Chapter 2 of Activating a Purpose Program Playbook

Making Purpose a Priority

This is the second chapter in the playbook Activating a Purpose Program, from the ANA Center for Brand Purpose. Download the full playbook for more great insights from today's purpose champions.

More than 80 percent of consumers would be willing to pay more if a brand raised its prices to be more environmentally and socially responsible or paid higher wages to its employees, according to a consumer survey by Deloitte Insights.

Purpose has become a priority as customers seek to engage with companies that help them reach their goals or align with their lifestyle choices. This trend will only intensify as young people around the world grow up with a deeper commitment to that which is purposeful and meaningful to their lives. In fact, these consumers often only purchase products that directly support causes about which they care.

As generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012) enters adulthood, they will demonstrate an even more profound commitment to changing the world than their older millennial colleagues. Gen Zers expect companies to take a lead on key issues while helping them to reach their personal goals. This means that a majority will consider a company's purpose before deciding to work for an organization or before making a purchase.

Companies that don't make purpose a priority run the risk of not merely isolating the next generation but lagging behind as a business — or even failing entirely. Many companies that are on the cutting edge of exemplifying the purpose-led organization are now emphasizing how purpose in life and at work can intersect and ultimately create greater meaning for all. This is the greatest manifestation of making purpose a priority.

Shell has a long history of a dedicated, internal purpose program that works consistently with teams worldwide through employee ambassadorship, personnel surveys, and deep individual connections. Shell now features its employees in ads running in the U.K. and the Netherlands to show how their early passions, educational preferences, or abilities to solve problems play a direct role in their drive and mission at work. According to Dean Aragon, CEO at Shell Brands International and global VP of brand, "How we serve articulated and unarticulated human needs and desires will cause ours to be a richer industry and enable us to do more for the world."

Perhaps it's Tim Mapes, SVP and chief marketing and communications officer at Delta Air Lines, who states the personal priority of purpose most clearly: "Search your heart; be crystal clear in your beliefs and values. If they are not reflected in the company you work for, go and work for a different company. You can't be a world-class marketer if you represent a brand that doesn't reflect your values. That's no way to live a life. This is not a dress rehearsal. We have a capitalist society. Choose."


Alicia Tillman, Formerly of SAP

SAP has always had a mission to help the world run better and improve people's lives. Their customers are not only solving the practical challenges of business — running and optimizing more efficiently while saving costs — they are also looking for technology to help support their own purpose-driven agendas.

One of the biggest mistakes any organization can make when looking to infuse purpose into its narrative is to assume it's just a marketing initiative. If the first time that sales or HR hears about company purpose is during the rollout, you have a significant problem on your hands. Voices from across every department need to be included as early as possible, ideally in a conversational setting. Rather than approach counterparts with a fully baked plan, put the ball in their court: ask questions like "What role does our business have in solving this problem?" or "How are our customers innovating to fix that problem?" It gets them thinking about the bigger picture, and not just through the lens of how we need to be marketing this specific product or that hiring initiative. Once you have that foundation, it makes it much easier to tailor and tweak to fit departmental need.

But every business is unique, so it's difficult to say whether there's a set timeline that should be followed to the letter. Rather, the effort needs to be spent ensuring that the message is authentic and speaks to the everyday experiences of employees, customers, and partners. In today's landscape, where digital channels give customers an even greater voice, getting it wrong can have lasting consequences. Purpose-driven initiatives only work if they're a meaningful reflection of brand values, so being thorough is required.

SAP looks at prioritizing the purpose process from two perspectives: overall employee buy-in and C-suite and leadership team buy-in.

Both are critically important for ensuring that purpose is an integral part of the company. To help ensure buy-in from the large employee base, I spent my first few months as CMO of SAP in the trenches with employees around the world. I traveled to our global offices, attended many customer and partner meetings, and got to really understand how our purpose is influencing our operations. This type of groundwork is necessary to ensure that your purpose is not falling on deaf ears and will resonate with employees.

When it comes to getting buy-in from the leadership team, metrics and being able to show the impact purpose has on your company's bottom line are important. In addition to understanding the impact that purpose can have on improving society, the environment, and the economy, being able to clearly show the ROI will go a long way with the C-suite. Luckily, the business case for purpose is clear.

Marketing does play a major role in showcasing SAP's brand purpose and telling its brand story. Marketers have a responsibility to be the voice of the customer, and today, those customers want to know what a brand is doing to improve the world. We owe it to them to tell this story in an authentic and truthful way.

We also must ensure that purpose is embedded into everything we do as a company. It's not enough to simply talk about purpose. We need to put that purpose into action. SAP is developing new initiatives while continuing to measure the ROI of these programs to clearly hold itself accountable. The company has also partnered with the UN to do its part to help accelerate the UN's Sustainable Development Goals and give the company a framework by which it can track its efforts. When employees see this kind of commitment and the undeniable results, they tend to be more engaged.

Each one of SAP's employees is responsible for embodying and enabling its purpose, as they often have the most direct line of communication to customers. The company wants employees to make decisions that are rooted in purpose. When evaluating the determinations in front of them, SAP hopes that they'll always make the choices that are going to help the world run better. SAP knows that making the right decision is not always easy, but if employees use a framework that's based on the purpose the company holds, it can stand behind its decisions, regardless of the outcome.

The company made its purpose message simple: SAP makes the world run better and improves people's lives. This is a message that everyone can understand and stand behind. It transcends geographical and cultural boundaries and resonates with all 95,000 employees and over 413,000 customers around the world. Ensuring that your purpose is simple, while being true to who you are as a company, will result in it being embraced and consistent.


BD Advances the World of Health

Becton Dickinson (BD) is a business-to-business medical technology and device company that operates around the world and employs more than 65,000 people. In 2015, the 120-year-old company refreshed its brand and re-established its purpose. Today, BD's brand purpose is "Advancing the world of health."

BD's purpose is promoted in many ways across many channels. Video, written communication, brand ambassadors, and large employee events spread BD's commitment to advancing the world of health. These tactics are regularly refreshed to maintain a high level of cultural influence.

Another way that BD activates its purpose is through its commitment to supporting the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. The large global brand wants to help societies around the world progress, and its purpose and influence can create positive change.

The brand's purpose has served as its North Star over the course of its history. Through decades of product innovation, business model pivots, and new company culture initiatives, BD's purpose has maintained consistency and direction. For example, BD helps its employees live out the brand's purpose by facilitating service trips. Employees go to developing countries and help with projects related to health care systems and infrastructure.

BD leverages its commitment to purpose to drive preference across three key audiences.

  1. Customer: If a company's purpose is aligned with a customer's value, the interaction is not simply a transaction. The customer becomes proud to do business with you.
  2. Partner: Trade partners and business partners who are aligned around a shared purpose generate more fruitful business outcomes.
  3. Employee: Attracting and retaining talent is essential to building a long-lasting, successful brand. Cultivating a sense of purpose among employees can build loyalty and engagement.


Simon Perkins, Orvis Company

When you present yourself as a purpose-driven organization, actions throughout the entire organization must align with your mission. Although we have a history in conservation, customers want us to step up for them in important ways, particularly in Alaska and in the Everglades. We had to wrestle with how we do advocacy. Up until now, we had pretty much restricted our role to financial and publicity support rather than taking a more editorial stance and making a statement.

Orvis has always believed that if we are going to benefit from our natural resources, we must be willing to take action to protect them. In the 1980s, Orvis pledged a commitment to nature conservation with a 5 percent company contribution. In 1991, the company established the Orvis Matching Grant, which encouraged customer participation and ultimately led to more than $22 million in donations over the years. While the company continues these efforts, it has also taken on a bigger and more vocal role in environmental causes.

We filmed a commercial that encouraged the preservation of Bristol Bay, Alaska, the world's last all-wild salmon run, and stated the company's opposition to the Pebble Mine project. The goal for this stand was to serve as a conservation message, or a business message, and not a political statement. We know that a lot of our customers make a living from the mining industry or are believers in a strong mining industry. We are not opposed to mines. We're saying that we, as a business that supports 1,000 Orvis employees, have an obligation to ensure that our customers have places for recreation. We have a responsibility to protect the environment for the sports that we serve. We took a stance on why this particular mine posed a greater environmental threat than it did a business benefit.

Similarly, we took out a full-page ad in the Miami Herald that urged lawmakers to protect the Everglades, an ecosystem that supports 1.3 million jobs and represents $109 billion to Florida's economy. But that ecosystem is collapsing, and Florida must act now to save it.

Orvis' purpose-driven initiatives resulted in 2018 being the company's most significant growth year.


Unilever's Next Evolution of Purpose

Unilever began its focus on becoming a purpose-led company under the direction of CEO Paul Polman, well known as a leading crusader for business action on climate change and sustainable development. He helped to transform the sprawling, multinational manufacturer of Dove soap, Knorr bouillon cubes, Cif cleaning sprays, and Hellmann's mayonnaise into a responsible global organization that also benefitted from affiliations with social causes, such as improved hygiene or better access to toilets.

Now, Alan Jope, who succeeded Polman as Unilever CEO in January 2019, is increasing the purpose-led undertaking of the consumer goods giant. To set Unilever apart and combat what Jope calls "woke-washing" — the social responsibility equivalent of bogus "greenwashing" campaigns aimed at appearing environmentally conscious — he has ordered executives to assign a clear, specific mission to hundreds of products, such as TRESemmé shampoo and Marmite yeast. Speaking at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in June 2019, he said, "We are committed to all our brands having a purpose. We will give them time to identify what this is and how they can take meaningful action."

According to Jope, aligning each brand with a specific concern, rather than a wider abstraction of purpose at the parent company, will reinforce credibility. The 28 brands Unilever counts as "purposeful" contributed almost two-thirds of revenue and drove 75 percent of sales growth in the first half of 2019. These included Dove, which focuses on improving women's self-esteem and has been celebrated for its "Real Beauty" campaign showcasing female bodies of all shapes and sizes; Lifebuoy soap, which teaches children handwashing techniques in emerging economies to reduce the five million premature deaths a year from infectious diseases related to poor hygiene; and Ben & Jerry's ice cream, which seeks to raise awareness about climate change with its Baked Alaska flavor. "If a brand can't find its purpose," Jope said, "we may sell it."


Victoria Morrissey, Caterpillar

To make purpose a priority, don't underestimate how relevant, meaningful storytelling can affect all your stakeholders and become a champion for a unified purpose. Story is what a customer holds in their minds; it drives recommendation and loyalty. Data helps form a better story. It's a connected ecosystem, and this fundamentally changed Cat.

While you must understand the individual parts of your brand story, don't overlook the power and elegance of the whole. Customer segmentation can be very useful and very powerful, but it is designed to find the differences. Before you act on what is different, find a unifying principle that adds up to a greater whole. If marketers cling to what is different, they'll lose the ability to see overarching mindsets among miners, landscapers, and construction workers, for example.

If we don't find what unites, we can't tell a story at scale. And we lose the greater sense of purpose and humanity.


What Other Leaders Are Saying

"In many ways, our purpose, as well as our brand promise and personality, helps to shape our role in society and furthers our new business model based on renewable energy. It is a value proposition about the conduct and culture of the business."

— Rahul Malhotra, head of brand strategy and stewardship at Shell


"Having purpose ensures consistency when opening sales conversations across markets. Having a strong narrative makes it easier for our employees to tell our story and ensures that our customers from across markets are exposed to the same messaging."

— Mirella Amalia Vitale, SVP of marketing, communications, and public affairs at the ROCKWOOL Group


"It's in our brand purpose to be conveyors of conviviality, where the world will be a better place if we build bridges and unleash the power of human connections."

— Ann Mukherjee, chairman of and CEO at Pernod Ricard North America


"Nothing makes a brand more human than viewing it from a sense of purpose — one that truly influences and shapes the future of the company."

— Dean Aragon, CEO and global VP of brand at Shell Brands International


Mindy Barry, Mars Petcare

Mars is a family-owned business with more than a century of history, so we have more freedom to connect with longer-term commitments. And while we also believe that an initiative without real performance is meaningless, we also understand advocacy. Our Mars Five Principles — Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency, and Freedom — inspire more than 100,000 employees to create value for all our partners and deliver growth, of which we are proud, every day.

Mars Petcare US created the "Better Cities for Pets" initiative to help communities become more pet-friendly while advocating for fewer pets in shelters and more places for pets within urban areas, like dog parks and green spaces. We've found that helping cities to be more pet-friendly creates a healthier life for everyone. Without question, pets help people and cities thrive. It's been proven that pet owners have less depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Pets also get people outside for exercise and social contact, and they make neighborhoods feel safer and workplaces more fun.

We're certifying cities to recognize and celebrate those that have put programs and policy in place to make life better for people and pets. Currently, 25 cities around the U.S. have undertaken certification, and we're expanding the program internationally, as Mars operates in 80 countries.

Mars Petcare is dedicated to one purpose: "A Better World for Pets."


Manos Spanos, Formerly of Danone North America

Danone's "One Planet. One Health" mission means that the company is committed to bringing health through food to as many people as possible. This is a powerful idea that is internalized and advanced by all within the company, including the C-suite, employees, retailers, farmers, suppliers, NGO partners, and the people who buy and consume Danone products.

Within the marketing department, it is understood that purpose must be a priority, but they have also seen how it acts as a driver for growth, even when growth is difficult. In fact, Danone's marketing team believes that the Four Ps of marketing today are people, passion, purpose, and positivity. Marketing needs to stand for positive change within the organization; you have to innovate to make any brand program doable.

Danone also knows that the more people who join its quest for "One Planet. One Health" within the company or as customers the more good can be done, especially at a time when every dollar counts.


Lessons on Making Purpose a Priority

  • Find principles that inspire employees and make them proud, so that they can create value for all constituents and deliver growth.
  • Understanding how purpose in life and at work can intersect and create greater meaning is the new frontier for many purpose-driven companies.
  • One of the biggest mistakes any organization can make when looking to infuse purpose into its narrative is to assume it’s only a marketing initiative. If the first time that sales or HR hears about company purpose is during the rollout, you have a significant problem on your hands.
  • Marketing plays a major role in showcasing brand purpose and telling a brand story. Marketers have a responsibility to be the voice of the customer, and today, those customers want to know what a brand is doing to improve the world.
  • Making the right decision is not always easy. However, if employees use a framework that embodies a company’s purpose, the organization can stand behind their decisions, regardless of the outcome.
  • Why is purpose a priority? We must leave the world a better place than how we found it.