Last month I scratched my head with incredulity when Icebreaker, renowned for its sustainable approach, was publicly discredited with a D minus score by the Ethical Fashion Report. One has to question the ethics of a benchmarking programme that gives a low score to companies, purely because they choose not to participate.
It is not surprising that we are confused as to what constitutes ‘good’ business when leading corporates claim charitable support for the good of Aotearoa yet send their record profits offshore.
Despite this consumer confusion we cannot ignore the growing importance of using business as a force for good. Consumers are increasingly doing their homework before making purchases. Experts, such as AUT’s Dr Amabel Hunting, claim that ethical consumption is no longer a niche.
Social media has the power to lay companies bare in a wide variety of areas: Low tolerance of the LGBTI community, overt ageism and limited empathy for new migrants are just a few of the weak spots likely to cause unprepared companies major headaches as acceptable norms evolve rapidly.
So, if you are a business, that wants to remain successful in New Zealand, here are some of the questions that you must ask yourself:
1. Are we genuinely supportive of the LGBTI community?
The Farmers retail chain got themselves into hot water as a result of a staff member’s low tolerance for a transgender customer. Their proclamation that they are a tolerant organisation clearly had not been clearly communicated to its employees.
ANZ bank’s support for the LGBTI community includes education, support for Gay Pride and they are a Rainbow Tick accredited organisation in New Zealand. Companies who are behind in this area run the risk of being called out by increasingly vocal public opinion
2. Do our goods and services reflect the changing needs of our ageing society?
If your marketing strategy has zeroed in on Millennials to the exclusion of others then you are not only making older consumers feel irrelevant you are passing up some highly lucrative markets.
The Baby Boomers remain a game changing generation that have demanded marketer’s attention since they can remember. Consumers, aged 50 and above, want brands to care about them and will not take the same patronising “old people” advertising that their parents went through. Yet research around the world shows that these consumers feel overlooked in a world designed for the young.
3. Do we have an ageing workforce strategy?
Despite the ageing of the workforce few employers have a strategy or action plan to adapt to a changing employee profile. Organisations such as Ports of Auckland have woken up to the fact that it is essential to adjust to the needs of a mature workforce as a large percentage of the population approach the “traditional” retirement age. Yet according to the Commission for Financial Capability (CFFC) 83 per cent NZ organisations do not have any specific policies relating to older workers.
Geoff Pearman a specialist in the field of age and work suggests there are 3 facts we need to grasp. First we are now living 20 years longer than we did fifty years ago. Secondly people are staying on at work longer through choice and from necessity. Thirdly declining birth rates means that employers will need their mature aged employees.
4. Do we understand the needs of our new migrant customers?
40% of Aucklanders were born outside New Zealand and in 5 years’ time 30% of the city’s population will be Asian. HT Group’s study of new migrants in 2016 found that migrants are loyal to the New Zealand brands that make their life easier as they integrate. Smart businesses are embracing the changing ethnic demographics of New Zealand. Show you care about them and you will be rewarded with a host of loyal and lucrative consumers.
5. Does our community strategy make a measureable difference to New Zealand society?
According to Project ROI in the US companies can increase revenue and price premium by 20% if community partnerships are managed responsibly and make a measurable difference to society. In New Zealand brand preference polls, Air New Zealand are constantly at the top of the list. They are uniquely Kiwi, but more importantly they are seen by people to overtly care about New Zealand. Their sustainability framework contributes to its industry-leading profitability and its world leading status.
The trend toward conscious consumerism means that New Zealand brands need to take a long, hard look at themselves as their consumers will also be watching. As sensitivity about social equality grows this is likely to extend beyond ethical consumption and community investment and will include all aspects of business.
Caring about New Zealand’s environment, people and culture will increase brand preference, loyalty and sales while advancing New Zealand’s economy and international reputation as a country.
Clare Hall-Taylor is director of HT Group, a consultancy that helps organisations adapt to changing society.
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