Q&A with Carolyn Buttler-Madden

Recently our Founder and Head of Strategy Amber Bonney, interviewed the author of ‘For Love and Money’, Carolyn Butler-Madden to talk through her story, what inspired her to write her book, brands leading with purpose and everything in between.

AB: So I'm really interested to understand your journey, a bit about your background and what led you to write the book "For Love and Money," which by the way, I’ve read and re-read it many times over! I'm really fascinated to hear your journey.

CBM: That makes me so happy Amber! My background is the agency world, so I spent about 30 years working in agencies and owning my own agency for 18 years, working with big brands, corporate brands and I did 10 years in London, 20 years in Australia, and always loved what I did, always threw myself fully into every project but I had that disconnect with what I was doing.

To cut a long story short, I actually started my own purpose journey in around 2000. I actually started earlier working with a client and seeding the idea, and then in 2011, I went to a conference in Chicago in the US. It blew my mind to see what they were doing back then strategically, like creating massive world-changing impact, eliminating diseases in countries driven by a brand campaign. And to me, it was just like, "Oh my God, the challenges that brands are struggling with in terms of getting emotional investment by people, these can be solved here, but they can be solved by creating world-changing, positive impact."

And I came back an evangelist for change, annoying a lot of people but really knowing that this was what I wanted to do. And I tried to steer my agency down the path, which felt too soon for Australia. Eventually, in 2016-17, I realised I would have to move away from the agency in order to do it, not knowing what it was at the time, but I did that and started what is now The Cause Effect. And then I started writing my first book, "Path to Purpose," which looked at purpose or social purpose through the marketing lens. And as I was doing it and as I did deeper research and I realised it wasn't the book I wanted to write.

AB: So you published that book and started on the next?

CBM: Well, it was really important for me to write it, and I get great feedback on that book, but what I realised in the process of writing it was marketing is an important function of purpose, but actually building a strategy of purpose that drives the business and the brand is a vehicle for that. That, to me, was kind of like, "That's where I wanna go. That's the opportunity." And when I was ready to write the book, which was probably around late 2020, I started thinking about it, then suddenly purpose was everywhere. And at that point, I thought there's going to be a lot of books out on this, and I didn't want to just add to the noise. And my thinking was, that I want to bring a unique perspective to it, and that perspective eventually came to me, and that's the perspective of love, inspiring purpose in business, love of people, planet, humanity. And that's when I decided that's the book I want to write, and went in and wrote it and found it came really quickly, so yeah.

AB: Well, it's such a captivating sentiment because as you talk about, there's always such a segregation with human emotion and business. In your opening introduction, you pose this question, "What if business hasn't realised its full potential? Imagine a world where the purpose of business is to create a better world." And I thought, "Such a simple question, but such a profound statement to make."

CBM: That is the central question. And what you've just talked about, we've built a world of business where we segregate our emotions from business and we've all accepted it, you accept that this is how things are, but the world's changed and what might have worked when we were setting up factories and stuff that needed just people to mindlessly go in and do their job. Business today is built on relationships, and trust is the currency of success. And the context of the world around us is one that is crying out for solutions, and who better than business to provide those solutions. Business is the best place to actually do that and work with government and non-profit in service to those solutions as well.

AB: So in The Cause Effect, you do work with some of the world's biggest organisations. Of the brands you're working with, what are you most proud of? And what are you most proud of in the past and where do you see that leading in the future?

CBM: I think it's going to sound like a cliche, but I have immense pride and I get really excited and inspired by every single business I've worked with, and I work across the range. I work with small businesses, medium and large, and when they actually uncover what it is that's actually going to drive everything, it's just so exciting for everyone involved 'because it's like, "Oh my God, this is what we can do." But I think that the one I'm most proud of is BLOOMS THE CHEMIST.

So I started working with BLOOMS a few years ago and they did the full Path to Purpose program, and it was through the pandemic, and we did it online, so we had about eight people from different parts of the business involved. It was driven by the CMO then, she's now the COO, and she's just been amazing, with a maternity leave in between giving birth to twins.

I think this was initially seen potentially by the executive leadership as a, "Let's clarify our purpose statement, we're a chemist, so let's clarify our purpose statement," to over time realising this will change their business and this was going to lead the strategy. And she's just quietly done this, but in such a deliberate way and with a real long-term view.

So their purpose is to help build a future where everyone everywhere has access to good health and well-being, and that emphasis is on "everyone everywhere." And then they have gone further with their social purpose to really get tight on it, and it is to reduce health inequality and injustice. So they're thinking way beyond just giving back.

So that one piece of work which will be ongoing is opening up opportunities for their culture and their people within. But they're also looking at their communities, the communities in which they operate. "What do we do now? What do we look at more medium-term? What do we look at longer term?" So they're looking within their own communities, they're looking outside of their communities, they're looking at remote parts of Australia.

Even one of the things that came out of our strategy, and obviously, this is a long-term thing, and they've got to find a place for everything, but they got really excited about was, "What if we could partner with a University and create a community health barometer so we can understand what are the health and wellness issues that are strong, are important in different communities? And then if we have that knowledge, who do we partner with? Who do we lobby in order to try and help solve those issues.

I think it gives people that sense of excitement that they're part of something bigger than just making money.

AB: I think for so many hundreds of years, we've made excuses about poor behaviour by saying, "It's just business." Basically, meaning you can be unethical, you can be detached, you can remove the human emotion, the respect, the empathy, under the guise of business. And I really see, certainly, the pandemic as being a big seismic shift in human consciousness, in saying, "Actually, that's not good enough anymore."

CBM: Yeah, absolutely. People are waking up. When you have something like that happen, which completely changes things and structures, and creates a structural change we've seen in... And if you look at the latest Gallup employee engagement report, it shows that in Australia and New Zealand, only 17% of employees are engaged in their work.

And what's it costing businesses? And I can't help but wonder, a lot of business leaders, when they hear that stat, they go, "Yeah, yeah, but that's not us." Well, who is it? And even if yours is a fraction of that, what is it costing business individually? What is it costing businesses collectively? What is it costing our economy? And what is it costing people who are going everyday to work feeling disengaged, unfulfilled? I don't think we're meant to operate like that as human beings. I don't think we're made for that. I think we're made to feel productive, valued, engaged, necessary.

AB: Obviously, you wrote a lot about post-pandemic in your book. Are there businesses... Like Unilever, for example, I just noticed that recently they announced their B Corp certification. Our business is just about to submit our B Corp application... But even at a small scale, we appreciate how much work goes into making the necessary changes to be able to achieve that certification.

So aside from Unilever, what are the businesses that you see at the moment that are doing as well?

CBM: I'm so optimistic and... Not blindly optimistic because we need to accelerate what we're doing. But there are so many. The ones I would love to highlight... who I think most people know of Intrepid Travel. They really are a beacon for what purpose can look like. They've been around for a long time. but they want to be the best travel company for the world. The beauty of it is they really do live that purpose. It's not just, "We want to be the biggest and best," it's for the world, in service of the world.

AB: They've done so much, haven't they, to really invest in the communities and in making sure that the places they go, if they're not exploiting the areas, they're nurturing and regenerating those communities, which is really about putting your money where your mouth is, isn't it?

CBM: 100%. So they're moving from this idea of sustainable travel, which is do no harm, to regenerative travel, which is to strengthen the communities in which they operate. And it can be different things, so it could be things like building a walking tour or a cooking class or something like that, where they get locals to deliver it, but it's done in a way that works for the community and works long-term for the community and doesn't, obviously, doesn't harm the community as well, but looks to contribute value to that community.

CBM: And I'd love to share one more, a different one on the B2B side. So it's a client of ours in the recruitment space called Beaumont People.

They operate in Sydney and also the Northern Rivers in Queensland now. Their tagline is, "Placing people first," and it's not just a line. You can feel that... I've worked with them closely. I know the business and they are very, very much people people, and they really place value on their people, and it's something they carry to their work with candidates and clients. But the purpose that we uncovered for them, and again, this was about three years ago, was all around meaningful work. So helping to connect people to meaningful work and helping to create more opportunities for meaningful work.

And the interesting thing was, we workshopped this and then we started doing research around it. Everyone's been talking about meaningful work forever and a day, but what we discovered is nobody had actually quantified what it meant, here in Australia and even globally. There was some work that had been done, but hadn't really gone far. And so they started, they brought in some academics who were active in this area, and they did a deep piece of research into it, and they started building on a study that had been done by a French company. And then they launched Australia's first meaningful work study and survey. And so they researched people to understand what meaningful work meant to them, but it was based on these characteristics that the academic researchers had highlighted.

And so that became more insight, and they've worked even further on it to create Australia's first and the world's first meaningful work profiling tool. So what meaningful work means to you is very different to what it means to someone else. What it means to you today is probably quite different to what it meant to you 10, 15 years ago. Okay? And so understanding what meaningful work means to somebody is the first step, but the next step is understanding what a company, what an organisation is actually really able to provide in terms of delivering on those meaningful work markets. Where are they strong? Where are they weak? Where do they need to do additional work?

So that profiling tool is so valuable because it gives a company real insight into, "You know what? These are our strengths, let's work to them," or, "We're really weak in these areas, and if we want to remain competitive, we've got to do work on that." So it's a really enlightening piece of analysis that allows a business to understand what change they need to create, or change the way they recruit people, and how often or how many people do you hear about who turn up to an interview and they get really excited about their new job that they're going to because, "Oh my God, it's got a great culture and they're leading on this area," only to find that it's not.

So recruitment was hit badly by the pandemic, and they had to slow down what they were doing, but they see a huge opportunity in building more of this and helping organisations and individuals connect to meaningful work. And I think that's another way of thinking of purpose, is what is that change you are uniquely placed to create value in that has societal impact? 'Cause if you think about the impact of meaningful work on an individual and the ripple effect of it, it's... And you think of the opposite as well. But if someone feels fulfilled in the work they're doing, that radiates out to their colleagues.

It means they're going to be giving their best to the business, the business is gonna prosper, but equally, when they go home, they're gonna feel so much more fulfilled than someone who goes home just feeling really frustrated and unfulfilled and empty. And you get the ripple positive effect versus the negative effect of someone really unhappy in their work, going home and getting frustrated and taking it out on their family and their friends, not contributing positively to the communities around and their sporting organisations or whatever. So there's a real ripple effect, that is real.

AB:. Lets talk about social purpose and the impact on culture. Tell me how this and how my audience and other businesses can start to effect change in their businesses.

CBM: It's has to be threaded through the business, doesn't it? If we're talking about uncovering their purpose, it has to be authentic. I hear stories about businesses who start the process, and I think they're thinking at the leadership level of, "We need a purpose statement." And straight away, that starting point is missing the main opportunity, but it's gotta start within.

So they might work with an agency and that's great, involve the agency in the process, but please do not outsource it, is what I would say, because you might get back a really sexy sounding statement, but if it's not true to who you are, it's just not going to really get off the ground in any meaningful way. So I say start with who. All right. So all the work we do, all the workshops we do and the programs we do, we consistently start with who.

So Amber, you would know Seth Godin?

AB: Yes, I’m an avid Seth consumer!

CBM: Love Seth Godin, and he talks a lot about people like us. "People like us do things like this." He talks about tribes and the desire for people to belong, feel like they belong to a tribe, and this idea of people like us is a really powerful one when it comes to purpose. So if you extend it to people like us, believe things like this, and you start to dig into what is our unique organisational identity, what is the narrative that drives the people who choose to come and work at our organisation? And it's pretty likely that you will find that that narrative is shared by the best customers who are drawn to your brand.

So start with who is all about really understanding that unique organisational identity and leaning into it, because that's where the gateway to purpose is. When you start to understand that, that's when you can start to open up genuine, authentic purpose in the business, and it usually comes as a result of people. In the workshops we run, sharing stories about there are people like us. The best of their people, you start hearing these stories and you start realising that there is an underlying shared narrative to it all. And it is probably the exercise that I hear back most often from my clients of, "Oh my God, it's our people like us, and these are not our people."

Really getting clear who are not your people, because you can't afford to be vanilla and appeal to everybody. In a world that is crying out for business to step up and lead change with the sustainable development goals being the greatest business opportunity on the planet, you can't afford to just going, "We need to appeal to as many people as possible." Your target is not your market, so be brave, be clear on who your target is because you will bring in more than just that target, but that target of employees, customers, investors, partners, collaborators will love what you do.

AB: Yeah. It's a really important part of leadership, isn't it, that often, especially in the world of marketing, there's this desire, I suppose, for... To reflect what the perception of consumer needs are versus leading with, "This is what we are," and waiting for people to resonate and follow. If you think about all the great innovations of the world in technology and in products, it's not about asking customers or reflecting what consumers already know or what the world already knows; it's actually about taking a stance that's a bit deeper than that.

CBM: Leadership. Leadership, that's what we need, that's what we need here and now.

AB: I could talk to you all day Carolyn but in the interest of a very long read, tell me what's next for you? What are you working on at the moment that's getting you excited at the moment?

CBM: Collaboration. So this year has been a big one of... Constantly, our purpose is how... Is about making social purpose a vital part of business in Australia. So we're constantly looking at, how do we help businesses get started, and how do we help them embed purpose more deeply, how do we help them activate it and cultivate it? And so we've had a few collaborations on the go.

One is just coming to fruition now. It's called Love Stories for Business, and it's a collaboration with a company called Digital Storytellers. And it's about bringing together purpose and story leadership in businesses to cultivate purpose, to build, to inspire people, build confidence in it, and drive even more action and innovation in the business.

To find out more about Carolyn and her work you can find her below:

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