6 Steps Your Brand Must Take To Compete And Win The Purpose Race

Simon Mainwaring

It’s no secret that businesses everywhere, both large and small, are increasingly showcasing their purpose to not only receive due credit for their good works, but also to position themselves as the more socially conscious option among the competition (and, hopefully, give themselves a competitive advantage in the process). And while that’s all well and good for customers and consumers (and society at large), for businesses it means things are becoming increasingly competitive as the marketplace becomes more crowded with purpose-informed messages and tactics, as well as more sophisticated in how businesses develop and implement those practices, not to mention the increasing sophistication of the intended audiences.

But, as with nearly all things in the business world, benchmarks have been established. Here’s a look at four of the measures we’ve recently seen.

  1. Fortune magazine’s “Change the World” metric is recognizing the biggest of the big corporate giants – those with annual revenue of $1 billion or more – that create a positive impact as part of their core business strategy. The brands were put through a three-step evaluation that included their “Measurable Social Impact” (this first test receives extra weight), followed by their “Business Results,” and finally their “Degree of Innovation.” This approach seems relatively straightforward and easy to digest, but quite obviously only allows room for the type of heavyweights typically featured in Fortune. Still though, it provides a welcome window into how the giants of the world are working to create change.
  1. Radley Yeldar’s “Fit for Purpose 2015,” which claimed to be “the first assessment that measures how brands are translating their purpose into impact,” looked at both the top 100 companies in the Fortune 500 and 100 more from the Eurofirst Index to create a list for its 2015 report. From there, “only companies with a public, clearly stated purpose or social intent were considered for a full review,” and scores were then determined based on a set of four weighted criteria – purpose and story, communication, performance, and behavior – that were put up against the publicly available information produced by the brands on the list. Radley Yeldar’s perspective feels more “outside looking in” than Fortune’s chummy approach, with the emphasis being on ensuring that the listed brands are “walking the walk and talking the talk.”
  1. Ethisphere has what it calls “The World’s Most Ethical Companies” program which, when compared to both Fortune and Radley Yeldar, focuses more on a company’s internal culture via a brand’s ability to: promote ethical internal standards and practices, allow staff of all levels to make “good choices,” and influence “future industry standards by introducing tomorrow’s best practices today.” Ethisphere employs a proprietary ratings system called the Ethics Quotient, which is comprised of a framework of multiple-choice questions that are then verified and compared against supporting documents and other independent sources to arrive at a score. Certainly when compared to Radley Yeldar, Ethisphere is very much an insider’s perspective on a brand and its culture/behavior, and because of this, and the nature of Ethisphere’s submission process, its list is comprised of comparatively smaller companies from around the world, as opposed to the top titans of the Fortune and Radley Yeldar lists.
  1. And finally, and perhaps most interestingly, Just Capital is preparing to release a list that ranks companies against a set of fairness, or “justness,” criteria that are important to the working public. Issues such as paying a living wage, equitable employee compensation, and health insurance benefits have been compiled and weighted to determine scores. Quite obviously, this is a vastly different approach than the previous three, in that the focus has shifted to how a company does (or does not) take care of its own, as perceived by the public. As consumers and investors become more sensitive to not supporting companies with poor reputations, especially when it comes to how they treat their people, a negative Just Capital score could hinder long-term investment potential, as well as talent acquisition and retention.

It’s an interesting mix of criteria to be sure, and depending upon a business’ size, scope, and ambitions, there seems to be a metric that can help provide valuable insights and benchmarks into its purpose-driven performance.

Best practices for purposeful companies

But what if your brand is just getting started or looking to implement purpose for the first time? What are some steps and best practices you can implement now to hopefully one day find yourself high atop one of the aforementioned metrics?

  1. Definition: It’s essential to define an authentic and proprietary purpose, one that’s “ownable” and unique to your brand. Just as you wouldn’t want to offer another “me-too” product or service, neither do you want to offer a “me-too” purpose.
  1. Storytelling: Share a simple, consistent, and purposeful brand story. Customers and consumers have more and more brands and messages vying for their attention every day, so it’s essential to craft a story that’s compelling, succinct, and that can consistently cut through all the clutter out there.
  1. Culture: Foster a purposeful culture that inspires employees to become advocates. They’re probably your biggest line item, so it only makes sense to invest in a culture that will pay positive dividends both internally and externally.
  1. Co-creation: Build a purposeful community that gives consumers a co-creative role. Think about it: we all like to be engaged and feel a vital part of a team, and your consumers are no different. Find appropriate opportunities to leverage their passion and enthusiasm for your brand.
  1. Conversation: Lead a cultural conversation that shapes consumer thinking and behavior. Social media has broken down the barriers that previously existed between companies and consumers, and in the process has allowed them to help shape a brand’s narrative. Make sure you’re giving them the right storylines.
  1. Impact: Measure and manage impact metrics to demonstrate tangible social change. Just as you track your business’ other relevant data to determine strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities, so too it is with your brand’s purpose.

Hopefully one, or a combination of the above, can prove to be a helpful jumping off point in determining your company’s own level of socially conscious success.

By following these six steps, you can not only ensure that your company will become purposeful, but you’ll also be able to compete in the arena of an increasingly purposeful marketplace.

This article originally appeared in Forbes and is part of a series of articles that support the vision and purpose of SAP.

Image Via Flickr Courtesy: Kevin Dooley

Simon Mainwaring

About Simon Mainwaring

Simon Mainwaring is the founder and CEO of We First, the leading brand consultancy that provides purpose-driven strategy, content, and training that accelerates growth through purpose. His book, We First: How brands and consumers use social media to build a better world (Palgrave Macmillan) is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Amazon bestseller and strategy+business named it the Best Business Marketing Book of the Year. He is a member of Sustainable Brands, the Business Alliance for the Future and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in London, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, and Huffington Post. Simon was included in the United Nation Foundation’s ‘Global Influencers to Follow’ in 2016; YPO’s Real Leaders, ‘100 Visionary Leaders’ for 2015; GlobalCEO’s Top CSR Leaders for 2014; The Guardian’s, ‘Twitter List: The 30 Most Influential Sustainability Voices in America’ for 2013; and Trust Across America’s, ‘Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior for 2012.’ He’s been featured in TIME, The Guardian, Advertising Age, Adweek, Inc., AMA, Fast Company, GOOD Magazine, Mashable and the cover of the National Speaker’s Magazine, as well as appearing on the BBC World News, Business News Network, CBS, CBC, and BNet. Prior to starting We First Simon was an award-winning advertising writer at many of the world’s top creative advertising agencies receiving over 60 international awards including the Cannes Lions, One Show, Clio’s, Kelly Awards, and D&AD.