The best practices in businesses have changed as the world entered the second decade of the twenty-first century.
These practices are now defined by consumers rather than the companies that create products and services.
On the flip side, the oft-quoted saying that “companies are made up of people” rings true more than ever.
How can corporate entities shift and adapt to the new normal?
Is it possible for a company to become people-like?
How can the wants, needs, and desires of consumers be best interpreted in a world where a split-second decision can determine the bottom line?
We linked up with powerhouse couple Alberto Jaen and Nadja-Timea Scherrer of Social Impact Boutique firm plus305 who left Silicon Valley to branch out into the world of communicating corporate ideas and culture in the twenty-first century.
As things go topsy-turvy and today’s news becomes tomorrow’s trend, we were taken into a new world where values count more than profits.
It was worth the discourse and we understood the role of the individual in marketing communications and we hope you would get the drift as we did.
It is interesting stuff and worth the reading any day!
Alberto Jaen CEO And Executive Creative Director at plus305
How have values in business changed over the past decade?
We can say that values are reshaping the reality of companies, from the HR department to the way the final client buys their promise.
There’s an increase of the general consciousness that makes people dig into the companies more and more.
It’s not about working for a company or buying a product or service. It’s about what company I want to establish a relationship with.
Where deception stops, good businesses begin.
More than 80% of the people would change to a new brand that aligns with their values, which means that there’s no loyalty guarantee.
Employees and customers know that businesses, not governments, are in the best position to make a change in today’s world: in gun violence, in climate change, in income inequality, in refugees.
Companies must take a side. New generations are pushing this change, they are changing their priorities.
In the 20th century it was all about fame, wealth, position, and privilege.
Today, we see a massive change in young generations that prefer to be involved in inspiring missions and values.
Please can you tell us why you made a shift from technology with Apple to purpose-branding with plus305?
It was a natural change for me.
I didn’t know what I was looking for exactly but I knew that I didn’t want to continue to do the same.
When I met Nadja, one of our first conversations was about the value of meaningful communication, of treating people as intelligent human beings.
We both were missing a new way of doing things, focusing on the purpose behind a brand, fostering a new kind of conversation with the audience.
A conversation that talks about social issues, that is more open, that is based on empathy and not selfishness.
Then we realized that we can use our skills, resources, and talents to help brands become more meaningful.
Many companies are obsessed with showing what they do, like “look, it took me a lot to do this, I deserve your attention”.
And we break that pattern, asking ourselves other questions related to values: why do you exist and why should people have a conversation with you?
If your company stops existing tomorrow, would it be missed?
These are the kind of “uncomfortable” conversations that we need to have in order to elevate the meaning of a brand for its audience.
How can businesses adapt their values to match the changing realities of Economic Social and Governance values and programs in society?
It sounds obvious but you need to be true to yourself.
Solving today’s challenges requires corporate leaders who are guided by a sense of what is right.
This is the beginning of adapting to the new reality, building trust internally and externally.
We all need self-aware senior executives with collaborative leadership styles working in a culture which allows for critical reflection.
Nobody’s perfect but you need a strong commitment.
Company’s culture is like the wind. It’s invisible, yet its effect can be seen and felt.
When it is blowing in the right direction, it makes for smooth sailing. When it is blowing against it, everything is more difficult.
Also, it’s important to remember that numbers are lazy.
They don’t tell you about communities or people.
But unfortunately this is how too many business decisions are still being made today.
There’s one word that answers this question: empathy.
Businesses have to stop thinking as businesses but as people. Companies need to be part of designing the future, not just react to it.
What gaps exist in corporate communication regarding values and purpose? How can these gaps be filled?
We need to have an honest conversation with ourselves.
The offers out there are huge, in just one click, I can connect with one million products that do the same as yours.
Why spend money on yours?
We always say that what you are selling needs to have a soul.
And your brand needs to tell a story worth hearing. The bigger the why, the easier the how.
When we started in 2016, talking about values and purpose was not so trendy, so we had many meetings where people did not understand what we were talking about.
Today, it’s very different.
Probably one of the biggest problems is that these days, many companies are giving up their goals and dreams to meet their immediate needs.
However, corporate communication is starting to evolve.
Brands shouldn’t show just the world as it is, but how the world can be.
The way to transform communication internally and externally is focusing on purpose and values.
Purpose is the big word and it’s not by chance.
From the bottom to the top, companies have to know why to show up everyday.
There’s no value or purpose without action.
Your passion is inside, the purpose is how you communicate with the world.
Please, can you tell us about plus305 and its impact in purpose branding?
Brands are used to doing things a certain way.
But sometimes, we need to change to stay the same.
You can do it by finding a deeper meaning behind what you do.
plus305 exists to elevate the purpose of brands with meaningful creativity and innovation.
We believe in a holistic approach to sustainability that trickles down into all areas of the business and is integrated into the overall mission of the business.
We strategize, implement, and connect your impact to your brand purpose, value-based communication, and Employer Branding to generate real impact and ROI.
We elevate the purpose of every business by building a brand through value-based and purpose-led internal and external communication.
We curate the culture change necessary for your sustainability, inclusion, and purpose journey.
And finally, we will help you write your sustainability story before someone else will.
We do this through a customized PR strategy and messaging curation.
We work on projects that last 1 month, one year or more, but we always keep the long-term vision in mind.
In the last few years, we’ve been working with startups, multi-billion companies or foundations alike.
And we can say that every organization needs to connect to its audience in a real and genuine way.
Not only for its own prosperity, but also for this world to still be around in the future. That’s why we do what we do.
What is value washing? Why is value washing important?
Values are becoming so important in so many areas that many companies start to fake them with poor strategies and even worse executions.
They pretend to be what they are not out of fear.
It’s impressive how many rainbows you can see in the profiles of companies on social media in June.
How many of them are actually proactively doing something about LGBQTIA+ inclusion the rest of the year? How many have implemented measures in their HR departments?
The same happens when they want to join in the celebration of Women’s day or MLK’s day, or any UN day on the calendar.
But this can backfire.
Consumers and employees are not dumb.
Fear is a reaction and courage is a decision on the board.
I have always been of the opinion that you don’t need to be perfect to do good.
But you need to do something good to communicate it.
Don’t try to say or be something you’re not.
Sooner or later, stakeholders will know.
People want to see a brand’s position on social issues.
Their real vision of the world, not just a post on Instagram.
I really believe that successful companies of the future will be those that align their core business with values.
The best people want to do work that contributes to society with a company whose values they share, where their actions count and their views matter.
What is conscious branding? Why is it important in the corporate world today?
The other day, I read a quote of Anne Lamott: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”
Companies need to unplug sometimes, too, and re-think what they do and why.
Consciousness is coming from the idea of realizing that there is no greater return on investment than a healthy society, planet, and economy.
And many companies are doing this extremely well.
Conscious branding is to know that what helps people, helps business.
Don’t make the product, make your values the hero.
And then, they will love your products.
We all know that as long as companies don’t create an authentic connection with their audience, they will only impress, but not impact them.
Why will value-based communication replace product-based communication in the future?
People love brands that love them back.
There are millions of products out there.
People don’t care about your brand or company, people care about themselves… And they care about you only to the extent that you align with their values and you fulfill their wants, yearnings, and needs.
People don’t buy Apple because Apple “believes people with passion can change the world”.
People buy Apple because they want to see themselves as one of these people.
People care about the way you make them feel.
If you solve a customer’s problem with technology and tactics alone, you’ll own that solution until someone improves the technology.
If you solve the problem also with brand values, it is untouchable.
New generations aren’t paying for products or services anymore.
They are paying for trust and transparency, two things that are very hard to fake or manufacture.
The temptation to base your marketing on the tired cliché of knowing your customer better than they know themselves is a dangerous game to play these days.
How have digital forms of communication changed how target audiences perceive corporate values?
Forty years ago, 75% of adults in a country could be reached with three 60 second TV spots.
Today, an average person is estimated to encounter between 6,000 to 10,000 ads per day.
Back in the days, advertising and marketing was the same.
Your ad turns into sales with a nice video, powerful music, and some kind of gimmick.
Technology changed everything.
Our customers are better at marketing than us.
They got better at filtering out the boatloads of content.
Their time is precious.
Now, we interact with customers how, when, and where they want.
You have to learn to earn their attention, not to steal it.
Customers don’t care about our research or our magical ‘customer’s journey’.
I mean it’s ok to market to a target, but you build relationships with a person.
A brand should give you something that makes you feel good and even makes you “feel more like yourself”.
This action creates a bond, an authentic connection because it is a “giving” brand that knows how you feel and understands your needs.
The person receiving will probably feel like giving something back.
How can marketing be reimagined in today’s society?
To us, a good company is the new brand.
And there are millions of good companies out there that deserve to stay around and to connect with their audience in a better way.
A bigger logo isn’t going to get someone to care about your company if your values don’t resonate with them.
The new marketing won’t be about a bigger interruption.
It’s lazy because if you really cared about solving the problem, you’d change the situation, not yell.
Emergency always wins in the marketing department.
Fear is in all briefings.
But Marketing and communication need to evolve, think with a long-term vision.
Let’s turn marketing around and ask consumers what they want instead of telling them what they want.
The purpose of a business is to find a way of being that’s so meaningful that the fact that it is really hard to build a business is no longer relevant.
If marketing doesn’t translate that, it’s worthless.
There’s something that brands need to remember: nothing changes if nothing changes.
Nadja-Timea Scherrer Partner, VP And Communications Strategist at plus305
How have companies left the social component of the ESG paradigm behind? What can be done to correct this anomaly?
Environmental sustainability has gotten much more attention in the media due to the imminent climate crisis, Fridays for Future, and Greta von Thunberg etc.
In addition, the S is also more difficult to measure due to the qualitative nature of social metrics.
And the saying “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” still holds true.
There has also been a lack of consensus regarding what constitutes the S.
This makes it even harder to incorporate it into ESG analyses, KPIs, and investment strategies.
However, social movements such as Black Lives Matter, #metoo as well as the Covid-19 pandemic have brought the importance of S to the forefront.
Consumers are more informed and empowered than ever before and they are demanding that businesses take a stance on social issues and walk the talk if they do.
Companies have also started to understand that – especially in this digital day and age – not taking care of the S increases business risks: what if their employees go on strike?
What if an employee takes you to court for discrimination or sexual harassment?
What if your bank doesn’t grant you a loan because of a lack of employee safety on your construction site?
In just a few seconds, the entire world will know.
The truth is that a company’s reputation is considerably influenced by how it engages with its stakeholders, especially through crises.
And how it communicates with them. Authenticity and transparency have become more and more important.
You can always approach ESG from two angles: from a business perspective, because it reduces risks, increases performance, and reduces costs in the long run (e.g. through reduced employee turnover) and from an ethical perspective, because it is just the right thing to do and actually just comes down to respecting human rights.
Companies should start reporting S impact data consistently.
How is cancel culture changing corporate identity?
I grew up in multicultural Switzerland where we have a blend of Direct and Representative Democracy, just like you do in some US states.
So, cancel culture is a very foreign concept to me.
I grew up being used to seeing, frankly disgusting, posters of the extreme right on the street, day in, day out.
But you know what? I learned to appreciate knowing what people on the other side of the political spectrum are thinking.
I believe in dialogue as a powerful means for intercultural understanding.
How else are we going to reach consensus if not by discussing contrary ideas?
The more we live in our own bubbles and are not exposed to opposing ideas, the less we actually interact with each other and adjust our own views.
We all become more extreme this way.
And extremism always breeds division and self-centeredness.
I am a big advocate of steering a middle course.
At the same time, I also find it extremely important that legitimate criticism can finally be expressed.
Especially by groups whose voices have traditionally not been heard.
As human beings, however, we have a tendency to fix one injustice by creating another.
I don’t have the ideal solution, but I really believe that we have to find a more balanced way of solving this issue rather than canceling voices or people all the way.
Inclusion requires a culture of dialogue in which difficult conversations can be had.
Just remember that they don’t disappear just because we don’t see them anymore.
And things that are being stirred up below the surface are known to erupt with force.
Cancel culture creates fear of making a mistake.
Fear is not the right driver for inclusion and equity.
That doesn’t mean that any type of speech will be tolerated: if violence or unlawful action is incited through speech, the law kicks in.
Free speech comes with responsibilities and duties.
Why do Diversity Equity and Impact (DEI) initiatives in the corporate world fail?
There are many reasons, one of them being that people don’t like to be uncomfortable.
And DEI is all about finding comfort in discomfort.
Because DEI stirs up topics around identity.
And identity is almost entirely based on unconscious brain processes.
Meanwhile, questions of identity are fundamental to how we communicate with each other.
In addition, we all (DEI experts included!) have our own unconscious biases.
So, DEI is very prone to conflicts and misunderstandings.
That is why businesses have to create a culture where failure is welcome and accepted.
But this is easier said than done.
Furthermore, we all have layers of identity (intersectionality), which makes the topic even more complex: a woman who is black and gay will most probably have a very different experience in the corporate world than a white straight woman for instance.
Due to the overwhelming complexity of the topic, there is a tendency to simplify it.
We see this with cancel culture, or color blindness to just name two examples.
If we cannot name things or talk about them anymore, we pretend that they don’t exist.
So, we can’t change them. That is why it is so crucial to keep the dialogue alive, even if it is uncomfortable.
Oftentimes, it also comes down to a lack of resources.
In many companies, DEI still does not get the attention it deserves, and budgets allocated to this area are often not high enough to make a real change.
If you then offer a one-off Unconscious Bias Training to staff, the transmitted knowledge cannot become established.
For a real culture change to happen – which is what is needed in most cases – you need a continuous commitment from the management and continuous measures.
Just think about how long it takes us to realize that running every morning is a great idea and then how much longer it takes us to actually do it and keep it up.
If we are surrounded by sports-loving people and sports facilities, we might take it up faster and keep it up longer. Mindset changes take time and need an environment in which they can be reinforced and transformed into behavior.
That is why it is so important to incorporate DEI into the overall business strategy.
But many businesses are still operating in silos. DEI is not just a HR topic, it is a corporate culture topic, a brand topic, a HR topic, a board topic… It has to be lived and breathed at every touchpoint with every stakeholder.
Studies show that embedding DEI bring benefits to everyone and all areas of business not only the underrepresented groups because it is a question of culture change.
If you do this, every department can contribute to making DEI happen, also financially.
Furthermore, at the very least, someone or several people have to be responsible for DEI within the company and have their performance goals be connected to measurable DEI goals. It is also advisable to adapt DEI measures to the DEI maturity of the business.
Which company is a role model in terms of sustainability?
For most of us in the sustainability space, Patagonia is a role model.
What I like most about how it goes about sustainability is its uncompromising transparency and its willingness to even share innovation with its competitors.
Just like it did when it shared the patent for its natural rubber Yulex® with its competitors.
That is next level sustainability: being generous with your competitors because it makes the world a better place.
And it is not like they haven’t faced difficult situations: when they realized that there was still slave labor happening in their supply chain, they decided to be open and honest about it and turn it into an opportunity to change worker conditions.
This is how you take your stakeholders with you on your sustainability journey.
No one is expecting perfection, it is about authenticity and real intentions.
This approach is of course not possible for every brand.
Patagonia has had sustainability at the core of its business since the beginning and has built this trust over years and years of walking the talk.
What is the perfect triple bottom line for companies today?
Every organization will have to decide for themselves if they want to follow a more holistic or material approach to sustainability.
Depending on their core business, either of them might make sense or even a mix of both.
When you choose a material approach, you will mainly address the sustainability topics that are most relevant for your core business and when you choose a more holistic approach, you will try to address all three Ps more or less equally: People, Planet, and Prosperity.
The best way to go about this is to first find the purpose of your business, your why.
Once you have defined that, you can build your business and brand around that and base your sustainability or CSR strategy on it.
How can intercultural communications create the perfect angle for diversity equity and inclusion (DEI)?
Intercultural communication should be an important part of every DEI strategy.
Intercultural communication simply means communication between people of different cultures.
Culture can be created through gender, sexual orientation, friends, sports clubs, ethnicity, language, physical or mental ability, age, etc. – common experiences and belonging to big and small groups that shape the values, identity, and worldview of an individual.
It teaches you about the fundamental differences and commonalities between cultures and the challenges when trying to promote understanding.
It helps you question your own ideas, thoughts, and actions. Intercultural communication is prone to conflicts because many people regard their identities as non-negotiable.
Just think of religious practices.
In our training, we combine Intercultural Communication and Unconscious Bias Trainings with what we call Mindful (Self-)Leadership. A study published on the US National Library of Medicine NCBI suggests that participation in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which is one of the most widely used mindfulness training programs, is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.
These are all crucial skills for unconscious bias reduction.
All our brains are programmed to break down the complexity of our sensory impressions into neat little boxes that are much less accurate than reality.
This is how we protect ourselves from harm and are able to react fast.
No one has time to differentiate when you are in front of a wild lion.
All you need to know is that you are in danger.
However, this primal way of reacting to our environment doesn’t take the complexity of people and DEI into account. Mindfulness helps us understand ourselves better, reduces stress, and can bring more consciousness to our interactions with others.
It also teaches us to let go of these boxes when they are not needed.
Please, can you tell us about the impact of your work at plus305 with major brands with examples?
As a global strategist, I design the action plan and set the direction and steps to follow to meet the needs of our clients. I also lead the area of culture transformation, where we curate the culture change necessary for our clients’ sustainability, inclusion, and purpose journey.
Social change happens on 3 levels: infrastructure, structure, and superstructure. We have a top-down/bottom-up approach that instills sustainable values in the corporate DNA.
For this, we combine Systemic and Structural Transformation (SST) for behavioral change with Mindset Change through awareness and knowledge training.
My background is in Intercultural Communication and Linguistics, and I’m specialized in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
One of the projects we have really loved working on was when we accompanied Swatch’s first steps into the sustainability world.
We had to design the global strategy and positioning and curate the messaging and creativity for this completely new bio-sourced plastic that they had developed.
We launched their first bio-sourced and their first bio-ceramic watch globally and helped them introduce their SWATCH NEXT concept which will be the umbrella for all things sustainability related.
It was an intense and complex project but very exhilarating. You literally witness how history is being made.
There are also many other examples, for instance when I held a speech on International Women’s Day at the 3M headquarters.
I decided to not only talk about women’s rights but also about gender diversity and felt that we created an impactful energy together that day.
We also created a unique and emotional Employer Branding Campaign for the Baloise Group in Europe where we brought the retirees who had left the company during Covid-19 back together with their colleagues to say goodbye in person.
It was heart-warming. At the moment, we are launching the new campaign for the Chief Heat Officer of Miami Dade County, where we want to bring in some surprising creativity from the strategy to the execution point of view that really speaks to the more vulnerable population of Miami.
How are companies addressing a shift towards values from product benefits?
If brands want to stand out in today’s highly competitive market, they have to take a different route.
Changing from a merely product-based to a value-based communication is a very powerful way of doing that.
Values evoke emotions and can easily be connected to a company’s purpose and thus culture and brand.
What should be the strongest selling point and angle for companies that want to separate themselves from the competition?
It is all about building an authentic company culture where the core business is aligned with your purpose, brand, values and then communicating this in an authentic and transparent way.
But also through real creativity in communication.
We often see direct competitors looking and talking in a very similar way.
Creativity helps you stand out. It makes all the difference.
What is the difference between gender equity and gender equality? Why does this difference matter?
There is this idea that saying “we are all the same” solves the problem.
But it does not.
Because it is not true.
We are different and that is why some of us might need more support right now because they have historically been overlooked, discriminated against, and taken advantage of.
But there is a widespread fear that if we support some groups more that more inequality will be created.
However, this is not true.
As long as progress is closely monitored.
What we all do have in common, of course, is that we all have the same value and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.