Fleet Street head of purpose, Victoria Page, talks about what being a business with purpose really means.

A few days ago, at the Restaurant Marketer and Innovator Conference 2023, Fleet Street MD, Mark Stretton, and I opened Day two with a keynote all about purpose – how spending time defining it can help businesses and brands navigate the ever-expanding ‘responsible business’ agenda.

From the beginning

Thinking back to the era depicted in the amazing TV show Mad Men and through to the 1990s, the way business sells and communicates has changed dramatically. In the post-war era, brands sold everything we needed for a Good Life.  Consumption exploded, with the average consumer owning seven credit cards by the mid-1980s. Brands competed on their product attributes, and on price especially, with some of the most famous slogans emerging out of that time, like Daz’s claim to ‘get your whites whiter and your brights brighter’. In this era, profit was king and the sole metric of business success.

Moving forward into this century, and the picture is very different. The internet has led us to a period of radical transparency. Nothing is hidden any longer. Communication is two-way, dynamic and brands are now expected to stand for something and businesses can no longer remain in complete (direct) control of the message. Consumers have an expectation that brands will be a force for good – they want to buy into something. Purpose drives profit, and vice versa.

The stats back this up too. We know that 60% of us buy brands that reflect our values (IPSOS MORI), and 61% of people choose where they work based on their values and beliefs (Edelman). Investors too are now looking for brands that will still be here in the future, believing that it’s sustainable brands that are more likely to stick.  A few years ago we’d have called this ethical investing; now it’s mainstream.  In 2022, £1.5 trillion was invested in businesses via ESG-linked loans and bonds.  Banks are starting to offer better terms to sustainable and ESG-driven businesses.

So, what does that mean for brands today?

It’s about creating a brand that people want to buy from, work with and invest in.  A great place to start, is with purpose: why does your business exist?  Author and speaker Simon Sinek coined the idea of the Golden Circle to capture his thinking – that all brands know what they sell, some know how they sell it, but few know why. His thesis is that brands that start with why – that set out their belief as their North Star and use it to make decisions – are the brands that will be most successful.

Whilst the idea of corporate purpose has been around for a while, how that purpose is embedded varies. That’s because there’s two types of business: business with a purpose and purpose-led business. For those businesses that have defined their purpose statement, they’ve done some of hard work in articulating a statement, but it’s still often very tactical, sitting alongside business strategy rather than informing it. Typically, these organisations run tactical initiatives, like litter picks or beach cleans, but are at the start of their sustainable business journey. The gold comes when a business embeds its purpose and becomes purpose-led. This is when the purpose is used as a North Star to guide business decisions, even make them easier. The most important aspect of a purpose-led business is that they care about their impact on people and planet, and have a full sustainability strategy in place.

Stages of purpose delivery

First up, when you’re surfacing your purpose, it has to come from within. This is your story, you need to unearth it. So make it your business to talk to as many people as you can in your organisation. And it’s not just about the leadership team. You need to spend time with everyone from the shop floor up. If nothing else, giving team members the space to feel heard is powerful. Ask them all the questions – why do they come to work, what do they expect of you as a business, what inspires them.  This, when coupled with insights from external stakeholders too, delivers a more rounded understanding, with organisational-wide context and also that from the wider world.

With that knowledge in hand, you’re now looking for insight. And you can use that to form your purpose statement. Try to make the statement impactful, meaningful and tangible. It needs to galvanise your team members, and be easy to see how everyone can have a role in delivering it. Try not to pick words that are too lofty or ambiguous, or that don’t relate at all to your business or your team.

Here’s an example of a purpose statement we love:

Nike: Bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world*  

*If you have a body, you are an athlete.

We love this because Nike is clear that their focus is on getting everyone to love sport. We know that moving your body is good for your physical and mental health, and of course it’s good for Nike’s bottom line too.

Nike used their purpose to drive a huge piece of research to give them a better understanding of the state of physical activity around the world. They found that the children of today are the least active generation in history and, crucially, that the experiences of sport that children have before the age of 10 determine their love of sport as adults. This could be a direct threat to their business. So, Nike used this insight, led by their purpose, to redevelop their initiatives. No longer solely focusing on basketball, football and running – the Nike staples – they expanded to cover dance, martial arts, skateboarding and others, all about lifestyle and movement.

And here’s an example of one that needs more work:

Boohoo’s “For the future” campaign used the strapline “Dress well and do your bit for the planet“. This jars with a policy of selling dresses for £4, penalising the people in the supply chain that make those dresses. This type of disconnect between what you say and what you do is inauthentic and insincere, and undermines the brand position.

Purpose Natives and Purpose Immigrants

There’s a difference between those that were born with a purpose and those that have surfaced a belief. The purpose ‘natives’ were founded because of their core mission. Think of Rubies in the Rubble – founded to eliminate food waste, and make delicious condiments in the process. Or Tony’s Chocolonely, founded to eradicate slavery in the cocoa supply chain.

But not all brands are created equal. Dove, for instance, launched claiming to be an alternative to soap and kinder to your skin. It’s now evolved with a purpose focused on real beauty, what that means for women, and how to celebrate the skin you’re in. They are a purpose immigrant, and have led with integrity and authenticity in their campaigns.

Other brands worth checking out include Patagonia and Tesla.  In the food and drink space: Ella’s Kitchen; Sweetgreen in the US, and KFC (from Fast Food to Fast Good).  Definitely take a look at McDonald’s. For a brand that not so long ago was defined to a degree by Super Size Me and McJobs, the transformation has been impressive. Witness their recently-launched Plan for Change, as the last iteration.

What it takes to be purpose driven

 We know this often falls on the shoulders of the marketing and communications departments. These are the people relied on to know the latest trends, look ahead and keep the brand relevant. But you’re purpose needs to be owned by the whole company, and led from the top. Board sponsorship is not just essential, it’s vital.

It’s also key for your purpose to be embraced by everyone in the business. Every team member needs to feel they have a role to play in helping the cause, and that they are accountable and responsible for its success. Make your purpose as accessible and collaborative as possible – that means the language that you choose to articulate your why, and the way in which you embed it into your culture; the way you land this needs real consideration. And lastly, be consistent. This isn’t a quick fix or a short-lived marketing campaign. It’s something that must be enduring, for the long term and invested in.

Want to find out more?

If you want to become a brand that people want to buy from, work with and invest in, drop us a line. We’d love to chat.

Victoria Page is Head of Purpose at Fleet Street and has worked with a number of leading brand-owners including Mars, Sky and Unilever

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