Why Australia needs more leaders

Dan Banyard

Dan has over 25 years’ experience developing Internet based technology applications. He started Edentify in 2000, making it one of the first companies in Australia specialising in online research. Dan continues to focus on looking for alternative, more efficient ways to collect and understand information – engaging with audiences through the use of new technology.

A few weeks ago, our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison took it upon himself to tell companies and their CEOs where to go when it came to societal issues. It wasn’t an organisation’s place to get involved. Instead, he said it should be left to governments to solve societies challenges.

At the time a couple of brands, most notably Qantas and Virgin, took the opportunity to push back and argue that brands have an important role in tackling these issues.

After that there was an eerie silence.

It was a silence that reflected the dilemma facing many leaders in organisations across Australia today. Chairman, CEOs, CMOs and others in the c-suite often want to take a stand and allow their leadership to match their own personal values. They are also motivated by their staff and other stakeholders to represent their views and allow them to work for an organisation that is playing an active role in society.

But more often the risks that come with such public leadership outweigh the decision to stay quiet or focus on less topical and challenging issues.  

It’s hardly surprising. Any morning listening to Alan Jones will show the type of attacks brands and their leaders can be subject to if they dare to have ideas that went against his agenda.

Brands and their leaders, including Sydney Opera House when it took on gambling, Coles for standing up to threatening language and superannuation funds for investing in companies contributing to climate change have all felt the wrath.

But research suggests that leaders who do stand up and fight for what they believe in can be rewarded at the checkout and those that don’t could find themselves counting the cost of such a decision.

In a new study, Voice of Australia, by Edentify, a large section of society has expressed a desire for corporate leaders to speak out and play an active role in fixing issues the country faces today. This is especially true among a group becoming increasingly important to brands looking for the next generation of customers.

Of GenZ polled, 37 per cent said they disagreed with the Prime Minister and believed brands should get involved in societal issues. This was compared to 76 per cent of older generations, such as Baby Boomers, who said brands should stay out of the way. In addition, 40 per cent of GenZ said they shouldn’t just get involved but believed brands were, in fact, better equipped to tackle these issues than Governments.

Voice of Australia tells us Australia needs more brand and corporate leaders. As the trust of governments languish at an all-time low Australians are desperate for someone to step up and get involved. If it isn’t government, then corporate Australia needs to play that role.

Yes, they may alienate a few, but getting involved in the right issue that resonates with their audience could see commercial success through more customers and a stronger loyalty among their existing base.

What should be concerning for CEOs and their CMOs is that the study found 62 per cent of this GenZ group have stopped buying a product due to the conduct of a brand. Supporting this finding was half said they would choose one brand over another due to their environmental record and more than a third picked a brand if it had a positive impact on the community.   

The argument is therefore not just philosophical but commercial and should be a topic of debate around the boardrooms of Australia.

But to realise this benefit to their bottom-line, CEOs, sales directors and CMOs first need to understand the true values held by their customer base. It’s no good running research looking solely at areas such as their buying behaviour or desires around a specific product or service.

By understanding deeper personal and cultural values, the right societal challenges for a brand to become involved in can be identified and tackled in a way that limits is authentic and minimises potential fallout at the checkout.

In addition, getting the right issue and taking a very public leadership position on it could provide a much-needed differentiator for a brand that might find itself operating in a cluttered market.

We all know that brands need a purpose and many CEOs and their management teams have been working out their ‘Why’ for some time. But if is not brought to life to tackle real problems in society it will remain an unfulfilled promise.

Corporate leaders must take Scott Morrison’s warning and challenge it, using it as a call to arms to get involved, show real leadership and help address issues that are long overdue to be fixed.

The results won’t just be felt in communities around Australia and the world, but in the brand metrics, customer and sales figures and the corporate balance sheet for years to come.

Tags: CEO, Australian Government, leadership, CMO role

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