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There’s Never Been a Better Time to Be Better

November 18, 2020

By Dan Grimm


The most common theme from the recent ANA Masters of Marketing Week, “Force for Good. Force for Growth,” wasn’t about pivoting, doubling down, or even digital transformation. It was about empathy. Look no further than the daily news cycle to see the complexity of the world’s social and human issues. They dominate people’s consciousness. They are a cause for concern and compassion.

Marketers are increasingly aware that businesses and brands can succeed when society succeeds. Even within academia, leading business schools, faculty, and researchers are advancing concepts around corporate social innovation and becoming forces for good and for growth.

As business is recognized as a key contributor to social good, marketers must demonstrate rightful empathy around the issues.


Brands for Humans

It begins by moving away from B2C, B2B, and even B2H designations. Throughout the Masters conference, numerous presenters referenced the transition to B4H, or brands for humans.

To be sure, current events have showcased our humanity. From social justice to diversity and inclusion to the environment, people are wearing their emotions on their sleeves. And they are expecting “not just greatness but goodness” from brands, said BlackRock’s global CMO Frank Cooper. “The brands that people cherish and value the most will reflect how the entire company serves people, society, and the planet,” he added.


Brand Purpose

This enlightenment gives marketers an opportunity (obligation?) to reimagine the future for their brands. A brand’s purpose statement, vividly and beautifully drawn, can help the brand focus its work for maximum market impact. When employees know what their company’s goals are and the problems they are trying to solve, they can keep their eyes on where they are going rather than getting tangled up in the details of how to get there.

Now is the time to pressure test a brand’s purpose statement. Study it, give it new life, and then write an inspiring one-page narrative that supports it. Employees can be galvanized by its provocative thinking.

Dean Aragon, CMO at Shell Brands International, cited ad icon Bill Bernbach’s commendation that “the real giants have always been poets, [those] who jumped from facts into the realm of imagination and ideas…” What can a group of engaged brand employees imagine? Do we need another new electric car, or alternative mobility? Better wind farms, or energy-free manufacturing? Increasingly complex infosystems, or a return to simple elegance?

The inspiring purpose narrative can radically re-energize the brand.


The Need for Speed (and Clarity)

In unpredictable times people place a premium on speed and clarity. Uncertainty is inefficient, as it creates tension and distracts people in an already attention-scarce society. Renewed certainty about a brand — knowing what it stands for and what it doesn’t — enables a marketer to move faster.

Beyond that, complex problems often require many stakeholders to align around solutions; the recent emphasis on stakeholder primacy encourages more partnerships than ever before. A brand (and its partners) can move faster when it understands its role within a larger context.

A brand’s culture can also be an enabler. When Michelle St. Jacques, CMO at Miller Coors, spoke about instilling a mindset of “fastmessyawesome,” she said a team with clarity about their goals can more quickly respond to a competitive attack.

The clock is ticking on some of the world’s most pressing issues, and businesses need to move as fast as they can.


The New Winners

For many brands it’s a good time to be good but a better time to be better. Businesses and brands that make money while serving people, planet, and society will be the winners in the new economy.

They will attract talent for the right reasons — tomorrow’s leaders increasingly make career choices based on the opportunity to make a difference, to work with passion. It’s what medical technology leader BD describes as “fulfilling your life’s work through your work life.”

Brands with clarity of purpose, well-conceived and inspired by the potential for societal impact, will meet both financial and social expectations for the long haul. Among the teaching principles at the Rutgers Institute for Corporate Social Innovation is the practice of creating shared value, which promotes that “not all profit is equal — profits involving a social purpose represent a higher form of capitalism … a positive cycle of company and community prosperity, which leads to profits that endure.” (Porter ME and Kramer MR, Creating Shared Value, Harvard Business Review, originally published February 2011 and republished Spring 2020.)

Society needs to be better, and there’s never been a better time for brands to step up. The clarity and inspiration driven by an empathetic and well-articulated purpose will pay a dividend for the organization, their stakeholders, and for society.

Dan Grimm is the Distinguished Executive in Residence at the Rutgers Institute for Corporate Social Innovation.

The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

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