Our hyper-connected world is changing faster than ever. While new technologies are accelerating unprecedented marketing transformation, just simply applying them isn’t enough to solve old problems. Today’s marketing leaders need a whole new approach in building undisruptable bonds among brands, customers and employees.
CMOs have seen these dynamics unfold, and many have taken a path forward to anticipate, adapt and even invent. Unfortunately, there’s no ‘big bang’ solution. It starts with changing the entire marketing mindset—from a focus on acquiring the next customer and driving transactions to creating and integrating a culture of strategy, employee experience, personalization, and insightful intelligence. In short, it means injecting more humanity into their brands.
Before embarking on marketing transformation, CMOs need to align their organization’s approach around answering a fundamental question: how their brand can serve a greater purpose. They know they won’t find the answer in algorithms.
As behavioral economist and Yale professor Ravi Dhar pointed out in our new book, The New Marketing: How to Win in the Digital Age, “CMOs must build a brand that isn’t just out to make money, but also to benefit society and other stakeholders…The CMO has a key role to play here; they are the person best positioned in the C-suite to help build connections with those stakeholders.”
In other words, marketing teams need to focus on building brands that have a positive impact on society instead of just building top-line sales.
According to Jon Iwata, Executive Fellow at Yale School of Management, for CMOs to be future-ready, they must unlearn deeply ingrained assumptions about their job. The former IBM Senior Vice President and Chief Brand Officer says employees expect companies including marketing chiefs to speak out on a wide range of societal issues and customers increasingly care about how the company affects the environment. “CMOs rarely have a formal role in identifying, developing and debating these issues for their companies. Yet I think this is what modern corporate brand stewardship requires,” he says.
In The New Marketing, we said that the key for brands is to prepare for the shift toward purpose-driven marketing. It’s no longer about just selling products and services. In today’s digital-driven world, a purpose-driven approach is essential for a successful marketing strategy and must be embedded in a brand’s DNA.
Finding your brand purpose may require intense reflection or even historical investigation. For that’s how Dole’s CMO, Rupen Desai, landed on the 170-year old company’s brand purpose. In a recent PR Week article, Rupen shared that one of his first priorities was “digging back into the annals of Dole’s history to help it discover its new purpose.” Today, the world’s largest pineapple purveyor (and fruits and vegetables producer) is “now sharing its entire business model through the lens of its purpose as ‘Sunshine for All’.”
We also interviewed Susan Credle, Global Chief Creative Officer of advertising firm Foote, Cone, and Belding, about the importance of identifying their purpose. She told us: “Interrogate the past, understand the present, and anticipate the future. … Interrogating the past is really about understanding the essence of the founder’s story. Why was this company originally created? What equities have been built? What values have been consistent over time? A true brand purpose will start to emerge. Understanding the present is pretty much where everybody lives in marketing today.”
In challenging times, when consumers expect more from the brands they buy–including humanity and empathy–there’s a magical element that can make a difference—we call it a brand’s metaphorical soul. Purpose can be a true differentiator for brands, not only in the COVID era but beyond.
This idea of brand purpose refers not only to the core of a company’s identity but also to its justification for existing, for customers, employees, shareholders and the world. Larry Fink, the founder and CEO of BlackRock, one of the world’s largest asset management companies with holdings valued at over $6 trillion, defined his company’s stance on purpose: “Purpose is not a mere tagline or marketing campaign; it is a company’s fundamental reason for being – what it does every day to create value for its stakeholders. Purpose is not the sole pursuit of profits but the animating force for achieving them.”
Brand purpose is universal and relevant today whether for a 1-year old startup, a 10-year old tech company or a 100-year old legacy brand. In the spring of 2019, Patagonia fully flexed its purpose. The 47-year old American outdoor clothing company generated a lot of news and pushed the purpose discussion after announcing that it would no longer sell to companies unless they were B Corps (companies whose commitment to environmental or social causes meets specific certifiable standards).
Today’s generations of socially and environmentally conscious consumers require their brands to make the word better. Identifying, communicating and (last but not least) operationalizing purpose can help the brand own a differentiating narrative and create true competitive advantage in the market.
Microsoft developed its purpose narrative by blending its corporate values into the social movement of inclusion. At the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the tech giant was recognized for its 2019 Super Bowl commercial that featured the Xbox Adaptive Controller. Rather than highlighting the controller’s cutting-edge technology in the ad, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Brand, Advertising and Research, Kathleen Hall, chose to focus on the real-life story of Owen, a young boy with special needs. When Hall heard Owen’s story, she knew that his needs lay at the heart of Microsoft’s mission of empowering people to do great things.
In The New Marketing, Hall shared with us how this story shaped the ad and their purpose-led strategy: “With this commercial, the secret sauce was that it had some relevance to its environment–in this case the Super Bowl. It was that line: ‘When everybody plays, we all win.’ The ultimate form of inclusion, which, in the context of the NFL and everything that’s going on in sports, was super relevant and emotional. That was the bingo moment.”
Like Microsoft, companies that focus on driving social change over driving profits will stand out and win. By building goodwill and loyalty among their customers and their own people who serve them, these purpose-driven organizations will ultimately improve their bottom line and create a better world.
Brands that blend purpose and profit in this way will transform their marketing and build those valuable undisruptable bonds among customers and employees and, in the process, produce positive returns for shareholders and societal stakeholders alike.
This article first appeared in cmocouncil.org