"Reputations need to be built on purpose in order to thrive." That is how Porter Novelli CMO Kate Cusick kicked off the "Progress with a Purpose" event recently held in New York. She continued by emphasizing the evolving consumer and stakeholder expectations of the companies from which they want to buy products and services.
Sponsored by Porter Novelli, the gathering focused on how brands can infuse purpose into every aspect of the business. A trio of panelists joined PRWeek managing editor Gideon Fidelzeid to discuss how their companies fuse purpose with business strategy, tell meaningful stories about their actions, and what brands can learn about purpose from both young employees and consumers.
Rosy McGillan, partner, global purpose practice director at Porter Novelli, cautioned that for companies to effectively take on a social issue or cause, the purpose has to align with the brand’s business practices and values so it can truly live that purpose and ensure their partner strategies and supply chain behaviors support that purpose.
"That purpose needs to have that integrated solution in order to be effective," she added. "A frequent saying from our founder Bill Novelli: ‘Any cause worth attacking attacks back.’ I always remember that. The idea is to find, live and tell that purpose." Only with that commitment can companies have a solid story to tell.
"Progress with a Purpose" panelists were (l-r) Kendra Peavy from S'well; Porter Novelli's Rosy McGillan and Al Iannuzzi of The Estée Lauder Companies.
Marrying purpose and profit
S’well, which produces reusable water bottles and insulated products that contribute to the elimination of plastic use and the reduction of unnecessary waste, launched in 2010. It marries purpose with profit in a meaningful and authentic way through its programming and partnerships.
"You have to find your passion in the purpose," said Kendra Peavy, VP of global communications. "As a communications strategy, passion helps you articulate your cause differently, communicate your storytelling differently and come up with ideas in a more meaningful, engaging way."
The company’s recently launched "More Ways to Use Less" campaign focuses not only on the product, but also on how users have an "opportunity to do something a little bit greater. We’re trying to marry it all together," noted Peavy.
The Estée Lauder Companies, a legacy brand born in 1946 that has developed its purpose reputation over time, is well regarded for its work with organizations such as the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, as well as its efforts supporting people with AIDS/HIV.
"Estée Lauder made sustainability a strategic imperative for the company," reported Al Iannuzzi, VP of global corporate citizenship and sustainability. Last year, the company set 11 new sustainability goals. In addition, many sustainability objectives and standards apply to its suppliers as well.
In the current marketplace, it’s critical that companies tell that story. "In the sustainability space, if you don’t speak, people assume you’re not doing anything," he added. But the focus must always remain on being authentic about sustainability efforts and ensuring that executives have the facts, data and science to substantiate any claims.
McGillan cautioned that purpose alone isn’t enough to expand your customer base or your relationship with existing patrons. She related a story about a young executive director of a nonprofit who opted to shop at Walmart and Amazon over an upscale, organic market.
"He didn’t care for one minute about the purpose side of a story that Fresh Market was trying to tell," she lamented. "He wanted cheap, convenient and quality. It was a good reminder for me that we’ve got to figure out ways to check all those other boxes. It was sobering, especially considering he worked for a nonprofit, but also incredibly helpful."
Estée Lauder’s Viva Glam lipstick is a great example of successful fusion of purpose and business. One hundred percent of sales of that product are donated to the Viva Glam fund to help people with HIV/AIDS – an association that generates significant customer loyalty to the Mac cosmetics brand.
"If you connect to a great cause you’re going to build a lifelong consumer. That’s what every brand wants," said Iannuzzi, who added that his decision to join Estée Lauder a bit more than a year ago was highly influenced by how impressed he was with its passion for purpose. (A good lesson for all brands that it’s not only Gen Z employees who make decisions about where they work based on such issues.)
"Reputations need to be built on purpose in order to thrive," said Porter Novelli CMO Kate Cusick during her opening remarks at January 16 event.
The lessons of youth
All panelists agreed businesses can learn so much from their younger employees’ passion about purpose. From conversations with young professionals, McGillan has learned to "think outside the box in terms of how we are engaging them and understanding exactly who is influencing them."
"Many of the people that interview with me say they are coming in because of the work we’ve done in this area," she adds. "They pay attention to what a brand stands for, they are paying attention to heritage, they’re paying attention to legacy."
To this end, The Estée Lauder Companies has adopted a reverse mentoring program, encouraging management to listen and learn from younger staffers.
"One of the things I’ve learned is that the younger members of the workforce are looking for something genuine," said Iannuzzi. "It makes a world of difference when people know you believe in them and are serious about developing and involving them."
S’well’s younger team members have taught Peavy about the importance of celebrating causes dear to employees, including ones the brand might not specifically focus on at present.
"Because of the causes we support, single-use plastics and access to water, people come to us because they already are driven by purpose," she noted. "What I’ve learned is our employees do so much more outside of work that may not actually be tied to the issues S’well supports. There’s a lot of engagement and excitement around celebrating the other causes that our individual team members support. Being able to tell those stories and communicate what S’well is doing creates a dialogue and a real celebration."
Peavy said S’well increasingly focuses on stories with a more personal angle. As part of its recent design challenge, S’well asked students how they sustain change. The responses were optimistic and determined. "It was a great reminder," she concluded, "of what we need to do as brands to tap into that desire for change to create action."