Like you, I’ve read the surveys about how Millennials are leading the charge of a public that wants to do business and work for brands who share their values. We’ve had guests on our podcast talk at length about it.
I truly want to believe in a purpose-led world.
Yet when I look at a recent survey of most trusted brands (of 16,700 people) what brand to Millenials and Gen Z’s trust the most? Google. The same Google that has avoided paying tens of billions in taxes through shady tax havens. Google, whose former head of human rights was pushed out for suggesting they not help China violate human rights. The company that collaborates with the military to spy on users, sells content from our personal emails and generally trades our privacy in any way they can to make money. This is the #1 trusted brand of Millenials and Gen Z’s (#2 for Gen X.)
Google does have the best search engine, and that is why I default to it. In that way I “trust” their product. But their brand? Nope. They, like most corporations yield to the pressures of their stock price. It’s not just Google. Go down the list and you’ll see companies like Hershey’s that sources their chocolate from farms that use child slave labor. In a recent podcast I talked about how Chick-Fil-A (#6 on the most trusted list) went from the #7 fast food chain to the #3 all while a controversy stirred about the company supporting organizations that were anti LGBTQ. Are Apple, Google, Facebook the most moral companies in the world? No. Yet they are among the most successful.
As marketers, it’s our job to observe how people behave and try to figure out why they are behaving that way. A good friend of mine worked in customer service at the IRS (and you think your job is tough). He told me that often people who call his office will scream that they’ve been on hold for an hour. What they don’t know is that he can see how long they’ve been on hold and as per their policy, it is never more than two minutes. Do they really mean they’ve been on hold for an hour? Of course not. What they mean is that they are frustrated about having to call. They’re nervous about their tax situation and want to be reassured.
We have to look beyond surveys where people tell us what they want and find out what they really mean. That is our true value to clients— to go beyond regurgitating stats and data and provide insight into what the data means.
So what does the purpose push mean? As Brad MacAfee pointed out on our podcast, people have lost faith in our traditional institutions to provide moral leadership and are turning to brands to provide it. But our relationship with a corporation is primarily transactional. So as long as Google remains the best search engine, we will keep using it. Yes, we need to continue to push businesses to act morally and responsibly. But we cannot expect them to be our moral leaders. For that, we have institutions—government, churches and nonprofit organizations.
As a society, maybe our best bet is to promote more involvement in these institutions and push for change and societal improvement with them and stop looking to corporations as moral leaders.