How to lead social change (in a good way) » strategy


Written by Laura Richard

Aligning your business with a social or environmental goal has never been hotter. Across industries, leaders are increasingly looking to articulate a purpose for their brand, connecting it to priority issues for current and target customers and employees.

For example, Telus, one of the three telecommunications giants in Canada, has moved towards leadership with its objective. Over the past decade, we can track the transformation to be purpose-driven, culminating in the evolution of its brand promise from “the future is friendly” to “let’s make the future friendly” in 2021.

This change reflects the brand’s commitment to act as a collaborative partner with Canadians by driving social change through the power of technology. Telus’ transformation into a social purpose organization has informed and spurred expansion into new business areas such as Telus Health and Telus Agriculture.

Data fuels the business case for a purpose, with research consistently indicating that consumers are more likely to try, stay loyal, pay more, and stand up for brands that actually do good.

A Cone/Porter Novelli survey found that 66% of consumers say they would switch from a product they typically buy to a new product from a goal-oriented company – that figure rises to 91% when Millennials are questioned.

Beyond brand choice, research also indicates that there is a “lens premium.” Nielsen found that two out of three consumers would pay more for products and services from brands that are committed to having a positive social impact. This is consistent regardless of geography. IBM Research, developed in partnership with the National Retail Federation (NRF), surveyed nearly 19,000 consumers from 28 countries of all demographics and generations and found that 70% of motivated consumers pay an additional premium of 35 % for sustainable purchases, such as recycled or ecological products.

The value of the objective is not limited to the customer value proposition. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, goal-oriented companies had higher levels of employee engagement and retention than their peers. A 2020 study conducted by Deloitte Insights indicated that these brands had 40% higher employee retention, which can only increase as employees report that the pandemic has caused them to reflect on their personal purpose and seek more. meaning in their work.

With strong arguments for the value of purpose for business strategy, customer acquisition, employee loyalty and engagement, it’s no wonder it’s one of the hottest topics around. addressed by business leaders. And make no mistake, I believe that business has a central role to play in solving the major social and environmental problems of our world. I also believe that being purpose-driven can unlock a differentiated value proposition from which brands can stand out from the competition.

But, there is a problem with the goal.

Or at least there’s a problem with the conversation leaders have about purpose and its role in their brand and business strategies.

The problem with purpose is threefold. The first problem stems from the misinterpretation that to be purpose-driven, your brand must have a social or environmental purpose as its primary purpose. Every business should have a purpose, but every business purpose need not be tied to a social or environmental issue. For example, Disney’s goal is to create happiness. This articulates a very clear “why” for the business and an emotional foundation from which the brand promise can be articulated.

The second problem is that, in the case of most brands, the drive to define purpose is largely driven by a focus on public perception, distorting how success is defined and measured, and diminishing the role of the objective in a marketing campaign tactic. That’s embarrassing, because the value of purpose lies in articulating the reason the company exists, capturing an energizing North Star for employees and the foundation for connecting with consumers.

Call it green-washing or purpose-washing, purpose-driven consumers and employees see through this approach. The negative impact could be even greater, as important social and environmental issues are reduced to tactical levers for brands, causing companies to trivialize these issues.

Finally, the most dangerous problem is that brands seek to use a social or environmental objective as a competitive differentiator. This is precisely the opposite of the approach needed to tackle systemic issues that brands say they want to solve, like climate change or poverty. These are important problems that require collaborative solutions and therefore cannot be used for competitive advantage. The only way to solve the most pressing problems we face is through collaboration, not just between the public and private sectors, but between competitors.

This does not mean that there is no collaboration between competitors. Members of the Union of European Soft Drinks Association, including Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Red Bull, have all committed to the organization’s Circular Packaging Vision 2030 or the Canadian Plastics Pact, which brings together competitive organizations to collaborate in designing a circular economy for plastics. Another more mature example of competitor collaboration can be found in the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an organization that brings together all members of the palm oil value chain to set and implement global standards. for sustainable palm oil.

Basically, we are faced with the problem of linking the raison d’être of a brand to the most relevant social or environmental issue for its activity, because competitive differentiation is in contradiction with the resolution of the same problems.

Leaders need to think differently about purpose to solve the most pressing issues of our time and equip their brands with purpose that forms a foundation for sustainable stakeholder differentiation and retention.


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