Today’s marketplace is being shaped by new business drivers and consumer demand for brands to define and own their purpose is powering a cultural revolution in which companies are now seen as part of a larger global ecosystem of social and environmental change. Cross-sector partnerships are helping to scale the contribution of each player – be it a company, government, nonprofit, foundation or individual – in the context of a marketplace where contribution is being a competitive and differentiating advantage.
Here are three critical ways every brand can use collaboration to further its purpose-driven mission and position itself for long-term success:
1. Partner with nonprofit organizations: Connecting with a nonprofit organization dedicated to a mission that aligns with your brand’s purpose is an excellent way to refine your business so it embodies the core values it is promoting – or if you haven’t defined your purpose, it can set you on the right track. What’s more, it contributes to a larger movement that improves your own brand image and will generate word of mouth promotion of your brand.
A great example of how a corporation working with a nonprofit to amplify its purpose is the partnership between Ralph Lauren and the Rainforest Action Network (RAN). In this case, RAN approached Ralph Lauren – and over a dozen of the largest apparel companies as part of the Out of Fashion campaign – to encourage the clothing manufacturer to incorporate social and environmental criteria into its wood-based fabrics supply chain. The nonprofit used media focusing events and gathered support from nearly 20,000 consumers to put pressure on the apparel company to commit to ethical and sustainable sourcing. Ralph Lauren is now working with RAN on developing a procurement policy that supports the triple bottom-line and plans to release the policy by mid-2017. Brands are being increasingly scrutinized for their behaviors and stakeholders both inside and outside of companies are calling out for more purposeful contributions. Whether you’re just beginning to weave purpose into your business or working to amplify your existing impact work, partnering with NGOs is a great way to perpetuate and scale your purpose.
2. Heed customer feedback and engagement: With upwards of a billion people signing on daily to social media, it serves as an unprecedented real time focus group where consumers share what they like and dislike about companies and products. Some brands are also creating their own interactive online platforms to deepen such insights. Brands that listen to their customers and incorporate what they hear into products and services strengthen stakeholder engagement, increase loyalty and ultimately drive profits.
A company doing an amazing job at developing a dialog with customers is Axa. InterBrand’s Best Global Brands 2016 rankings report named them the leading global insurance company for the eighth year in a row because of their ability to drive innovation through customer input. The company, which has been in business for over 150 years, established a two-way customer feedback system in which they communicate with customers through a variety of online interactive platforms. While the My Axa app that is designed fosters dialog by displaying consumer reviews on their website (one of the first insurance companies to do this in the US). Your customers are your best friends when it comes to positioning your brand and products for future success. By seeing your consumers as partners, you can build community engagement and accelerate long-term growth.
3. Share insights and benchmarks within your industry: Purpose is now beyond table stakes and there is an increasing number of businesses competing for the top spot. While this one might seem most counter intuitive, companies that share the tools and methods they use to measure and scale purpose not only magnify their work and own a leadership role, but also contribute to achieving purpose-driven goals bigger than themselves.
A great example of this is the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, an amazing collaboration between apparel companies that helps define holistic metrics and best practices to mobilize brands to improve both socially and environmentally. The Coalition’s Higg Index is a metric system that blends the Eco-Index developed by the Outdoor Industry Association and Nike’s Environmental Apparel Design Tool to give brands an actionable guide to improving their impact. Brands that hold themselves to a higher standard and then share those insights with others are best positioned to lead the purpose landscape and to make the world a better place, together.
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Title image via Flickr courtesy of user Chuck Coker at https://flic.kr/p/5RxPq8.