Today I had the pleasure of opening the 2017 PRIA Vivid Ideas Exchange: SHAPING HEARTS AND MINDS - BRAND PURPOSE, VALUES AND ASPIRATIONS. The sold-out event explored purpose as an emerging communications theme, attracting over 200 participants.
It was an inspiring panel, involving:
The panel theme was - Brands are increasingly standing for social issues. We are seeing an intersection between brand purpose, values, consumer aspiration and consumption. Consumers are demanding purposeful brands that stand for something bigger. Have values and social capital merged with consumerism, or is this the new way to make real change?
A summary of three key insights from the panel discussion follows.
1) From purpose values flow
Karen James led the discussion with the point that “Every company needs to know why they exist – purpose is more meaningful than mission – it is an active verb from which we can dream big.”
Karen made the point that “embedding purpose can be more challenging for big corporations. New organisations have an opportunity to create with purpose from the start”.
Sumo Salad is a great example of purpose at the core describing themselves as delicious fast food that fuels your body with real purpose, not crap. Luke Baylis is driven by a purpose of changing the way the world eats for the better. “We are about democratising healthy food and making it accessible for all Australians; serving 8 million nutritional meals a year.
Luke reflects that “It is a challenge going from a small start up to a large scale franchise based business - you need to constantly re-establish why you exist as a business. We are selling an ideology of being healthy; not a product. The dish washer in Darwin needs to feel it.”
2) Purpose is a social licence to operate, but it needs to be embedded
Wayne Burns emphasised that “Companies are now doing a lot of what governments can’t or won’t do. Purpose is a social licence to operate. Values are how we apply our purpose. Companies don’t only live in an economy; they live in a community – they need to speak out when it is in their interest.”
“You have to operationalise your values and make it part of your decision making process. The hard arsed management of those values makes them real. Purpose is about how you make decisions. CSR fails when boards and senior management fail to live their values.”
Anthony Toovey, passionately spoke about how Ben & Jerrys as an ‘activist brand’ was founded on the principle of making social change. “We talk about issues because it is something that we have to talk about. We communicate to our fans in a way that makes it a bit more digestible, and a little bit fun. But when we take something on, we don’t do it lightly.
“Ben & Jerry’s worked with Australian Marriage Equality on our ‘Love comes in all Flavours’ campaign for over a year before even putting out a social media post.”
“If you get into the purpose journey because everyone else is, it won’t work. There needs to be a genuine interest in what you are doing…. Purpose is a responsibility we have as a big corporation; big business has an obligation to this planet and society,” said Anthony.
Kristen Costandi talked about ING Direct’s Dreamstarter program, which is about building long term partnerships and helping entities with purpose thrive. “For us, purpose is a slow burn. You have to build up your proof points and story. It’s what you do, more than what you say.”
3) It’s as much about culture as it is about structure
Kieran Moore posed the question “How do companies set themselves up to embed purpose?”
Wayne Byrnes kicked off by saying that “Public affairs is the keeper of the tools for social licence to operate. The optimum set up is to have the head of corporate public affairs sit on management team and directly report to CEO. Direct access to CEO is critical to offering socio-political views”.
“Australians have been apathetic, but we are seeing a new generation of CEO now. There are expectations about social footprint and commercial footprint,” said Wayne.
Luke Baylis said that “Purpose for me needs to start with grass roots. Our purpose inspires people to stay connected with the business. Sumo Salad sees the people we bring in to the business as the guardians of our purpose.”
Anthony Toovey expressed that “It is not about structure, it’s about culture – in Unliver, everyone owns sustainability – for it to be authentic, it needs to be part of the culture.”
Anthony also made the thought-provoking point that brands with purpose grow a lot faster with purpose than without – “Our brands that are active on purpose are growing 50% faster than those which aren’t.”
Kristen Constandi highlighted that purpose needs to permeate structure, culture, and decision making. “For it to work, it has to be authentic and throughout”.
Kieran Moore made the point that “Diversity in decision making is incredibly important. For purpose to work, we need to build frameworks in business that see diverse opinion shaping and reflecting on the purpose”.
Vivid Ideas is an annual celebration of innovation, creativity and community. Today’s panel sparked a lot of interest and discussion on delivering brand value while making a positive contribution to the community. Thanks to the stimulating panel and to those of you who participated. We hope that we have ignited a purpose spark that will go far and wide. It feels fitting to end with a quote from Gandhi - “Be the change you wish to see in the world."
By Samara Kitchener NSW President of Public Relations Institute of Australia and Founder & Director, House of Kitch Communications