The Only 3 Trends That Really Matter: Empathy, Respect + Ethics
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The Only 3 Trends That Really Matter: Empathy, Respect + Ethics

It is the end of the year, a time for holiday cheer and 2016 trends reports. But H+K’s Candace Kuss has been thinking about this topic for months, if not years, as the cases below illustrate.

Hill+Knowlton Strategies

The Only 3 Trends That Really Matter: Empathy, Respect + Ethics

If you believe that marketing both reflects and shapes culture, then creative trend-watching is more than just inside baseball, agency style. And while we all must keep up with executional trends, like VRARinfluencer marketing, and bots, it is the deeper movements toward Empathy, Respect and Ethics that are important.

I've collected a cornucopia of examples where brands go beyond traditional marketing to exhibit these values. Proving that corporations can contribute to society through their actions, not just via CSR checks.

                                  EMPATHY is the human ability to understand
                                           and share the feelings of others.

Clearly, this is a skill we need more of these days. Empathy is the enemy of intolerance. And it is a 'new superpower for building large audiences', according to Frank Cooper,the CMO of BuzzFeed. Empathy is being talked about in all aspects of business. Brands are being measured via the Lady Geek Global Empathy Index. Smart CEOs demand empathy as a key trait in new hires.

To help put us in someone else’s shoes, IKEA recreated the current home of a family of Syrian refugees. It is 25 square meters of horrible. Last week, I got to experience 6x9 — the Guardian's first virtual reality experience, which places you inside a solitary confinement prison cell. Journalists are calling VR an 'Empathy Machine' and I agree.

Hyatt Hotels announced a new corporate strategy where “Practising empathy” is a main tenet. They are encouraging less scripted interactions between staff and guests. On the machine side, a start-up called Koko is working on ways to teach chatbots real empathy.

                                  RESPECT is due regard for the feelings,
                                             wishes, or rights of others.

Respect is the twin to empathy and in my marketing mind means treating your target audiences like real people, not demographic stats or stale stereotypes.

We all cheered when REI’s #OptOutside campaign won the Titanium Grand Prix at Cannes (plus tons of other Lions). Not just because it was a brilliant idea, but because it was a tangible action in support of why that company exists — their proof of purpose, beyond profit. And respect for their employees had a lot to do with REI's bold business decision to close all their stories on Black Friday, the day known for mega shopping mania. Respect for all of us consumers as well.

REI are doing it again, and it’s pretty awesome to see other brands getting in the spirit in their own way, such as Subaru. A similar action got my attention and admiration when Patagonia closed for election day.

Respect is behind the Glass Lion at Cannes, Microsoft adding a wheelchair option for Xbox avatars, and the beautiful new Amazon holiday ad featuring the friendship between a Christian priest and a Muslim imam. A must watch, if you haven't seen it yet. Empathy has a role in that spot as well.

                                    ETHICS is a system of moral principles;
                                           understanding right from wrong.

Doing what's right requires executives willing to take a business decision based on a moral code. A few years ago, CVS stopped selling cigarettes, sacrificing $2bn in annual revenue. They decided it was just wrong for a brand transforming from a drugstore to a healthcare company to sell tobacco. Bravo CVS. Contrast this with the infamous Volkswagen emissions scandal. This despicable move by an iconic brand saw the US file a £61bn civil lawsuit against the company and is still having repercussions; Volkswagen has just announced plans to cut 30,000 jobs worldwide.

Prior to the election, but winning votes for bravery, BuzzFeed terminated a deal with the Republican National Committee to run political advertisements because “The Trump campaign is directly opposed to the freedoms of our employees in the United States and around the world..." Likewise, Macy’s cut ties with Donald Trump due to his racist anti-immigrant remarks and pledged to stop selling the Trump menswear collection. 

Macy's is a brand I grew up with and is as much a part of Thanksgiving as the turkey. The Macy's Thanksgiving Parade — one of the most brilliant content marketing platforms on the planet — was born in the 1920s when many of Macy's department store employees were first-generation immigrants. The holiday itself remembers the Pilgrims, who emigrated from England in the 1620s, holding a feast of thanks for a successful harvest with the native Wampanoag tribe. A reminder that America was created by immigrants and thrives best in an environment of empathy and respect.

Originally posted on LinkedIn
By Candace Kuss, Director of Social Media, H+K 

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