“Purpose is more than just a trend, it’s the new norm. Americans have expectations of companies to lead with Purpose by not just making money, but positively impacting society as well. Companies need to identify, communicate and live their Purpose to maintain relevance, trust and competitive advantage.”
~ 2018 Cone/Porter Novelli Purpose Study
Cone Communications has been studying corporate social responsibility (CSR) in America for 25 years. This year, they focused on the concept of a company’s Purpose. They examine this concept from a number of angles in their recently released 2018 Cone/Porter Novelli Purpose Study. I’d like to take a look at three specific points: Authenticity, Brand Loyalty, and the Intersection of Purpose & Social Justice.
First, however, a bit of clarity re: the concept of Purpose. Cone describes it this way:
“Purpose isn’t just the latest marketing buzzword. Businesses are changing how they operate and what they stand for to have an authentic — and impactful — role in society. Purpose is more than just a mission statement or a commitment of values. It defines an organization’s value in society, which allows it to simultaneously grow its business and positively impact the world. Purpose must be deeply embedded within the organization, the brand and the experience that is delivered.”
Now to delve into the three aspects referenced above.
A company’s Purpose must be authentic and woven into the very fibers of its business. Consumers want to see companies using their Purpose as their “North Star” in terms of how they operate. A simple, one-off cause marketing-related campaign no longer does the trick. Savvy consumers are digging deeper to make sure companies are “walking the talk” and living their Purpose through and through. A few related statistics:
- 88% of Americans feel companies have a responsibility to demonstrate that they are operating in a way that is aligned with their Purpose.
- 89% want companies to operate in a way that benefits society and the environment.
- 85% believe companies should support causes both in their backyard and around the world.
While we have a number of clients that I think sincerely strive to achieve this type of authenticity, one of the stars among them is Bellco Credit Union. Giving back to the communities where its members live, work and play has been a cornerstone of Bellco’s culture for more than 80 years. And they truly seek to involve themselves in causes in a way that makes a difference (as opposed to just ensuring visibility of their logo). In fact, Bellco was long reluctant to promote its efforts in the community because it didn’t want to be perceived as seeking to profit from them; the company simply wanted to give back. In addition, as a financial services organization, Bellco has long prioritized the importance of financial education. It offers numerous programs – both on its own and through partnerships with nonprofits – to help its employees as well as consumers – whether or not they do business with Bellco – become more financially savvy.
Purpose has a unique way of helping companies build strong bonds with consumers – it allows them to connect with consumers on emotional levels in a way that products and price just don’t. Again, some related stats from Cone’s research:
- 77% of Americans feels a stronger emotional connection to Purpose-driven brands.
- 67% feel these companies care about them and their families more than traditional brands.
- 73% say they would be likely to defend a Purpose-driven company if someone spoke badly of it.
- 67% say if that company made a misstep, they would be more willing to forgive that company over a company that does not lead with Purpose.
For me personally, one of the companies that exemplifies this is Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company. As a mom with young children, I have loved their diapers, wipes and baby bath products. I trust in their premise of providing “safe, effective products that perform.” I’ve been more than pleased with the quality of every Honest product I’ve tried, and I certainly believe (or maybe “have drunk the Kool-Aid”) that they care more about my family than any of the larger, omnipresent consumer/baby care product companies out there. (Cool fact – The Honest Company even has a Chief Purpose Officer who “champions their mission to empower people to live happy, healthy lives.”)
The Intersection of Purpose & Social Justice
One of the CSR-related developments over the past few years I find most interesting is the growing expectation consumers have that businesses play a role in addressing social justice issues – whether or not those issues pertain directly to a company’s products or services. In fact, a whopping 79 percent of Americans believe companies should get involved in these types of issues. Broken down by gender, 85 percent of women believe companies should take on issues of social justice, while 73 percent of males feel this way. And the top issues people want to see companies address are many of the same issues we hear about all the time in the 24-hour news cycle:
- Privacy and Internet security (86%)
- Domestic job growth (86%)
- Access to health care (85%)
- Sexual harassment (83%)
- Racial equality (81%)
Of course, taking stances on controversial issues can be tricky – think Dick’s Sporting Goods and assault rifles. While this decision no doubt cost Dick’s some customers, at the end of the day, it also gained a number of new customers who supported the company’s decision and substantially increased loyalty among many of its existing customers as well.
As someone who has long been interested in the intersection of business and philanthropy, I find these three trends – as well as the rest of Cone’s research – to be very exciting. As consumers and employees expect businesses to be more philanthropically oriented, and as businesses evolve to meet those expectations, with the manpower, influence and funding of companies large and small, we can make a huge difference on issues facing communities of all sizes, here and across the globe.