The Evolution of Brand Roles: From Stoic Institutions to Opinionated Personalities

Leoni Janssen
It’s intriguing to reflect on the significant transformation in how brands are perceived and how their role has evolved over my 25-year time in corporate communications, brand building, and reputation management.

Speaking Out in Times of Pain and Political Polarization 

As I write this article, I grapple with the same conflict brands and business leaders face in times of crisis. I am challenged to approach a delicate topic with a rational mindset even though it stirs a multitude of personal emotions. Knowing that the more delicate the topic, the more everything means something, makes it even harder. The sender is the message, the channel is the message, the timing is the message to a point where every word is the message. It is a big stacking complicated pars pro toto. 

From Neutrality to Articulation

The era of brands and CEO’s maintaining neutrality and passive observation has given way to a world where companies and leaders are expected to actively and publicly engage on social, political, and environmental issues. This transformation reflects the changing expectations of consumers who no longer accept neutrality; instead, they expect brands to hold well-formed opinions and to express them on the issues that truly matter. Yet they have to tread intelligently. 

Think twice

Companies have evolved from formal legal entities to dynamic humanized entities characterized by distinct "personalities." Today, these personalities encompass unique values, voices, and an ever-growing expectation to engage with the world in a purposeful manner.

You've likely observed the friction this has presented in the last weeks. CEOs and companies find themselves compelled to speak out, but they can only do so with a nuanced approach. The complexity, the immense heart-breaking violence and pain requires people’s full emotional and rational attention. There is space for being quick and inconsiderate of words, nor silence. 

The Challenge for CEOs and Companies

Brands and executives have this real dilemma. They are expected to speak out, yet doing so carries substantial risk when the situation is as dire as the current one in the middle-east. CEOs and companies face the delicate task of striking a balance between the necessity of addressing the issue and recognizing its human impact, while avoiding oversimplification on one hand and insensitivity on the other. 

The Necessity to Speak Out is real 

The rationale behind CEOs and companies speaking out is undeniable:

Navigating the Complexity is too

However, the decision to speak up is filled with complexities:

In summary 

CEOs and companies can not be passive spectators when it comes to global political matters. Navigating this landscape demands a profound understanding of intricate societal dynamics, tact, and unwavering commitment to core values. In these times, the paradox lies in playing it safe, which can actually be the riskiest approach of all. While speaking up certainly carries its own set of risks, 

organizations must recognize their role in contributing to the world thoughtfully. 

If nothing else, this is a call for leaders and professionals to be intelligently purposeful, while keeping a vigilant awareness of the far-reaching impact that words have in times of painful crisis.

Here to help, when needed.

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