in.  They are not as self-serving as you suggest, they know what's important and authentic and the act accordingly a lot more often than we might expect them to.  Today, I am very encouraged by what I am learning from Americans of every generation who share my values, views, concerns, hopes and dreams.

  • missdelite

    I couldn't disagree with this assessment more. What was the age bracket of the surveyed consumers? And honestly, who doesn't say the 'right thing' when asked questions about - well - doing the right thing?

    Take a look at ads and TV programs geared towards children: sensory overstimulation at its finest. Toss in a Justin Bieber endorsement and you've got marketing gold. The ADD / video game generations don't care about social causes - they want slick, fun and exciting in that order.  As adults, their eyes and hands will gravitate towards the brightest, most highly-designed and expensive-looking packaging on the shelf. Social causes will be as throwaway as the products they're attached to. Unless, of course, the Matt Damon of their day throws his weight behind Water.org (for example) and hosts a Super Concert with their favorite bands. Maybe THEN some kid in Africa will get a new pump for Christmas. 

    The days of Boomer hippie feel-good causes are coming to a swift end. With 11+ million people dying of starvation in Africa while H&M strategizes another profit-busting designer allegiance, could there ever be any doubt about this? The vast majority of consumers really DON'T care about anything other than satisfying themselves. Speak to this impulse and you've got yourself a 'winner', such as it is.


  • Ganforhire Brand Solutions

    Don't create more work for your customers. They're paying you to make a pain point go away. Great article, Morgan! 

  • Luke Kachersky

    Interesting concept and, coincidentally, similar to something we've been working at Fordham University's Center for Positive Marketing. Our index, V-Positive, measures the impact of marketing as a whole and of specific brands on consumer well-being. In our first quarterly study of U.S. consumers, the results of which were just unveiled at our inaugural conference on November 4 in NYC, we came up with a very different list of brands. For example, Wal-Mart was #1, while Facebook beat Google for the #2 spot. Our measure also pinpoints specific need areas in people's lives, and assesses marketer performance in each area; the data is highly prescriptive. If you're interested in checking it out, we just posted our free report here: http://www.centerforpositivema...

  • Reputationista

    For years for a former employer  I measured and reported on the importance to stakeholders of the idea of "making life easier." We tracked that as a major driver of our reputation and then helped the company think about what that meant in product development and corporate messaging. Alas, what they thought it meant is encouraging consumption, not identifying the intersection between where what is good for business is also good for society. That's the spot on which businesses should be focused, IMHO.

  • Kaleb

    Agreed. Seems 80's corporate greed may have finally been overtaken by paying more attention to a 'higher purpose'.

    No doubt most organisations at the core of their offer talk about how their product or service can benefit society but it's been social media that has made corporates much more accountable.

    Sure 85% of consumers want companies to be engaged on global issues, however it's the FACT that 53% would pay a 10% premium for products from a responsible company that is making companies sit up and notice. Money still talks people.

  • tberno

    The distinction between "differentiation" and "difference" is critical when it comes to understanding how design makes real impact. The ability of designers to visualize what these differences might be, and how they might affect people's lives, is a critical core skill that they bring to the table. By integrating design earlier into the process--say from problem solving to problem definition, companies and organizations can identify these opportunities for them, their products, and their services to make meaningful differences or impacts on customers' lives.

  • ericbrody

    Great article. All about "marketing that matters." Marketing that in and of itself adds value to people's lives. Helping them achieve what they can't on their own. Helping them, as per above, become fitter, wiser, smarter, closer…