Research shows that despite significant growth and outward investments by Chinese companies, global audiences remain at best, largely unaware of Chinese brands, and at worst, suspicious of their intentions. A recent poll by HD trade Services demonstrated that 94% of Americans cannot name a single Chinese brand and over 30% said they would not buy a brand if they knew it to be Chinese owned.

Today, we are witnessing a major shift in the balance of power between companies and their stakeholders that all companies, including Chinese multinational corporations, face. Dwindling resources, income disparity, shareholder activism enhanced by a technology and social media that level information playing field increase stakeholders demands and expectations. In an era of diminishing trust and increased expectations, progressive companies must redefine their engagement models with the society.

By investigating nearly 600 of world’s largest public and private companies, we have identified those brands that are performing best – Champion Brands – and identified what distinguished them from their competitors, making them the most trusted and valued brands. Our research also identified a new set of actors – the stakebrokers – a group of highly engaged individuals that act and think in ways that differentiate them from traditional influencers.

Unlike stakeholders who are influenced by the action of a company, stakebrokers are unique because they engage with companies from the perspective of, and with the interest of, all of the different groups we traditionally think of – consumers, environmentalists, investors, regulators, community members and employees. They are different not because they engage, but because they have the capacity to engage in a much broader sense, simultaneously combining the interests of all the audiences above.

An example of a stakebroker would be someone who seeks information about a company’s community involvement practices, is a member of an environmental non-profit, writes to elected officials about company’s policies and practices, and maintains much followed social media channels.

A company that wants to future-proof its brand must engage these unique actors that are becoming increasingly prevalent as much in developed as in emerging and developing markets. So what does it take to engage them in a way that builds trust and moves beyond that to acceptance of global brands?

  • Alignment – Understanding and exceeding societal expectations is an essential, but not sufficient first step
  • Authenticity – Building upon the foundation work of Arthur Page Society on Authentic Enterprise and the transparency and ethical standards company must hold at its core
  • Attachment – Building a deeper emotional connection with the brand that not only establishes loyalty, but triggers consumers’ positive behavior
  • Advocacy – Measuring how well a company applies its assets and expertise to advocate on behalf of the needs of society and stakebrokers

Each of these components is sequential and companies must master the first level before achieving strength at the next. Advocacy stands at a core of a Champion Brand, explaining why you are in business in a way that works in common cause with your key audiences. It means acting on shared values and building your business while improving the society at large. This will ultimately allow companies to move beyond trust and truly elevate their brands in a way that is sustainable for the future.

Author: Margery Kraus is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of APCO Worldwide.

Image: A man braves gusty winds outside a shopping mall at Tsim Sha Tsui shopping district during Typhoon Usagi in Hong Kong September 22, 2013. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu