Leading a brand is always challenging. But at least in times of stability, you can look to previous experiences and see patterns emerge. The past can be projected into the future with some sense of continuity. Those times are over.
Today, the world faces multiple intersecting crises: the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, racial injustice, and growing economic inequality, to name just a few. And people rightly expect a response from brands that have become an intimate part of their daily lives. These are not fads or blips that can be waited away. These are fundamental challenges to a broken status quo that all of us have to reckon with. We are in an era of shifting paradigms, not just shifting preferences.
Today’s brand leaders don’t just have to build great, compelling brands that delight consumers, they also have to address the major reckonings of our time. But wrestling with global issues wasn’t part of the training or job description. These used to be things that only issue experts and politicians had to worry about.
How do you lead with confidence when the playbook is out-of-date? Is using a hashtag a sufficient brand response to 400 years of oppression, racism, and injustice? What’s the right play when your growth strategy clashes with nature’s limits? Does turning a logo pink for International Women’s Day help close the gender pay gap?
This is a new and challenging era for branding. To win, brands must think and act in new ways. They need to become “regenerative brands.”
Regenerative brands are a necessary evolution of “sustainable” and “resilient” brands. Sustainability and resilience are fine qualities, but they mean a continuation of the status quo and an ability to survive. Regenerative brands seek to create value for all beings for all time. They have higher aspirations and deliver more value—they grow stronger by challenging the status quo and improving the system for all of us.
Regenerative brands use what they’re best at to fix problems beyond their own business, consumers, and shareholders. They are designed for leadership in the world we live in and for the future we want. Regenerative brands don’t wait to take the lead on issues that can’t wait.
There are three key qualities regenerative brands must cultivate to win in this new era. They need to be aware, additive, and alive.
Aware: Regenerative brands sense and serve our deepest needs
Regenerative brands are aware of the tensions, challenges, and aspirations in our lives. They sense and serve deeper human needs by embracing the context and contradictions inherent in today’s society. As explained in BBMG’s Pull Factor Report, awareness comes from asking three key questions: What do people want? What does the world need? What does my brand uniquely offer?
The key shifts:
- From listening to sensing: Regenerative brands move from passive listening to active sensing of the deeper human truths and dynamic tensions that define our real lives. They hear and honor the gap between brand promises and lived experiences.
- From research to reflection: Regenerative brands go beyond consumer research to reflect on the role they play in all of the lives they touch—and face the facts of how they impact societal and environmental challenges in their category, past and present.
- From perspective seeking to perspective taking: Regenerative brands don’t just observe the people they serve and the communities in which they operate, they see the world through their eyes and act in relationship to their truest needs, anxieties, and aspirations.
Awareness allows the regenerative brand to create new products, services, and experiences that deliver meaningful connection, brand loyalty, and indispensable value in people’s lives.
Additive: Regenerative brands give more than they take
Regenerative brands recognize our fundamental connection and interdependence as part of a living ecosystem. They generate more value, positive impact, and enduring progress with and for all of their stakeholders, today and tomorrow. To be additive, regenerative brands unite what’s meaningful for consumers with what’s material to the business to unleash shared value for the long term.
The key shifts:
- From extract to enrich: Regenerative brands lead the change from extracting value by exploiting people and natural resources to creating value by enriching the lives and livelihoods of employees, communities, customers, partners, shareholders, and the environment.
- From hoarding power to sharing power: Regenerative brands understand that leadership isn’t about holding power, but sharing, uplifting, and giving more power and agency to others so we can all succeed together.
- From individualism to interconnection: Regenerative brands go beyond individualism to interconnection and interdependence. They recognize that success depends on a broader ecosystem of life and act accordingly by prioritizing higher-level needs and long-term brand equity over short-term profits.
An additive mindset sparks innovation. It’s a “yes and” approach that demands brands go a step further than the status quo.
Alive: Regenerative brands shape who we are and how we live
As our society and culture are being radically transformed every day, regenerative brands adapt and evolve in creative relationships with the people and places they serve. This symbiotic relationship allows them to continuously create energy, influence, and momentum. To be alive, regenerative brands show up as an active, living, breathing, and evolving part of our culture and the world.
The key shifts:
- From reactive to adaptive: Regenerative brands shift from reactive decisions limited by blindspots and insecurities to adaptive and dynamic strategies based on clear science, core values, and collaborative practices that equip them for the leading edge.
- From design for to design with: Regenerative brands design with the diverse passions, perspectives, and participation of their stakeholders, not just design for them.
- From perfection to progress: Regenerative brands move beyond the paralysis that comes from chasing perfection to the more fluid capacity to iterate, co-create, and reinvent together in service of transparent, measurable, and meaningful progress over time.
Being alive creates a deeper, more personal relationship with the people brands want to reach and leads to more thoughtful and better-designed products, services, and experiences.
The regenerative generation
Don’t just take our word for it; listen to the voices of the next generation of consumers, employees, investors, and community members. Our new global survey of more than 27,000 respondents with GlobeScan shows that the next generation is hungry for regenerative brands.
Gen-Zers want meaningful change. Three-fourths say they support using public protests to raise awareness of an issue, and 15% have personally protested at public events and rallies in the past year. They’re looking for brand leadership: 80% believe brands are an essential part of the solution for the challenges facing humanity today. And they want brands to create change with them, not just for them: 84% want to share ideas and experiences with brands to develop better solutions.
This is a generation that already thinks regeneratively, and it is ready to reward the brands that lead the way. In these times of challenge and change, much is uncertain but one thing is clear: The future belongs to regenerative brands.
Raphael Bemorad is a founding partner and chief strategy officer of BBMG. Briana Quindazzi is the head of strategy at BBMG.