What’s the difference between a brand with purpose and a purpose-driven brand? Sounds like a subtle nuance, but according to new research, the distinction is proving ever more important, especially in an era where consumers remain skeptical and business leaders expect corporate values to translate into tangible returns.
As Edelman’s recent brandshare and Trust Barometer studies reveal, when it comes to purpose, there is a widening gap between what people expect and what many brands and organizations deliver. While 92% of consumers want to do business with companies that share their values, only 14% have faith in business or believe that brands engage them well. Additionally, 40% of consumers don’t think brands are doing enough to demonstrate their beliefs in helping the world.
The Reputation Institute reveals similar findings. The institute’s 2013 survey shows that while 73% percent of consumers are willing to recommend companies that stand for something meaningful, only 5% believe that companies actually deliver on their promises.
Given the fact that the average Fortune 500 company spends anywhere from $50 to $100 million annually on activities ranging from sustainability to CSR to cause branding, one could argue that, as an industry, we could do a lot better. If you ask me, the sizeable gap between people’s expectations and experiences isn’t just a missed business opportunity. It’s a chance to radically transform the way purpose comes to market.
As opposed to the plethora of brands that claim to stand for a higher purpose, truly purpose-driven brands not only translate their values into substantive actions—from supply chain overhauls to the development of environmentally sound products—they effectively bridge the divide between internal corporate activities and everyday consumer experiences. That means their purpose is made both literal and visceral, impacting more people in meaningful ways.
Going into 2014, it’s essential that more of us break with tradition, defying the status quo and moving beyond the usual (dare I say boring) ways of bringing purpose to life. As I’ve previously indicated, nobody wants to be lectured, shamed or shocked into supporting "sustainability" or "corporate responsibility," so now’s the time to get exceptionally relevant. That means thinking beyond the ordinary and engaging a critical mass, not just an elite few. At Edelman, we call this Showing Up Differently—a mantra we hope that more brands and organizations will actively embrace.
Here, in my opinion, is where they can start:
Today, it’s not what you stand for, but how you stand for it that matters most. "How" is arguably the most crucial factor when it comes making or breaking a brand’s success. Take Virgin America, for instance, a company committed to "treating the 99% like the 1%." These aren’t just idealistic words on a page, but a cultural ethos made real. As an avid Virgin passenger myself, I feel the 99% vibe each time I check in, board a flight, use the app, call the help line, watch the insanely cool safety video or make an onboard charitable donation. In fact, every one of these purposeful experiences reinforces my addiction to the brand.
Admittedly, I am so loyal to Virgin America that oftentimes, I don’t fly to a city if Virgin doesn’t go there. And based on the brand’s customer satisfaction scores, clearly I’m not alone. In a very real way, "How" is Virgin’s ticket to driving trust, loyalty, and a sustainable corporate reputation.
There is a spectrum of bold along which purposeful companies can play. On one side of the spectrum, there’s clever. Target’s decision to let Facebook users decide how and where to channel its philanthropic funds was clever. Clever draws people in and creates a certain level of engagement and buzz.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s game-changing. Tesla’s Model S launch, which promoted its battery technology over competitors’ through an unbeatable blend of design and showmanship, was game-changing. Square Cash’s concept of democratizing banking by letting anyone around the world transfer money instantly via email, is game-changing. Nike’s Making app, which enables designers everywhere to develop sustainable apparel using the most advanced materials and methods, is game-changing. Now more than ever, we need more game-changing examples of brands that elevate purpose to the level of extraordinary.
Too often, purpose remains siloed off as a corporate or operational activity, not one that’s integrated into the brand itself. That’s why in many cases, millions of dollars are spent on worthy efforts that are left practically invisible to people, making it harder for business leaders to accurately measure—let alone optimize—their ROI. Lately, however, more brands are connecting the dots and taking a more balanced approach to communications.
Take Unilever, for instance (Unilever is an Edelman client). The company’s latest consumer campaign, Project Sunlight, is not only backed by an extensive sustainable business strategy and employee engagement effort, it’s aimed at changing consumer behavior. Project Sunlight establishes a strong point of view, endears people to the brand and helps consumers create a better future for children through their purchases, personal relationships, social media activities, and more. It’s an approach designed to include rather than overwhelm people, and with over 2.5 million Facebook likes, it’s one that seems to be working.
Most brands rely on static content to relay their commitments to the world. But lately some unusually creative approaches have emerged from unexpected players. Last month at a high-profile industry event, tech giant HP (another Edelman client) unveiled Earth Insights, a groundbreaking environmental partnership with nonprofit group Conservation International. Rather than explaining the potential of the partnership to stakeholders the usual way, HP built a multi-dimensional experience, consisting of a living wall of rainforest plants embedded with touch screens containing a series of provocative data visualizations. As journalists, customers, employees, and partners approached the installation and engaged with the visualizations, they were able to see, touch, discover, and feel the power of HP technology for themselves. That kind of interactivity leaves a totally different impression. One that really sticks.
Looking back at 2013, it strikes me that the best purpose-related campaigns had a TED-like quality to them. They were born from ideas worth spreading. Two of my favorites, Follow the Frog from Rainforest Alliance and The Scarecrow from Chipotle (an Edelman client), used culturally aware, creatively brilliant digital methods to engage audiences and make them a part of the story itself. In Follow the Frog’s case, Rainforest Alliance lovingly lampooned it’s target audience, poking fun at their aspirations to lead ecologically minded lifestyles, while pointing to the fact that making sustainable purchasing decisions is now simple and easy.
In the case of The Scarecrow, the target audience was given the opportunity to experience the dark side of food sourcing through a captivating video, iPad game, and in-store experience that encouraged better food choices and brand loyalty. In both cases, the ideas of social good, human stories, and transcending limitations were brought together in a truly moving way—thus encouraging incredible viral momentum.
Collectively, these examples point to a new way of doing things—a pointed break from tradition. Sure, some brands may trip and approaches can misfire. But endlessly repeating tried and true tactics for fear of change does nothing to alter future results. And as the wisest entrepreneurs among us know, often the greatest risk is not taking one.