In our look at brand purpose and honesty, we have found that purpose is good for marketers because the benefits of purpose closely match marketers’ own marketing objectives.
Despite this, some marketers believe that there are good reasons not to adopt purpose. Chief among these, marketers worry that if purpose is not adopted authentically, then it could cause problems because they could be perceived as dishonest.
It’s therefore a good idea to devote time and attention to purpose. Based on our research of 600 CMOs and 7,000 consumers, we have identified a 6-point plan to help brands get purpose right.
1. Treat your employees well
We know from our research that consumers link the treatment of employees to the behavior of the company. Companies that treat their employees well are considered to be good companies.
According to our research, almost half (45%) of consumers say companies that ‘treat employees well’ would make them more likely to buy a product or service from that company.
In addition, three in five (61%) of CMOs say they believe that their own customers care about human and worker rights. Finally, almost four in five (78%) of consumers say that they would make a comment or review about a brand’s human or worker rights record.
Taken together, we can see a correlation between a positive perception of the treatment of employees and positive perception of the whole company.
One real example is software giant Microsoft. Over the 1990s, the reputation inside the firm was of long hours and total dedication to the company. Employees were well-paid, but pressure was intense.
Fast forward to February 2014 and the company was in a crisis. The work culture was notoriously male, combative and confrontational. New CEO Satya Nadella led by example, dialing down the aggression and bringing in something more holistic, collaborative and positive.
In their book From Incremental to Exponential: How Large Companies Can See the Future and Rethink Innovation, Vivek Wadhwa, Ismail Amla and Alex Salkever describe how the results were revolutionary.
On the one hand, Nadella overhauled and rationalized the Microsoft product line. More importantly, he made the company a nice place to work. By any measure, this approach was an astounding success, promoting better productivity and a winning culture. Microsoft now regularly wins awards for its approach to employees – something unthinkable back in the 1990s.
2. Employ the right people
If, like in the example above, you can make your workplace genuinely attractive, then it becomes much easier to employ the right people.
Key people can be transformative for brands, giving the company direction and acting as an accelerant towards a specific goal. Such a goal could be brand purpose.
The hiring of Patrick Neyret at Danone has been one such appointment. Now marketing director DACH, plant-based at food giant Danone, he has been key in pivoting the company towards purpose, and he has become a notable cheerleader for purpose more generally.
Now leading the brand’s foray into plant-based foods, he is turning an enthusiasm for purpose into a commercial imperative by focusing on plant-based foods to displace the traditional meat-based alternatives which have higher environmental impact.
3. Get internal buy-in
If the internal culture is right and you have the right people in the right places, this is still not enough.
To achieve successful purpose, staff need to not only understand, but also feel an emotional connection to that purpose.
One way to do this is to launch an internal advertising campaign to convey to staff what the project is all about.
Another way to gain the confidence of staff is to give them control. By giving staff the ability to shape and lead the direction of your brand’s purpose, they will become more engaged.
What this also means is that the company has to step away to some extent and trust its employees to manage its purpose. While it’s a relatively small example, the Cummings Properties employee-directed giving program offers employees the ability to choose where to donate $1,000 to a non-profit.
The project has been a staggering success and builds meaningful connections between employees and the recipients, creating a virtuous circle of purpose.
4. Ensure clarity of purpose
In 2002, Dutch journalist Teun van de Keuken covered stories about the use of child slavery in the cocoa supply chain, meaning that the chocolate we eat had been produced using slave labor at points in the supply chain.
While waiting for action from government he embarked on an experiment: to produce slave-free chocolate. All 20,000 bars sold out within two days and the experiment turned into a company: Tony’s Chocolonely.
The idea is simple – produce chocolate that does not involve slavery.
In practice this has been exceptionally difficult to achieve, and like many products with a strong purpose, occasional stories emerge showing faults and exploited people in the supply chain, but the company strives to put these right at the earliest opportunity.
However, the cocoa in the chocolate has been traceable since 2013 and the cocoa butter since 2016.
The brand’s focus transcends the sourcing and is evident in both the packaging and even the way the chocolate breaks – not in regular squares, but irregular shapes that show the unfairness in society. The purpose and the product have become interchangeable.
5. Embed purpose into operations
Adopting purpose is not for the faint-hearted, as the multinational Unilever has discovered.
Rather like the example of Tony’s Chocolonely, Unilever is attempting to address the unfairness in its operations. Where it differs is that Tony’s was founded on those principles, whereas Unilever is a large conglomerate that has attempted to focus operations on purpose.
Unilever embarked on this change in 2010 as part of its ‘sustainable living plan’, to some bemusement because there was suspicion about its intentions and credibility.
In this case, the company has shown that it is serious by staying focused, and to some extent other companies have since followed Unilever’s lead.
While there have been anomalies along the way, Unilever takes its approaches seriously, and believes that there are commercial benefits, with sustainable brands growing 69% more quickly than other lines since 2018.
6. Think about business opportunity rather than business impact
Finally, those suspicious of brand purpose often say it can damage operations, hit profits and open them to unnecessary criticism.
But the reverse is true – purpose offers businesses an opportunity to relate to customers and give them a reason to choose your brand over another. Purpose can open the door to new markets and make a positive impact. Not adopting purpose could be a catastrophic error.
If you'd like to find out more about the importance of brand purpose today, why not download a free copy of our latest report Brands that take a stand: Marketers who match consumers’ desire for purpose and honesty come out on top?
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