In the wake of unprecedented environmental and social crises, from climate change to unfair labor practices, consumers and businesses are taking the cue to change. Today, global corporations including Nestle, Puma, IBM, and L’Oreal are not only accepting responsibility for the impact their actions have on broader society but also taking a leadership role. Early forerunners, such as Ben & Jerry’s and Vivienne Westwood, have long been vocal about their commitments to social and environmental progress. No longer the exception but fast becoming the rule, brands now recognize the need to reorient purpose as a requirement to achieve profit (and exist) in an challenged world demanding transparency and accountability.
What does this mean for CMO’s, and why should brands care?
Simply put – consumers care. Edelman’s Good Purpose Study revealed that 49% of global consumers believe companies should be creating products or services that address a societal issue. Consumers are putting their money where their mouth is. According to a Nielsen Study, nearly half of consumers around the world spent more on products and services from companies that implemented programs to give back to society. The benefits to these companies are plenty: 9-in-10 American consumers say they not only have a more positive impression of companies that support CSR (93%) but are also more likely to trust (90%) and be more loyal (90%) to those companies.” (Source: 2013 Cone Communications Global CSR Study).
This extends to B2B businesses too, where leading sustainability efforts not only improves reputation but also adds value to their clients and stakeholders. Intel’s leadership in the conflict-free material space creates tangible value that its customers can speak loudly to. By taking ownership of their entire supply chain, Intel can tell their customers and their customer’s consumers a meaningful story around the journey towards better business and better products.
Beyond customers and consumers, the future of employee performance and retention is becoming a function of how good a citizen corporations become. The next generation is speaking loudly: Net Impact’s Survey indicates 80% of 13-25 year olds want to work for a company that cares about its impact. More than half survey-respondents would also refuse to work for an irresponsible corporation.
Ultimately, the business of brands is changing. From greater transparency across supply chains to increased expectations on decreasing environmental impact, stakeholder pressures are inspiring new, more sustainable business models. Today, there is a growing number of consumers who want to know what kind of impact their purchases will have – both on the environment and, now more than ever, on human beings. Through interactive programs, such as Sourcemap, brands now offer customers a behind-the-scenes look at their supply chains, from end to end.
Embedding sustainability commitments throughout your entire business as usual is essential. To succeed, brands must align their mission, their products, and services, their industry landscape and their messaging all towards a purpose for good. CVS’ recent repositioning to become a more healthful company led to a banning of all tobacco products on its store shelves. By modifying its product mix, CVS is living its commitment to health in a way that’s consistent, meaningful, and authentic – and something that consumers can rally behind.
Where to start? The path to becoming a purpose-driven company is just that: a journey. To become a profitable, purposeful brand, you must:
– Connect your ‘How’ and ‘Why’: Only by connecting the how (actions, products, services) and the why (mission, purpose, vision) of your business, can you create an authentic and comprehensive brand framework. The ‘why’ ultimately informs your brand story (how you serve greater society) and drives all communication content.
– Inspire collaborative discourse, internally and externally: Internally, you must secure values alignment upstream and downstream. A 2013 Deloitte study identified a significant gap between executive and employee perceptions around company purpose. IBM’s Big Green Innovations program shows how employee participation can lead to breakthrough solutions, even a new business unit dedicated to environmental innovations. Bridging the divide between employees and consumers, Nike’s sustainable material app, Making, gives designers access to the fruits of their labor: a six-year research project culminating in a real-time tool to inspire new thinking around material selection for more sustainable design.
Externally, you must be the celebrant, not celebrity, of your customer base, shining light on the good they are doing (as a result of the good you are doing). You must also be additive – provide content that betters your customers experience by being interactive, unexpected, and inspiring within their daily lives. The most effective conversations are two-way; leading brands listen and relate to their audiences at the human level to inspire an exchange that builds meaningful engagement and instills loyalty. According to The Future Laboratory, consumers feel a sense of loyalty to brands that make their lives more fun and more interesting, and provide them with social and experiential currency – that is, stories they can tell other people, or stories that tell them something about themselves. Gap’s One Stitch Closer campaign celebrates the stories of inspiring women as change agents creating a better world. The success of Gap’s campaign, with one video receiving over 5 million views, nods to the importance of joy, meaningful messaging, and cultural relevancy over product features, to create quality content that resonates with your consumer base.
– Bring your commitments to life: Committing to building a better business only goes so far; you need to demonstrate tangible impact by selecting the best programs, initiatives, and causes to invest your time and resources in. Recognize that you cannot do it all, alone. Choose partners (not-for-profits, NGO’s, even competitors) that align with your sustainability goals, as well as your customers, to make real change.
The customer and consumer landscape has changed creating a renewal of demand for authentic meaning in brand marketing and tangible impact to back it up. Attempted disingenuously, the process is fraught with danger. Executed with integrity, it serves as an unprecedented opportunity for brands to carve out a competitive advantage and lasting impact on the world.