We live in exciting times. All around us companies are using their corporate reach to create real, positive change in our world. Millennials and GenZ have an expectation that the brands they interact with will have some sort of purpose or mission which goes beyond the actual product or service. Marketers are taking note. As a result, the term “purpose-driven” has become a mainstream concept in the corporate world. Where it was once a differentiator among brands, with outliers like Patagonia and TOMS leading the charge, we now find our local coffee shops and neighborhood breweries centering their businesses around a greater purpose and a mission to give back to the community. While these changes in corporate behavior are welcome, there is now a question of how to express corporate purpose in an authentic manner. How do we continue to share stories of social impact when social impact itself has become “mainstream?”
Focus on the impact: Now that social impact is part of just about every brand story, it has become a real challenge for purpose-driven companies to stand out from the crowd. If everyone is touting the ways they give back, sharing your brand’s impact story can begin to feel like just another advertising gimmick. How do you maintain a sense of authenticity while making sure your audience is aware of your good work? The answer is to focus on the impact. If part of your brand promise is that you “donate 1% of profits to fight hunger,” don’t just say that’s what you do, rather share stories and examples of how this mission has actually created a positive impact in the community. The tagline can and should remain an integral part of your brand message however, it needs to be followed up with information on the why, how, and results and impact. For example, share stories of why you believe in the mission, how/to whom you are allocating the funds and how you determined who should receive the benefits and finally share stories of measurable results and of actual individuals whose lives are positively impacted by your efforts.
Maintain authenticity: Your mission should be communicated consistently and pervasively throughout your brand and marketing efforts. A single marketing campaign to highlight the mission and leverage the cause as a temporary sales boost will not feel authentic to your audience or consumers. The message must be conveyed across all platforms at all times as a consistent drum beat. Your greater purpose can be tied to a marketing campaign at times, but should be highlighted in ways that show that the company, at its heart, cares about the cause it seeks to support, regardless of whether consumers are purchasing their product or service. For example, if your favorite pizza company starts a campaign where they give $1 from every pizza served to support renewable energy initiatives, as a consumer you think “great, sounds good.” But if you then see that same pizza company install a full solar array on their roof and run their business on 100% solar power, you then believe in the authenticity behind their motives. Brands must walk the walk.
Remain transparent: It is no secret that “purpose drives profits.” You aren’t going to hide this fact from savvy consumers, so don’t try. Use platforms of owned media and earned media to tell your brand story, your purpose, your impact, and your successes. It is OK to talk about your business success, but it must be framed in a way that shows the impact those successes have had on your delivery of purpose. For example, you might share that sales were up 150% in Q1 of 2019 resulting in the company meeting its corporate giving goal of $100,000 for the quarter. This, in turn, is a great opportunity to segway into your impact stories and talk about the real people that are benefitting from your mission. As long as you follow practices of responsible storytelling, these impact stories are good ways to show how profitability supports purpose and that these two concepts go hand-in-hand to benefit our communities.
In the end, authenticity is best conveyed when communicated consistently across all channels. Your purpose shouldn’t ever be a sales pitch but it does need to be your rallying cry if you truly want to make an impact. The message must be regularly communicated internally to your team, consistently throughout your website, social channels, and marketing efforts, through earned media channels, and most importantly, in the day-to-day actions you take and ongoing interactions you have with your stakeholders.