Karl Marx was a schmuck (and how brands can make money and do good)

Karl Marx

When President Trump announced that his administration would reduce the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments a few weeks ago, brands took action. Patagonia filed suit against the action and ran a message on its website, saying “The President Stole Your Land,” accompanied by a button from which concerned customers could tweet their opposition to these moves.

Other outdoor retailers, including REI and North Face, have also publicly objected to the moves.

The concept of capitalism and social good are not mutually exclusive, no matter what Karl Marx wrote. The 19th century philosopher and economist was a bit of a schmuck because he saw capitalism purely as a system in which business owners exploited workers. People are even beginning to call for an end to capitalism and move to something else, something better and not so pathologically focused on growth for the sake of growth.

The future of capitalism is a worthy discussion. But the Belief Economy we live in, driven largely by the combined economic buying power and influence of the Millennial and iGen generations, is one in which capitalism can and should be a force for good.

“Connected capitalism,” sometimes called “conscious capitalism,” signifies the notion that everything in life is connected, and individuals, in partnership with companies and brands, can have a positive impact on the world. By embracing the idea of connected capitalism, brands create business models built around making money and making things better.

Regardless of your preferred term, the idea is the same. Here are some characteristics of the links between “connected capitalism” and The Belief Economy:

- Digital technology. The emergence of the Internet and social media is not the sole reason the Belief Economy now exists. But these platforms gave rise to the notion that everything is connected in some way, and every action has an impact.

In 2016, Ben & Jerry’s launched a political marketing campaign called “Democracy Is in Your Hands.” The accompanying online videos used nothing but fingers, spoons, and, of course, ice cream to explain big money, voting rights, and other political issues. The campaign also included a new ice cream flavor, cleverly named “Empower Mint.”

Peace, love, and ice cream is not just an advertising tagline for Vermont’s most famous ice cream company. Ben & Jerry’s lives those values in everything they do as a company. Notice the placement of the words in the tagline. The product, “ice cream,” comes last after “peace” and “love.” Could it be the order is important to them and was intended? My guess is, yes, quite intended.

It’s easier than ever to learn what governments, people and brands stand for and to connect with those who share similar beliefs. Social platforms are also a way to hold brands and governments accountable.

- Generational attitudes. Baby Boomers were a phenomenon in terms of their embrace of and influence on changing societal mores. They are the reason that denim is an acceptable fashion choice for the office or attending the theater. Their sheer numbers made their choices impactful. So too with Millennials and iGen. Their digital nativeness has fostered a global civic-mindedness that extends to the brands they choose.

Their buying power and influence could grow to $1.4 trillion by 2020, and we know that they are drawn to brands and companies that possess an authentic passion, purpose, and/or ideology that align with their own.

- The decline of “me first.” By attaching profit to the simple idea of making good things happen for people, we can transform the world. That’s the driving force behind connected capitalism.

All these brands have offered narratives that are simple, powerful, and genuine because they align with those brands’ DNA, built up over years, showing that they give a damn and are willing to follow through on their values. They allow their brands’ stories to unfold organically as customers go through the buying process, which makes it more meaningful.

These aren’t clever marketing tactics for the mere purpose of selling more products; these are behaviors that reflect the values and beliefs of the brand. But they end up selling more products anyway because they also reflect the values and beliefs of their connected, idealistic customers.

Connected capitalism is a rejection of selling for selling’s sake and an acceptance of tying all of the strings together to make things better. Make money. Do something good. Win-win.

David Baldwin is founder and chief executive of Baldwin&. He tweets @davidlbaldwin

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