Boycott or buycott - how brand purpose can make the difference

Patagonia, SBS, Thank You., and SiteMinder got together at CMO’s Momentum event in Sydney last week to discuss the important, and sometimes controversial, idea of brand purpose

Brand purpose has to be authentic and not be too far removed from your business proposition for it to resonate and be successful. 

Marketing leaders from Patagonia, SBS, Thankyou and SiteMinder got together at CMO’s Momentum event in Sydney last week to discuss the important, and sometimes controversial, idea of brand purpose, how it can be achieved, who is driving it, and how it differs from the corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs of old.

Patagonia marketing manager for Australia and New Zealand, Naima Wilson, told the audience brand purpose has taken on a completely different dimension, and is now about how a brand is acting to make the world a better place. 

“Patagonia is in business to save our home planet. Our founders and owner are really committed to creating change and we live this every day,” she explained. “This starts with product. We look at a product and try to build functionality and durability, and also repairability in mind. Through our Worn Wear program we offer to repair gear, and the goal is to extend the lifetime of garments and keep them out of landfill.

"Purpose shows also through how we participate in environmental campaigns and bring awareness to local issues, every year we give one per cent of sales to grassroots environmental groups that are fighting every day to protect our air, water, and soil." 

SBS director of marketing, Jane Palfreyman, added SBS is fortunate because its brand purpose is intrinsic to who it is, which is inspiring all Australians to explore and celebrate a diverse world with the ambition of driving a more cohesive society. 

“It guides our decision making, focuses the team on creating and making content, and then connecting that content with audiences," she said.

SiteMinder CMO, Mark Renshaw, said the travel technology platform provider is early in its purpose journey, but key to this is declaring who your enemy is. 

“Our purpose is liberating hotels with technology. But for me it’s about declaring your enemy, because this drives tension and you need good positive tension in everything you do," he said. "For us, the enemy is 'closed thinking'. So we are now on a journey to drive that purpose all the way through our business through to every employee’s KPIs. 

“We are starting on the internal side. We are a fast-growing company, with new people every single week, so in our orientation program we talk about purpose as the first part of this, so they know why they are coming to work every day. We now find our own people being evangelists. We will expand that out as we go.” 

Brand purpose is the reason why Thankyou exists, said the brand’s head of marketing, Rebecca Smith. “Our purpose is to empower humanity to choose a world without poverty. It’s our north star, it’s the reason behind every strategic and tactical decision we make. We were born out of that purpose," she told attendees.

"Our founders sat down to solve a problem about 10 years ago, which was that 736 million people still live in extreme poverty, yet we spend billions on every day products, so how can we can use one statistic to solve another?"

The biggest reflection of this is via the business model: 100 per cent of profit helps to end local poverty, and this is communicated in every message and product.

"But it’s also a really challenging business model. We’ve had to think about innovative ways to grow,” Smith said. 

Palfreyman said SBS evolved its brand positioning in the last year to ‘a world of difference’ and is now articulating its purpose in a way that is relevant for audiences. An example would be the recently launched program, The Hunting, which on the face of it is a drama with strong Australian amazing cast.

"But it is a drama with purpose, where we sought to interrogate and understand sexting and cyber security for young people and exploring this from a range of perspectives,” she said.

Brand purpose = authenticity 

When it comes to brand purpose, authenticity is key, all panellists agreed, as is purpose being aligned to what you do as a business. 

“Customers see through something inauthentic very quickly," Wilson said. "We treat our customers respectfully. When talking about reducing our impact by building the best product , our purpose is aligned with our core business  but it still made sense to our customers when  we recently launched into food, the reason being  was that we saw the potential in regenerative agriculture which could sequester carbon out of the atmosphere and this move was aligned with our mission.” 

Palfreyman agreed brands are found out pretty quickly if they are not led by authenticity. “It also can’t be led by marketing, it has to be top down, and your culture and values have to be aligned, because unless you have that foundation aligned and in service of purpose, it doesn’t land,”  she said.

Renshaw added purpose has to be core to what your business does. While less concerned about the impact of jumping on issues, you can’t go more than two or three degrees of separation from your core business, he suggested. 

“Authenticity is key,” Smith said, adding it's easy for Thankyou, because it’s where the organisation came from.

"It’s interesting to watch big brands try and transform into brand purpose. It can be challenging and difficult to retrofit purpose into your brand," she said. "It has to be something commercially positive, that also has a positive impact on people’s lives.”

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) was also on the panel's agenda. Smith said CSR used to be a section of a business that excused other parts of the business.

“Consumers are more savvy than that, they see straight through it. We find customers are asking us to be much more holistic around how we do business," she commented. "They are very clever, and clearly brands can’t do one thing via CSR at the cost of the others. Brand purpose is very different from old school CSR.” 

Renshaw agreed, saying CSRs are really no longer around. “For a while, they were in the land of the comms part of the business. They were misdirection. This has changed now.” 

Palfreyman noted CSR programs may still around but are often initiatives rather than about purpose. “It can be in service of your purpose, but if that’s all your brand purpose is, you’re in trouble,” she warned.

Generation 'We' driving change 

All panellists agreed the younger generation is driving this quest for brand purpose, and it is becoming table stakes for any brand to compete. It's particularly the case generation Z, or as Thank You. calls them, generation ‘we’, Smith said. 

“They are the most socially conscious and savvy generation, as they have had access to information at their fingers their whole lives, and they are jammed with media around state of world," she said. "So they are asking brands to step up and do something, and they are also conscious boycotting brands that don’t live up to this, and ‘buycotting’ brands they do believe in. if you want to engage with that generation, you have to have purpose.” 

Renshaw saw this drive for purpose starting with the younger generations, but now going all the way through the ages.

“Consumers are demonstrating beliefs through their wallet. We did research which showed corporations are thought to be able to make more change in the world than governments," he said. "Governments are paralysed now, and we have a very polarised community, so companies have made more change. This being said, you have to be really careful to not make a political statement. Purpose doesn’t need to be political.” 

According to Wilson, people don’t want to spend their time anymore on just on a brand, they want to build a rapport and trust. “People are trusting brands more than government. We’ve been criticised on our stand against the Trump administration about the rescinding of national monuments in the US, but for us environment is a non-partisan issue,” she said.

Palfreyman added that for SBS, the younger generation driving change is why purpose is so powerful internally.

“We’ve got a young workforce and delivering authentically on purpose is important to make employees want to stay," she said. “Trust is at an all time low. Now’s the time for brands to stand up and make the change - it’s a great time for brands to stand up while people are disenfranchised, and land their purpose in an authentic way. “

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia.   

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