more than meets the eye

About a month ago I attended an inaugural lecture on the convergence of brands, society, and ethics. The lecture was given by Professor Jaywant Singh at the Business School of Kingston University. Bearing in mind that I already have a degree in Graphic Design, I wasn’t feeling completely lost when he talked about brands. However, I was there to build upon my knowledge, especially from a marketeer’s and advertiser’s point of view. I wasn’t alone there, the lecture theatre was full of both student and staff.

Findings prof. Singh shared were fascinating indeed and covered a couple of sensitive today’s subjects. Specifically, what is the link between people choosing and perceiving a brand, the loyalty between the consumer and brand, and does it correlate with brand perception from the consumer’s point of view? More questions such as alliances between different brands as well as ‘spillover’ effect as a result of brand collaboration were discussed.

Nonetheless, what I found particularly interesting was how consumers see corporate social responsibility (CSR) within a business and since the perception forms certain attitudes, do they lead to any behavioural changes. In other words, do consumers purchase products and service from brands that might be more expensive? In fact, Singh’s research suggests that normally consumers think of CSR as a marketing trick, and therefore CSR may not actually influence the purchase.  The gap here is that some companies are truly doing CSR but people don’t believe it. So should companies give up CSR altogether?  From a humanitarian point of view CSR is crucial, and arguably should even be made a legal requirement for any large enterprises. However, from a business owner point of view, all CSR does is waste money. I’d deduce that a negative society’s attitude can emerge towards large business, however, I see it as an opportunity.

After the lecture, there was a reception with drinks and nibbles where people had a chance to discuss the findings amongst themselves or talk to the professor. I spoke to a professor myself. But with a different one, Adam Raman. He was a guest lecturer for Design thinking for startups ‘Sales’ class. We talked about profit, and he made me realise something pretty obvious – it was a revelation to me. The truth is that successful businesses expand, and in that way create job vacancies and contribute to the economy and, indirectly, society. The maximum profit margin is desired, and one of way doing it is CSR. So that’s good? However, before the conversation with prof. Raman, I would have been just as cynical to CSR as the consumers from prof. Singh’s research.

We all know that profit is the oil that keeps any company running. Bearing in mind that profit is crucial to keep businesses, why does public mistrust?  Perhaps the way profits made crossed the line? Or perhaps it has something to do with the size of a company? Consider the lack of transparency within companies that causes all the problems in they eyes of consumers. On the other hand, it might be due to what in advertising is called the noise: potentially a CSR message gets miscommunicated.

All in all, it was a wonderful lecture which not only taught me a lot but also made me consider things differently – it widened my ‘palette of thought’. Most importantly, I started thinking about underlying issues that might exist between CSR and consumers. If the brand does no longer (fully) convince the consumer, is there’s more than meets the eye?

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