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Our take on the PRWeek Purpose Summit

We had the opportunity to attend PR Week’s recent Purpose Summit which explored how brands and agencies are creating, refining and communicating purpose through case studies and engaging presentations. We’ve summarised the key insights and takeaways below: 

Impact of COVID-19 on sustainability 

There’s undoubtedly been a connection between COVID-19 and sustainability. While we’ve seen some progress from restrictions like less travel, we are also consuming more single-use plastic with face masks and PPE. But the pandemic hasn’t shifted the basic issue around the topic and there is still work to do in elevating the conversation beyond ‘green’ to include our people as well as our planet. 

COVID-19 has escalated the role businesses need to have in driving change and achieving true progress – beyond climate change. We have seen brand’s like Britvic pivot towards helping the wider community during the pandemic through partnering with The Drinks Trust to support those in the hospitality industry. But there is still work to do as we need to continue to see sustainability efforts encompassing the broader SDGs including gender equality, life on land, education, and literacy.

Key takeaway: Businesses have a role in changing consumer perception of sustainability to drive change. 

Consumer behaviour is driving change 

Consumer activism and consciousness is on the rise. In fact, according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2020, 85 percent of consumers want brands to ‘solve my problems’, and 80 percent want brands to ‘solve society’s problems’. 

Brands have a responsibility to drive actionable change through their scale and messaging power, but purpose also presents an opportunity to engage in a meaningful way with their audience. By connecting with consumers at a much deeper level, individual actions together with big business actions will be key in driving positive change.

Aline Santos, Executive Vice President of Marketing, Unilever Plc predicts ‘brand activism’ will become a key theme of next year, where consumers will become peers and an extension of a brand’s purpose – creating a collective force to create real impact. 

Key takeaway: Individual effort combined with business action will create positive impact

Purpose must be authentic

Consumers can spot when something isn’t authentic. A brand’s purpose needs to align with an issue it’s proposition or product can actually help to solve, while being consistent with its own heritage. For example, Domestos works towards improving sanitation in the developing world – this has everything to do with the product and is also simple for customers to connect with.

We know the negative impact when brands are too self-serving, so it is important to be aware of chasing the news agenda, and to make sure what you’re communicating is for the right reasons. Ben & Jerry’s was able to speak out about Black Lives Matter (BLM), as they had been championing the issue for the past eight years. They promote themselves as an activism company that makes ice creams, which runs at the heart of everything they do. The company also employs activism managers to help drive the business’s social mission forward.

Key takeaway: It is important to build the foundation on which you stand for to ensure it’s authentic and meaningful to your brand and audience. 

Brands must create action

People value what you do more than what you say. When defining your purpose, it needs to be actionable, and simple for consumers, employees and suppliers to understand to drive real impact.

We’ve seen this through brands including Nike, which has ingrained a strong message around equality for years. Similarly, Pategonia has a 40 year history of grassroots activism on the environment.

To create a purpose that delivers real action, it’s important to make a plan that is measurable and that the company and senior stakeholders commit to. Learn to measure and reward successes along the way, and use this to inform future decisions. Purpose isn’t a marketing tool – it has to be operationalised across the business, from product development to suppliers to be able to drive systemic change. Purpose driven has to

Key takeaway: Purpose is a management approach rather than marketing campaign

Purpose leads to power 

‘Brands with purpose grow. Businesses with purpose last. And people with purpose thrive.’, Aline Santos, Executive Vice President of Marketing, Unilever Plc.

According to The Shelton Group 90 percent of millennials buy brands whose social and environmental practices they trust. It’s no doubt brands are expected to take more responsibility in justifying their operations, but being purpose-driven is also linked to tangible benefits often leading to greater market share.

This is only going to become more prevalent as Gen Z – the more purpose-driven generation – are choosing brands they buy from and work for, based on how they deliver at an ethical level. 

We heard from Unilever, that their own brands with a strong purpose outperform those that don’t. 

Key takeaway: Brand purpose is the best way to future proof your business

For more advice on how to communicate your brand purpose, check out our insights report from our recent The Sustainability Reset webinar. 

To find out how we can help you with your sustainability and purpose comms strategy, including workshops, audience mapping, insights, storytelling, and content strategy, please contact: Sinead O’Connor at sinead.oconnor@nelsonbostock.com