Purpose from the inside out!

There is no better time to talk about purpose than now. Government tensions on a global scale are high. Environmental disasters are right on our doorstep and we are coming off the back of 2 years of a global pandemic, so it’s not surprising that people are questioning their very existence. It all feels exceptionally overwhelming, so many choices, so many “for good” brands and charities all vying for our consumer loyalty and financial support. It’s a lot to take on amongst maintaining one's own health, caring for our families and having sufficient passion and commitment to dedicate to our paid or unpaid jobs.

Why does this matter?

Back in the early 2000’s I worked in London for a marketing consultancy who specialised in corporate change communications. At that time, corporate social responsibility (CSR) was more of a government mandate than a humanities led philosophy. This meant that the communication strategies and design solutions for these global organisations with thousands of employees were focused on bespoke ‘internal’ messaging. Entire campaigns and strategies were implemented based on speaking only to employees, the externally facing brand image was completely different, liberated and creatively exciting. How telling it is that our business culture some 20 years ago accepted that what organisations said on the inside didn’t have to match the shiny glossy facade of their outside image.

Not anymore.

In 2019, Paul Polman, ex-CEO of Unilever said “It is time to move from CSR - corporate social responsibility - to RSC - responsible social corporations.” This is a resounding message we know is a human truth in 2022. In much of the research I am privy to in the world of consumer branding, I have noticed a distinct shift in consumer expectations. Once upon a time consumers  were impressed by corporations who have strong sustainability initiatives - it made them feel good. Over the last 5 years things have changed exponentially - consumers now believe it is no longer a nice-to-do, it’s a social and ethical responsibility and therefore, no longer an impressive marketing leverage. People expect more from the brands they consume, more from their employers and more from their governments, and rightly so. 

Imagine a version of the world, and business where:

🔹 we are proud that the way we behave, our image and our actions are the same inside and out
🔹 businesses exist to create a better world (in their own small way)
🔹 where employees matter as much as customers and are treated with the same respect
🔹 where real human emotions are part of everyday business language - words like love, kindness, fear, sharing, joy, I’m sorry and pain.
🔹 where positive intent and grassroots action is recognised with as much validity as big splashy ‘purpose’ campaigns that win awards

Authenticity is paramount to resonance. It’s easy now that “purpose” is a buzz word for organisations to use as a marketing tool, and we end up with empty purpose-washing, much like the green-washing prevalent in the 1990’s. It is important that leading with purpose is substantiated through lived actions and behaviours. Here’s how you can make sure you can lead from the inside out:

1️⃣  Tell your business story - make your purpose have impact and meaning unique to you
2️⃣  Be human-centred - putting people at the centre of all decision making
3️⃣  Co-create - show people what it means through actions and collaboration, it should reflect a broad cross section of people (not just the senior big bosses)
4️⃣  Actions speak louder than words - don't tell me, show me
5️⃣  Make it visible - make sure your brand image expression (the way you look) aligns to your purpose, vision and values (this helps improve people's experience of your brand)

If you want to create positive change, start with the “why” and then move to defining the “what” and “how”. Getting your message out to market beyond the boardroom is critical. I circle back now to my days in London and CSR communications, and I can see that while organisations can no longer have two separate messages, the idea that your brand advocacy starts from the inside out still rings true.

This is part of an @Edison Agency series on purpose and branding. Stay tuned for more.

Written By Amber Bonney

Founder, CEO & Head of Strategy @ The Edison Agency  

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