Employees Are at the Core of Brand Purpose | Marketing Maestros | Blogs | ANA

Employees Are at the Core of Brand Purpose

October 8, 2021

By Matthew Schwartz

Frank Cooper III, CMO at BlackRock, believes fulfilling a brand’s purpose starts with the CMO, but it’s an enterprise-wide effort. “Purpose works only if everyone takes responsibility for it.” Courtesy of BlackRock

It is considered a major signpost on the road to brand purpose: A widely circulated and highly influential letter distributed by BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, in 2018, titled: "A Sense of Purpose." 

"Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose," Fink writes. "To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate."

"Larry, along with other CEOs, have been on a constant path of trying to get leaders to think about the long term," says Frank Cooper III, CMO at BlackRock, who took charge of global marketing at the investment firm in 2017 after serving as CMO/COO at BuzzFeed. "He was coming from the perspective that one way to think long term, and to think beyond profits, is to be clear about the positive ways in which your company contributes to society. Sometimes that means responding to both support and opposition."

BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, says its brand purpose is "to help more and more people experience financial well-being," and in the last several months the firm has taken various steps to support the effort. These efforts include signing a letter opposing state legislation that makes it harder for people to vote and conducting an internal race audit to gain a clearer understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within the company.

"We believe that if you're going to improve the [financial situation] of more and more people, you have to reduce the barriers that currently prevent many people from having access to financial services, whether that's saving or investing," Cooper says. "So, for us, all these actions are consistent with our purpose, and we think that's consistent with the expectations of many of our clients."

Marketing Maestros spoke with Cooper about how CMOs can play a key role driving brand purpose — which is becoming de rigueur throughout corporate America — and the opportunity for chief marketers as more and more companies hire chief purpose officers

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Q. What's the most important role CMOs can play in driving brand purpose?

The biggest role is not to think in the silo of marketing. CMOs have to take an enterprise-wide leadership role and work with HR and across every region of a global company. CMOs are uniquely situated to drive purpose for companies because they know how to translate data into insights, how to build relationships and ultimately how to tell stories that actually help to change people's perceptions and behaviors. This is the time for the CMO to step in fully as an enterprise-leader.

Q. Will the proliferation of chief purpose officers be a catalyst for CMOs?

Purpose works only if everyone takes responsibility for it, so the chief purpose officer will be a catalyst for the entire company. I believe you're going to see CMOs and other senior marketing executives step into the role of chief purpose officer because it combines the functions of marketing and HR, which, for many years, have never really collaborated in a deep way. But even if a marketer doesn't step into the role itself, the chief purpose officer role is a critical catalyst for marketing because the company — and therefore the brand —needs to speak to a wide range of stakeholders — and as [the company] speaks to those stakeholders the role of marketing expands.

Q. What are the some of the more key aspects of brand purpose that CMOs may overlook?

The biggest potential that CMOs have with regard to purpose is the extent to which they need to engage with employees, and the extent to which they have to partner with HR. You can easily run the standard marketing playbook — teasing out some insights, crafting a strategy, putting together creative ideas, putting it out into the marketplace and making people feel pretty good about it. But, in order to make it real, it must be connected to the employees of the company, and any marketer (or any department) can't do it alone.

For more on the emerging role of the chief purpose officer, read "What Does the Ascent of the Chief Purpose Officer Mean for CMOs?" in ANA magazine.

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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