In 1991 Stephen King wrote a prescient article predicting, among other things, the rise of the ‘corporate brand’ in coming years. And lo, this has indeed come about. In the past two decades we have seen an increasing emphasis on corporate rather than individual product branding. The contributing factors are many, not least of which is the influence of the new sectors – technology, whether electronic or digital – and the continuing importance of the service sector where corporate brands predominate.
Similarly, the growing significance of Asian companies adds to the increasing dominance of corporate brands. But even in the fmcg sector, the original developers and evangelists of the product brand, we are seeing international giants such as P&G and Unilever gaining publicity as corporations. Many large Western companies are now performing good deeds, particularly in developing countries where it is in their interest to be more intimately involved in local activities by responding prominently to local disasters or other issues.
The reasons underlying the consolidation of product branding strategies under a corporate umbrella were originally financial and practical. But a corporate strategy now has to answer to consumers’ increasing sophistication and greater knowledge of how companies operate. Environmentalism has prompted people to want to know more about how companies make what they sell, what their sourcing and employment practices are, not to mention greater financial transparency. And fortuitously, as Jim Stengel notes in his Viewpoint piece, companies that devote themselves more to a higher ideal are appearing to reap financial rewards.
But perhaps the most unexpected development in this gradual movement of companies recognising a social responsibility, espousing a ‘higher ideal’ or simply cleaning up their act, is the awareness of what Muslim consumers look for in companies. Miles Young, in his cover article, describes not just the size of Muslim communities around the world – huge, and prosperous – but what they expect from the companies behind the brands they buy. And their expectations would bring joy to the hearts of environmentalists and critics of brash capitalism. To quote Young: ‘Muslim consumers expect companies to conform to Muslim values of honesty, respect, consideration, kindness, peacefulness, authenticity, purity, patience, discipline, transparency, modesty, community, dignity.’
That Muslim consumers could nudge Western companies into being more honest, more socially conscious and more sincere is a very pleasing irony.
Judie Lannon, Editor [email protected]