“Purpose is like Pokémon - everybody is chasing it and nobody knows why,” “Mr. Goodvertising,” Thomas Kolster, mused at the start of the Tuesday morning plenary session at SB’16 Copenhagen.
Articulating purpose is central to modern branding. And in a world where the majority of market value is drawn from intangible assets, “brand is king,” Kolster said.
There is huge opportunity for purposeful brands because many corporations are deeply mistrusted. Caroline Holme of GlobeScan and Rob Cameron of SustainAbility presented data from two surveys done in partnership with Sustainable Brands – one showed that consumers across 25 countries mistrust global companies more than any other institution, and they increasingly want them further regulated.
“The Public on Purpose” survey found that 65 percent of consumers globally try to support brands that are “purposeful,” or “making a positive difference to society through products, services, etc.” But despite their interest, the majority of consumers in the same survey were unable to name a single company with “strong purpose.”
Consumers want brands to do more; the survey also found that expectations for business to address social issues are higher than ever. Consumers believe that companies should be doing their part to drive change.
Articulating purpose drives trust in a brand, Cameron said, and ultimately drives business. And we can, and should, learn from leaders in the field. According to the second survey, the 2016 Sustainability Leaders Survey, the sustainable business community overwhelmingly cites Unilever as a leader; this year, it extended its lead in the annual survey of 900 executives in the field. Others – including Patagonia, Interface, IKEA, Tesla – were over 20 percent behind in a ranking.
Opportunity and expectations for sustainability are growing, Cameron said. And companies can learn from Unilever’s powerful consumer-engagement campaigns, alignment of sustainability strategy across brands, and value-driven communication to consumers. “Unilever needs some company at the top,” he said.
Sandja Brügmann of the Passion Institute followed this with a point on leadership. “We’re all here because we know there needs to be a better way of leading. Business needs to see itself as part of the solution,” she said.
We need to invest in individual and organizational consciousness, Brügmann said, to address the systemic crises producing an unengaged and stressed workforce, and a society facing planetary boundaries.
While consciousness is intangible, Brügmann says we can measure it through the values of an organization and of leaders. “The more conscious we are - the larger our worldview - the better decisions we can make in a system,” she said.
Brügmann presented a framework of organizational consciousness that companies can use to identify and build self-aware strategies. Drawing from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the seven levels on Brügmann’s scale ranged from “survival” of strictly financial fulfillment, to “service,” in which a company’s social responsibility and internal ethics are fully articulated.
What are some behaviors that create thriving cultures? Brügmann says conscious leaders think in the global context, they are systems thinkers, and see imperfection as a strength. “A healthy leader needs to be in alignment on all levels,” she said.
Vulnerability and self-examination are strengths, according to Brügmann. Being vulnerable is the only way we can achieve the 5Ps – passion, purpose people, planet, and profit.
Similarly, Sirikul Laukaikul, The Brandbeing Consultant Co., Ltd, spoke about self-examination as a key to developing moderation - striving only to support ourselves and not overconsume.
Laukaikul‘s talk provided a moral foundation for purposeful brands. She spoke of “karma marketing,” where everything a brand does impacts what it receives in return. Greed, for example, leads to dissatisfaction and overconsumption.
If we “greed less, give more,” we can achieve the true purpose of brands, which is to give and shape values — not just in our heads, but also in heart and soul.
“Make sure people love your brand so they stand up and protect you,” Laukaikul said. “Even the best PR in the world can’t protect you like a customer.”
How can we activate consumers towards moderation?
Changing human behavior is matter of making the right decisions the easy ones, said behavioral design expert Sille Krukow. We need bottom-up approaches to activate sustainability on an everyday basis.
Krukow presented two recommendations for companies to encourage consumers towards sustainable products: good directions and priming.
According to Krukow’s research, visual, intuitive directions are more helpful to employees and consumers than other communication forms. 90 percent of human behavior is automatic, and these simpler, intuitive choices take less energy for people to make.
Brügmann also presented examples of priming, or placing the idea of a right behavior just before a decision point. These strategies can be leveraged towards organizational operations and sale of sustainable products.
Look at your consumers and employees and decide what you want to be effective at, Brügmann said. Then consider the choice architecture you’re providing them. How is it inspiring them to act?
Are we making progress towards these ends – consciousness, moderation, purpose?
Author, thought leader and Volans founder John Elkington thinks so. The coiner of the idea of a triple bottom line (people, planet, profit) thinks companies also need more. Exponentially more.
Elkington introduced the Breakthrough Innovation Platform, a partnership between Volans and the UN Global Compact that will help bridge “the linear world of incumbent companies and the increasingly exponential worlds of innovators and entrepreneurs now driving disruptive businesses.”
The collaboration will embrace key Breakthrough principles, including the belief that incremental change is no longer enough.
Borrowing terminology from Silicon Valley, Elkington urged the audience to strive for radical innovation – business as usual, and ‘change as usual,’ will not solve the problems created by the Great Acceleration. Elkington used Uber’s revolutionary impact on transportation as an example of the kind of revolution we need sustainable business models to achieve.
In the Anthropocene, he said, we have no other choice.
Next, Geoff Kendall of the Future Fit Foundation and The Body Shop’s Christopher Davis closed out the plenaries with a little bit of hope for the future.
Kendall described how the Future Fit Business Benchmark, a set of 28 social and environmental goals across business for a “flourishing future” can help companies orient, establish and track their sustainability efforts.
The last thing we need is another sustainability framework, Kendall admitted. But “an oil company being told it’s 87 percent sustainable doesn’t help anyone,” he said, referencing the kinds of insights investors currently use from measures such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index.
Instead, we need agreed-upon goal posts – a North Star - for sustainability, regardless of industry or company size.
Davis shared how The Body Shop has been using the Future Fit Business Benchmark to inform its company strategy to “enrich not exploit.” The company defined 7 principles – three social and four environmental - to guide its work.
The benchmark gave his team a destination to aim for, and The Body Shop is integrating these goals in its core business to reach it.
Kendall suggested companies begin their thinking process by considering the following sentence: “The purpose of my business is to ... while in no way undermining, and ideally increasing, the possibility that humans and other life will flourish on Earth forever.”
And then, act to achieve that mission. “Otherwise it’s just words,” he said.