Brand purpose must be all year round

​Brands that do not stand for something are wasting their power and their voice, not to mention commercial opportunities

Brands that do not stand for something are wasting their power and their voice, not to mention commercial opportunities, according to a professor of management at Macquarie Business School.

Debbie Haski-Leventhal told CMO corporate political activism is becoming increasingly important to consumers and having a powerful voice is a brand responsibility, not just a privilege.

And various studies back up her assertions. Deloitte last year found purpose-oriented companies have higher productivity and growth rates, along with a more satisfied workforce who stay longer with them. The research shows such companies report 30 per cent higher levels of innovation and 40 per cent higher levels of workforce retention than their competitors.

Deloitte also found more than 80 per cent of consumers would be willing to pay more if a brand raised its prices to be more environmentally and socially responsible or to pay higher wages to its employees. Out of these respondents, 15 per cent said they would be willing to pay over 25 per cent more for a brand’s items.

Haski-Leventhal comments come as brands try to get their voices heard around Mardi Gras this weekend (29 February). As campaigns touting brands as being LBGTQI-friendly number in their hundreds, Haski-Leventhal said not only does a lot of this smack of tokenism, there are significant benefits to those companies which approach LBGTQI issues thoughtfully as an all-year round approach, as they can not only reduce the risks to their brand, and increase sales and profits, but also improve performance, and impact public opinion.

“Supporting LBGTQI rights can't just be around Mardi Gras, that is just rainbow washing and tokenism. It has to be holistic, it has to be consistent, and also constant across a brand all year round,” she told CMO. “Although it is important that businesses signal their support for the LBGTQI community through supporting Mardi Gras, it has to be more than that.

“Recent surveys show, especially for the younger generation, they're very keen to buy products and be a part of the workforce of brands that are more purpose-driven, and the work firms are doing for the LBGTQI community is part of that movement towards brand purpose.

“But in order to be holistic, the first thing companies need to do is support their employees who belong to the LBGTQI community through non-discriminatory policies, even language, the culture that they promote, and then through constant corporate activism.”

3-step approach

To achieve this, Haski-Leventhal has a three-level approach for brands looking to walk the walk, not just talk the talk: Policy, culture and political activism.

“So the first thing we're talking about is the policies. Australian and multinational corporations need to look at their policies, including parental leave, and include parents who belong to the LBGTQI community as part of that. So it's not just maternity leave or parental leave. It's also for gay couples who adopt or go through surrogacy, and that enables the parents to not only support their babies and their children, but also feel like they truly belong to the organisation and see they get the same treatment as everyone else."

Next is culture, a mix of values and language, and even physical buildings, Haski-Leventhal continued.

"Some companies are doing things to create a supportive and inclusive culture in their workplaces, such as having a unisex bathroom or they have bathrooms where you could use it according to your choice. This is also including terms used in internal communication and in policies," she said. 

“This is the value of inclusion. The litmus test is: Are our employees comfortable enough to be themselves in the workplace? You want them to be comfortable to the point where they can actually feel comfortable coming out and being there fulfilled in the workplace. What you don’t want is half the time they are busy thinking about what they're hiding, instead of concentrating on the work." 

The third trend Haski-Leventhal identified rising in the last two years is corporate political activism on a range of issues.

"More CEOs more and more companies feel comfortable to go into the political arena by stating what they believe in. So that's a really interesting shift that's currently happening in the world," she said. 

“These corporations, they're so powerful and they need to use that power in a positive way. If brands are only using power, for example, as a big multinational brand, to sell products, it's a waste of voice. If a brand is not using that voice to actively promote human rights and social issues, it’s a waste of voice and opportunity.

“Having a powerful voice is not just a privilege, it's a responsibility, and it’s what consumers now expect. There is a global movement of mindful consumption, where consumers are trying to see where their money's going and how they can use that power to promote causes they care about.

“And it's more than just brands saying for everything that you buy, we're going to give dollars for charity. It really is about looking at their supply chain and their value chain and asking are they holistically responsible and sustainable in every action along the way."

And that includes being mentors of human rights and LBGTQI rights, Haski-Leventhal added. "Because if they don't, and if they only say they do, or they do it only in some parts of the world and not in other parts of the world, then then it becomes rainbow washing.”

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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