2013-10-14

Co.Exist

10 Ways Today's Purpose-Driven Brands Can Bring Their Core Values To Life

How businesses can take their beliefs and make them real for consumers.

Today’s brand must live and breathe through its core values in order to survive. Purpose is king, and there’s no turning back.

When 87% of global consumers believe business should place equal weight on societal issues and business issues, the better a brand brings its societal purpose to life in everyday operations, the more successful both business and social impact will be.

With our planet in a rapid state of decline—climate change, loss of biodiversity, disparity of wealth, obesity, water scarcity, the list goes on—companies will increasingly be viewed as either part of the solution or problem.

But since the way businesses convey values will ultimately determine success, how brands authentically position in a way that is meaningful and relevant has never been more important.

One look into a Whole Foods, for instance, and you can see CEO John Mackey has core value positioning mastered. Its core values are steeped into its culture—from grocery bags to large visuals across more than 340 stores. And they don’t just apply from situation to situation; they act as the underpinning of its company culture. With a focus on environmental stewardship, the health of local and global communities, the happiness of team members, and high-quality products, its epicenter of core values drive business through the greater purpose of serving humanity.

At this year’s We First Social Branding Seminar, Simon Mainwaring, author of We First and founder and CEO of brand consultancy We First, Inc., shared the latest research and strategies used to harness core values to optimize social impact while building the bottom line. Brands and nonprofits from Toyota to charity: water shared success stories and strategies.

Here’s a look into 10 ways today’s purpose-driven brand can bring its core values to life:

1: Humanity must be the cornerstone of your brand architecture

The best companies are those that advocate for important things. A look at the Meaningful Brands Index, a new metric of global brand strength that analyzes human well being with brands at a business level, shows that brands that positively affect humanity outperform the stock market by 120%. So whether it’s CSR, sustainability, community giving, employee volunteering, cause marketing, or foundation alignment, the more good works your values support, the more favorable the brand.

If your brand story does not authentically and meaningfully contribute to the well-being of society or the environment, your brand will not be viewed as important. In fact, the Meaningful Brand Index report found that 73% of all brands could disappear and consumers wouldn’t care.

2: Your story must transcend technology

Brand messaging that cuts through clutter has never been more important.
Steve Jobs exemplified this best when he said, "Marketing is about values. It’s a complicated and noisy world, and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear about what we want them to know about us."

If your story doesn’t have a distinct point of view on the social impact it wants to create, forget the telling. Today’s purpose-driven brand story, says Mainwaring, must "transcend technology." "You must tell a story worth telling to be a brand worth sharing." Finally, how well you tell your story "determines how well your customers tell your story."

3: Make customers the celebrity of your brand story

Today’s marketing isn’t about highlighting features and benefits, it’s about "celebrating the benefit in the way it impacts other people’s lives," says Mainwaring. If you make the lives you touch as celebrity and showcase their humanity, its possible to make an emotional impact on your customer.

"Emotional impact on your customers will be in direct proportion to the social impact of your purpose," says Mainwaring and "social impact of your purpose will be in direct proportion to the success of your business." Without this impact, it’s impossible to carry core values to life.

In a one-minute video with now more than 5.6 million views, Nike’s Find Your Greatness campaign celebrates greatness in the everyday person. They’ve made the customer the celebrity in a story that inspires greatness through movement in all walks of life.

4: CEOs must lead by example

In today’s market of transparency, CEOs must serve as the public face of the company. Some of the most popular and effective CEOs empower and continually engage the customer community and employees to be the co-authors of the brand story.

And leadership doesn’t end at the office or after one big campaign—it’s a way of life that inspires others to put people and the planet at the center of all they do.

5: Inspire employees to become brand advocates

When it comes to creating social employees, its advantageous to use social media platforms to make employee connections that accelerate business performance according to the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer. By creating internal and external social media platforms on behalf of your company, Mainwaring points out how it’s possible to encourage employee collaboration and idea generation—but also to activate employees as ambassadors, training them to advocate for the company externally.

In fact, recent research shows that when employee interactions to happen on social media (rather privately on email), productivity increases by up to 25%.

One of the best ways to do this is by giving employees a visceral experience—such as volunteering—in a way that’s authentic to your brand. Then, give them a toolkit that allows them to share the experience on the blog.

6: Make engagement your key metric for social

Sales, traffic, and impressions are secondary measures to the chief metric of engagement. And in order to engage customers, there’s no better way to bring core values to life than by creating meaningful conversations. And more marketers agree than ever that meaningful conversations help with brand lift and relevance more so than any other metric.

And where is brand engagement taking place? "The U.S. audience is deeply and dynamically engaged with mobile," says Mainwaring. Mobile social media is the fastest growing trend. So if your brand can’t live across a 3-inch mobile screen, your brand might be in trouble.

7: It doesn’t matter what you say. It matters how it’s heard

It’s never been more important to reframe what you once thought about marketing messaging. Mainwaring advises, "It’s not brand marketing you’re sharing, it’s brand relevance and meaning." Today’s marketing style should be about actualizing brand purpose—"be real not perfect."

Content should be exclusive, insightful, educational, and innately sharable within a platform that continually rewards those who engage.

And getting your message heard is no longer about billboards and television. It’s about one-to-one social engagement. "Facebook, Google, and Twitter are the NBC, ABC, and CBS of the future," says Mainwaring.

8: Give customers clear proof of impact

Communicating the proof of social impact your company has upon the world to your customers can profoundly bring core values to life. Paull Young, director of digital at charity: water shared a few of its organization’s secrets to success. "The first thing you need to do is inspire people, followed by giving them a really clear proof of impact," says Young.

"We continually fill the social media funnels with inspiration—telling the story of those we have helped." Believing in the power of proof, they show all their water projects for communities in need on their site. The key takeaway from Young: Inspire, drive impact, and report.

9: Build a community that is self-sustaining

In an age of brand ambassadors fueling your message, consistent reward upgrades are key to the sustainability of your community. "If people are not constantly engaged, you will lose them," says Mainwaring. The goal is to get "long-term benefits in a noisy marketplace," aligning your mission and purpose to the world in a way where others tell your brand story.

With more than half of its marketing budget dedicated to social and digital, Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good campaign built an entire community around the individual experiences of 100 nonprofits helping those in need. From Hurricane Sandy relief efforts to the transportation of the handicapped, Toyota gave away 100 cars and trucks to aid in transportation needs. Votes for which nonprofits were crowd sourced and winners were empowered to share meaningful experiences.

10: Celebrate your community

"When you actually reach out and celebrate what someone is doing, you create a gravitational force of goodwill around you," says Mainwaring. Celebrating success stories makes all the difference in the world when it comes to inspiring your customers. Through this inspiration, customers will innately share content and bring goodwill to life.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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9 Comments

  • Gabriel Parra Blessing

    "When 87% of global consumers believe business should place equal weight on societal issues and business issues, the better a brand brings its societal purpose to life in everyday operations, the more successful both business and social impact will be."

    Oh, come on! You are making the FATAL mistake of assuming that people actually behave as they claim to believe. Hogwash. Most consumers except for a very narrow, highly educated, affluent and generally WASPy substratum of society are not driven to make purchase decisions based on the fact that a company's social values reflect their own. Narrow, egotistical self-interest is a much more powerful driver for the vast majority of consumers than whether a company plants a few trees as part of a greenwashing initiative. This column is painfully naive not to mention astoundingly ethnocentric (not all consumers are white U.S Northeast or California liberals, you know?).

  • John NL Leyson

    "It’s not brand marketing you’re sharing, it’s brand relevance and meaning."

    This one is a spot on.

  • SchoolHelps

    for anyone who wants to actually implement this (which they should), @schoolhelps.

  • David Harris

    With each generational shift there is an opportunity for companies to reshuffle loyalty in their category. In some cases this can be accomplished through disrupting the norms around how business is conducted. These attributes however can be replicated over time. Brand Benefits are mostly unique and provide consumers with tribal instinct in their purchase decisions. This tribal instinct allows brands to punch beyond their categories and leverage their consumer base and the revenue potential that is contained within them. Think Harley Davidson, Starbucks, Jeep and more. Their core product is strong enough to weather bad management and their non-core revenue streams can make the difference of profitability or not in challenging times. The 10 axioms here are spot on and the reality is that they are grounded in decades of experience but are even more relevant now that that Digital has made the world smaller, faster and more nimble.

  • Sheraz Kazmi

    I'd like to see the focus of #5 expand from just employees to all stakeholders involved. In the end everyone can be a potential advocate. What do you think?

  • Tracy Lloyd

    Great article Jessica. Our agency, Emotive Brand is seeing more and more, companies integrating meaning into their way of doing business. This idea takes many forms and appears under many names: meaningful brands, conscious capitalism, mindful brands, B-corps, emotive brands, etc.

    We believe that underpinning all these interesting variants are the three primary
    drivers of meaningful businesses and brands: empathy, purpose, and
    emotion.

    Purpose driven brands are here to stay. Companies need to know how to make the fundamental shifts in order for their companies to live authentically from this. It takes time, practice and the understanding that it can't happen overnight. Over the past 5 years, we have made this our mission at Emotive Brand.

    I love seeing more and more articles on the subject with strong research to back it up.

  • PaulGBurke

    What an astonishingly insightful paean to Simon Mainwaring! Sales are less important than engagement? How does this pablum get published?

  • Sheraz Kazmi

    Great article. I also find the attention for other stakeholders (e g. suppliers, partners) important. Treat everyone as a potential brand advocate. What do you think?