Purpose allows brands to have hard conversations

Consumers, employees and investors have companies in a vice grip of change, says author and speaker Jeff Fromm.


Here’s an interesting rabbit hole, if you’ve got the time. Run a quick search on the terms "purpose" and "corporate responsibility." In .85 seconds, you’ll pull roughly 324 M results, a cool 10 million more than if you Google Walmart and guns.

This may be a sliver of algorithmic hope for those who still believe they can change the world and are finding unexpected allies in brands that stand for something they believe in.

Walmart’s decision to change its gun policies generated considerable momentum—perhaps even a corporate movement—around the issue of gun violence.

As the world’s second-largest retailer makes its way into the cultural conversation and congressional inboxes, other brands are tucking in behind it. Kroger, CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens also came out to show their support for Walmart’s move, joining companies like Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Questions from reporters about the move centered around themes of backlash, branding and polarizing politics: Will Walmart’s stance have a positive impact on profit, despite potential boycotts? (Minimal.)

In this divisive political arena, what do brands need to know before picking a side? Be careful, be listening and be authentic. And will more brands follow in Walmart’s footsteps? They already are.

But while #boycottwalmart is trending, Walmart is not a bit concerned about its profit right now. If you are, take a quick look at Dick’s Sporting Goods strong second quarter earnings after it announced its gun stand in March.

And while the world debates whether Walmart can truly make an impact in curbing gun violence, an interesting shift is occurring.

Walmart’s move was inspired the people who worked for it, not by politics or profit. After two Walmart store shootings in a single week — one of the deadliest in Walmart’s history — devastated employees came together to plead with similarly devastated, top-level leadership to unite around a central purpose, and to let that purpose drive corporate action.

As a result, the historically conservative brand changed its policies and product offerings, and reached out to congress for further support.

Politics aside, that’s quite a pivot for a heritage brand that was, at one time, the world’s largest gun seller.

This is power to the people. The public is discovering they don’t have to wait for government solutions if they can influence social issues by engaging with companies and organizations they work for.

Walmart showed courage and compassion and led with purpose. Will other major brands follow suit? In some way or another, maybe they all will eventually find something to stand for beyond profit, as more and more people choose to vote with dollars instead of waiting for legislative change.

The search results on the topic will only continue to increase as the headlines and interest in the subject of purpose does too.

Consumers, employees and investors alike have companies in a vice grip of change. Purpose provides a brand with direction, a trajectory. It’s the heartbeat of a company that connects it to people, both inside its walls and to the global village.

Purpose allows a brand to take a stand when it comes to hard conversations, and research shows people are starting to expect this of the brands they love.

These expectations will only increase, especially when people find ways to empower themselves through commercial partnership and advocacy. Companies like Walmart know collaboration is required to solve the global issues of our time. Brands that ignore this movement, that choose to stay safe and silent, may not be around to see what happens next.

Jeff Fromm, is the author of the new book The Purpose Advantage:How To Unlock New Ways of Doing Business. He is also an international speaker on consumer trends and a partner at Barkley.

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