The Four Steps Towards "Consumer-Activated Purpose"

By John McNeel in General
June 19, 2015 04:00

For the purpose-driven brand, these are the best of times, these are the worst of times.

On the one hand, it seems every CEO and CMO these days has understood that they need to jump on the Purpose Band Wagon, or else risk having their brand left out in the cold. As Former Procter & Gamble CMO and author of Grow Jim Stengel puts it in our video, "Purpose is the management philosophy of the 21st century."

But precisely because of this rush to this perceived Eldorado, the purpose-driven brand is at serious risk of becoming a victim of its own success.

As the clutter increases in the purpose-driven landscape it will become less of a differentiator. Brands may start to find themselves stepping on their own purpose-driven toes. And the CEO with an eye to the bottom line may draw the wrong conclusions from seeing a diminishing ROI on his purpose-driven investment.

There are two factors driving this potential purpose meltdown: arbitrariness and what you might call "halfbakedness."

To win in consumers' hearts, in the marketplace (and in Cannes), cause marketing and purpose-driven campaigns must rise above messaging
Why Purpose Cannot Be Arbitrary

On its most superficial level, purpose is often understood to mean simply, "we need to make sure our company brand are seen to be giving back to the community." As worthy as this sentiment might be, if applied without the necessary rigor, vision and focus, it can mean a brand chooses a purpose that may be reflective of good intentions without being relevant to the business.

Much of corporate philanthropy, alas, falls into this arbitrariness category. Let's give to Charity X because I like what they stand for, says one CEO. Let's give to Charity Y because its chairman is my golf partner. Let's give to Charity Z because, well, we always have... but we just need to talk about it more!

The choice of a purpose for a brand is a vital key to success. It must have relevance with respect to the core business, so that doing well and doing good are aligned. It must convey and represent values that your customers and employees recognize and embrace. It must resonate with the deepest fiber of the organization's DNA.

Why Purpose Cannot be Half-Baked

The next challenge facing the CEO who is pursuing his purpose is to make sure it does not lie dead in the water because it never rises above the status of a messaging platform. It has to translate into action and behavior -- but more than that: today, it needs to invite your stakeholders in.

Just look at the raft of gorgeously produced anthemic purpose-driven campaigns that will flood the screens at the Cannes Lions Festival next week. They might move you, inspire you, make you shed a tear, but then what?

Most purpose-driven brands today -- even the best ones -- continue to treat their key stakeholders, employees and customers foremost among them, as an audience not as participants in the brand's purpose.

Moving forward, technology will become one of the primary drivers of the purpose-driven campaign, because in the same way social media has made consumers protagonists in the brand narrative, technology can allow people to be empowered to play an active role in fulfilling a brand or a company's purpose.

Four Questions on the Path to "Consumer Activated Purpose"

1) Does Your Purpose give people a reason to want to buy into, and buy, your brand? The right purpose is additive to the core benefits and category purchase drivers. It gives people an additional, and deeper, reason why they should buy your brand.

2) Does Your Purpose Reflect the Voice of Your Stakeholders? Still today, many so-called purpose-driven initiatives are born in the corporate boardroom and may not fully reflect deeper insights and understanding about what values people vital to the success of your brand truly care about. Seek their guidance from your stakeholders, conduct an audit of their values, not just yours or your company's, before locking in your purpose.

3) Does Your Purpose Translate into Meaningful Behaviors? Again, love the anthemic campaign, but the biggest question is how will your purpose alter corporate behaviors in a profound and sustainable way. Every purpose driven campaign needs an action plan, not just a message.

4) Does your Purpose Invite Your Stakeholders to Participate, not simply Applaud?Today, people hold companies and brands to a different standard - they expect to be able to participate and shape your brand's direction in a meaningful way. Even when -- and moving forward, particularly when -- it comes to a brand's higher purpose, consumers will expect to play a part... and that doesn't just mean producing a YouTube Video. They want to help reinforce your brand's impact. We've moved beyond consumer generated content to Consumer Activated Purpose.

Ultimately, we will witness in the next few years a fundamental transformational shift in how brands pursue and play out their purpose. Starting now, brands must be able to make their purpose truly meaningful, they need to share it through action, they must communicate its impact constantly and in real time, and they must behave like an open book.

Those are the pillars we call Purpose, Action, Communication, Transparency, orPACT.

Only those brands that embrace this new era of activation, participation, clarity and focus will win on the battleground of purpose.