Thinking beyond profit is the key for brand success in the post-Covid years
Covid-19 has given us time to think about the real meaning of purpose. For 15 years The Reputations Agency has worked with more than 50 global and Irish organisations to audit, build and activate their brand, purpose and reputation. We have witnessed how the marriage of strong brand values and a compelling sense of purpose delivers the most powerful reputations and business results for our clients. Rethinking purpose can be hugely beneficial to an organisation, and now is the optimum time to do this.
Leading brands have an opportunity to reflect and ask what part they can play in the current crisis and beyond that reflects their brand purpose. Many brands worldwide are doing their best to assure their customers and employees that they are there for them. Some are visibly acting on these assurances by putting purpose before profit. Profit will come later when consumers remember how these organisations behaved and will choose them ahead of others.
However, some enterprises struggle to define their purpose and appear to be tone deaf to the times. We have seen organisations make expensive mistakes with ill thought out and poorly activated corporate purposes that do not resonate with their stakeholders. Those who win have been backed strongly by both their leadership and their employees.
Purpose of life
An Post, whose purpose is “to act for the common good, to improve quality of life now and for generations to come”, is strongly led by CEO David McRedmond. It has been bringing this purpose to life across its 9,000-plus employees in a myriad of ways including tackling the gender pay gap, a commitment to SDGs, pledging zero-emission deliveries across cities and Address Point, an award-winning, global first that gives the homeless of Ireland a unique address of their own and access to written correspondence. Its purpose has shone during the Covid-19 crisis when it checks in on older and vulnerable people and offers free mail and parcel pick-ups for housebound customers.
Our global partners The RepTrak Company identified 110 macro-trends that drive reputation, based on interviews with 170 global CCOs and CMOs. The number one challenge, even pre Covid-19, was how to instil a higher purpose within their organisations.
A report published in the Harvard Business Review, Put Purpose at the Core of Your Strategy, shows how successful companies can redefine their business through purpose. The researchers investigated three strategies known to drive growth – creating new markets, serving broader stakeholder needs and changing the rules of the game. But a fourth critical growth driver surprised the researchers: purpose. Researchers found that while many companies consider purpose merely an add-on to their strategy, the most successful high-growth companies put it at their core, using it to redefine the market and reshape their value proposition.
We all need a sense of purpose. As marketers we rely heavily on understanding brand – the way we project ourselves to the world, and reputation – how we are perceived by society. But that’s just not enough. We need to know that organisations exist for something beyond just profit. More and more we are asked to justify our existence by how we contribute to society, community, environment and the economy.
A strong purpose is inspirational, forward-looking and speaks to the greater impact an organisation aspires to achieve. Purpose can be your organisation’s new weapon, helping you to shape your organisational values, building internal alignment and consistency, enhancing your brand and delivering a stronger reputational impact. According to Larry Fink, chief executive of BlackRock, ultimately purpose is the engine of long-term profitability.
We recently announced the results of two major reputational studies highlighting the growing importance of organisations acting with purpose. Our Ireland RepTrak study – now in it’s 11th year – is the largest and longest running study of reputation in Ireland, is based on the perceptions of more than 7,000 members of the public and the this year’s study was completed between early January and early March 2020.
The study measured the level of trust, respect, admiration and esteem the public has for 100 organisations in Ireland, along with close to 100 other reputation indicators. The top 10 most reputed organisations were the credit unions, followed by Bord Bia, Boots Ireland, IRFU, Lidl, Tourism Ireland, An Post, Samsung, Kerry and Microsoft.
The credit unions took the top spot overall as the most reputable organisation in Ireland with an excellent reputation pulse score of 83.7 out of 100, for their role as a trusted cornerstone of local communities with more than 3.6 million members nationwide. Credit unions scored consistently well in six of the seven reputational drivers, leading the way in governance, with a strong performance in products and services, innovation, workplace, citizenship, leadership and performance.
For the first time, governance surpassed products and services as the number one driver of an organisation’s reputation. The reputational importance of governance has increased gradually since 2013, but spiked this year, indicating the public’s desire for organisations to have a stronger sense of purpose and ethics.
We launched our Purpose Power Index (PPI) study in April 2020 to understand the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the perceptions of organisations in Ireland, and to identify the organisations and sectors that the Irish public believes have performed best during the crisis. The study measured the degree to which organisations perform against four elements – whether they are improving lives, acting beyond profits, acting for a better world, and benefiting society.
The PPI revealed the public’s recognition of the strong purpose-led performances by the HSE, An Garda Síochána, The Government, An Post and the food retail sector during Covid-19, demonstrating that it is crucial for an organisation’s purpose to translate into clear actions.
Developing a corporate purpose is one thing, but activating a purpose-driven strategy is another – it is crucial that the chosen purpose can translate into actions. Defining your corporate purpose requires a top-down approach, bringing the entire organisation on this journey before you begin communicating and activating it externally.
When advising our clients, we use a blend of internal and external stakeholder research to help bring clarity to a potential corporate purpose, vision, values, culture and narrative. This includes employee, executive management and board surveys, with high level results collated and communicated internally. Purpose can be retrospective, building on a firm’s reason for being by codifying organisational and cultural DNA while making sense of the firm’s past. Or it can be prospective, requiring you to look forward, take stock of the broader ecosystem and assessing your potential for impact in it, so making sense of the future and gearing your organisation towards this goal.
A series of purpose workshops among selected internal audiences and the executive management team can help agree a direction and the activation plan to bring that purpose to life, ensuring that communications across key stakeholders are aligned and speaking with the same voice.
Rethinking purpose can be hugely beneficial to an organisation, its employees and other stakeholders and it is not too late to play a role in supporting society during this time. As we move towards a phase of economic recovery, right now may, in fact, be the optimum time to do this.
Niamh Boyle is founder and managing director of The Reputations Agency, a strategic reputation, communications and public relations agency that audits, builds, and activates brand, purpose, and reputation strategies.