By Charlotte West — Business is increasingly required to play a role in society which goes beyond maximising stakeholder profit. So it’s perhaps no surprise that 'purpose’ is gaining traction as a way for business to forge a different, more meaningful role in society.
Some might dismiss purpose as yet another business buzzword. And that might be the case if this was simply about expensive branding exercise. But there’s an emerging and growing movement of businesses who are starting to bake purpose into their commercial activities. With research suggesting customers spend 46% more with purpose driven brands1, there’s evidence that these brands are thriving commercially through doing good'
But the biggest challenge is how to start. Despite the buzz, there is very little equipping people within business to develop brands whose values align with how their business operates. Purpose isn’t a tick box exercise that can be tackled in a day. I speak to companies regularly who are struggling to turn it into reality.
That’s why Business in the Community have launched a Purpose Toolkit to help businesses think differently about how to have a higher purpose and act on this thinking. It’s based on a series of focus groups with companies from across our membership and is packed with case studies and practical guidance to help move purpose from brand exercise to business behaviour. The guide is available free online.
As a taster here are my 9 top tips:
1) Lead by example
A leader who believes in purpose, lives the values and embeds them in organisational strategy is crucial. Many companies struggle to balance profits with values. An effective leader will help the organisation understand that these concerns are not contradictory – but when combined can build a business that wins for both society and the bottom line.
2) Reward the right things
Create a company culture in which day-to-day commercial decisions across the business (from supplier recruitment to HR’s hiring strategy) are driven by purpose. Actively rewarding and recognising decisions that reflect the brand values is a practical way to show how seriously purpose is taken.
3) Be a problem solver
Products and services are the ultimate vehicle to help brands tackle societal problems. Brands should be achieving growing revenue from purpose-driven products by making sure that product development is contributing towards the overall vision. For some brands this could require moving away from existing products that may be contrary to its purpose, and creating new product lines.
4) Be yourself
If a business claims to be delivering on a social purpose which contradicts what the public perceive it stands for, efforts will quickly fall flat. Authenticity is essential and can help build genuine trust between a business and its customers. To avoid ‘purpose wash’ there must be a clear link between the values of the brand, the purpose and how that brand tells this story in a coherent way.
5) The devil’s in the detail
No company is perfect and things will always go wrong in business. The key is how business measures and manages these risks. Thoroughly assessing your organisation’s impact and taking steps to address social and environmental risks will ensure that your commitment to be a purpose led business isn’t undermined by failings elsewhere.
6) Good relations
The leading purpose-led brands have a relationship with their customers that goes beyond the transactional. These relationships are characterised by a deep emotional connection between brand, customer values and the company’s vison. Unilever’s Dove has become a campaigning brand, synonymous with a meaningful public debate around beauty, self-esteem and confidence.
7) Making a difference
No one is going to believe your purposeful claims if you can’t evidence the positive impact you are having against the issues that matter to your brand. Equally, purpose isn’t philanthropy - it’s about the win-win of achieving commercial gain while making a positive impact on society, so evidence of how purpose is contributing to growth is needed to engage stakeholders.
8) Don’t be an island
In this complex world there are very few problems that can be solved by a single company working alone. Business that work with others – be this other business, NGO’s or government - can increase the reach of their impact and further their ability to achieve on their purpose goals. For example, by joining forces with leading science, education and philanthropic organisations to create The World Community Grid, IBM has enabled humanitarian research to be conducted quicker and cheaper than ever before.
9) From shop floor to boardroom
Purpose will only be a reality if all employees see themselves as part owners of the purpose. The brands who get this right empower employees to be ‘intrapreneurs’, contributing creative ideas on how the brand delivers its purpose. Barclays is a great example of this. It operates a social innovation facility whereby employees suggest new services that directly address social challenges.
Business in the Community’s Purpose Toolkit is available free at www.bitc.org.uk/purposetoolkit
Charlotte West is Marketplace Director, Business in the Community.