Building Brands with Value: Insights from SXSW 2024

Published on March 22, 2024

As the managing director of THE FIFTH, a global influencer agency, I participated in a powerful panel during SXSW 2024 alongside some of the most influential brand leaders today. The panel, titled “Building Brands That Matter & Have Value,” explored how companies can move beyond surface-level corporate social responsibility and truly embed purpose into the core of their businesses. 

As I reflected on the insights shared, one key takeaway became clear: lived experience is everything when it comes to building a brand that resonates with modern consumers, especially Gen Z and Gen Alpha. It’s no longer enough to simply align with values through marketing – brands must live those values through their internal infrastructure, company culture, and business practices. 

Here are some of the panel’s best tips.

Foster Teams That Endure

Dan Stangler, CEO of Brew Dr. Kombucha, emphasized the importance of investing in people as the greatest asset of the company. And he should know – Brew Dr. has retained core team members for over 15 years. By fostering an environment where people feel valued, supported, and represented, Brew Dr. built a workforce of passionate brand advocates.

Carla Malin, VP of Global Brand Marketing at Beyond Meat, agreed. Beyond Meat intentionally attracts inherently passionate employees driven by the company’s mission to create a more sustainable food system. They nurture this passion through initiatives like employee panels, continuous learning opportunities, and an inclusive culture that empowers young voices.

Practice What You Preach

For brands looking to tap into cultural relevance, Uma Iyer from the National Women’s Law Center provided a powerful example of practicing what you preach. When employees gave notice of intent to unionize pre-pandemic, NWLC voluntarily recognized them – modeling the equitable policies they demand from others. As Uma stated, companies must look inward to ensure equality lives in “the fine print” of policies impacting their employees.

My own background harmonizes with this approach. At THE FIFTH, we’ve built a diverse team capable of tapping into nuanced cultural conversations across ethnicities, identities, interests, and platforms. You simply cannot produce authentic work for a wide range of communities without bringing those lived experiences to the table. This familiarity is what breeds true authenticity – a make-or-break quality for Gen Z audiences who can sniff out inauthenticity from a mile away.

Anchor in Values

Ultimately, consumers in 2024 aren’t just buying products – they’re buying into the values and purpose behind the brand. They want to see commitments backed by action, not just buzzwords and campaigns. Does your company structure empower your people and bring your values to life through fair wages, Employee Resource Groups, continuous education, and an inclusive environment? Are you building a workforce that reflects the communities you’re trying to reach? Do your brand partners and vendors uphold the same standards you claim to uphold?

For companies looking to create real impact, these internal practices are just as critical as the external marketing efforts. It’s no longer a question of whether brands should take stands – that’s an expectation. The key is ensuring those stands are rooted in legitimate, consistent, and comprehensive commitment to progress throughout your organization.

Those who can strike that balance and infuse purpose through every touch point will be the ones to build true brand love, relevance, and loyalty in our modern consumer landscape. The world is watching, judging, and voting with their dollars. It’s time for brands to decide: will you be a leader worth following?

Charles Ifegwu is part of Grit Daily's Leadership Network and Managing Director at THE FIFTH, a world-class creative and influencer agency.

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