What gets you out of bed each morning? What motivates you to go to work? Questions that are often ignored, and yet which can help us to find our purpose. In an age of social polarisation, for businesses to thrive, they too need purpose. It's what differentiates us and them. And it's the same for business, too. What's its purpose, beyond making a profit?
Trust in companies has never been lower than it is now. At the same time, expectations for the role of brands in society have never been higher - they need to connect in a more authentic way to the aspirations of their consumers, who want a better life. Understanding purpose from the consumer perspective enables more meaningful relationships to develop, building greater loyalty and encouraging participation.
Once our basic needs are met - health & wellbeing, financial security, honest & meaningful relationships - we all search for a sense of purpose: to contribute to society, to be educated, to be happy, to enjoy the freedom to do and believe what we want. Increasingly, we also want to ensure that anything we do has a net positive impact on the planet and society.
With growing awareness of poverty, income inequality, corruption, human rights abuses, climate change and environmental degradation; consumers are asking questions. They're making the connections between corporate actions, the quality of their own lives and the success of their communities. This provides new challenges and exciting opportunities for brands to show real leadership.
This is real: 65% of consumers want to support companies with a strong purpose, and almost half of us can name a company that makes a positive difference in society. Even more telling in the statistic that 28% of consumers now punish companies for their behaviour - this is up by almost 10% since 2013. People are waking up to the power that they possess as consumers.
So, what steps can businesses make to ensure their brand remains relevant and builds-in resilience?
Putting people at the heart of what you do - call it empathy - is about respecting the consumer, listening to their concerns and responding to them in honest, authentic ways. Take IKEA: the Swedish home furnishings company has a campaign called "Where Life Happens", which looks at real-life moments and designs its products to help meet life's challenges. IKEA believes that looking beyond mere consumption habits, they are recognising the humanity in customers' lives and using this to create more value and lasting relationships with them.
Creating purpose beyond products. Although most brands know how to design a great product or reliable service, many begin to struggle when their company's deeper purpose has become hidden or is no longer relevant. What is your company's unique offering in the global marketplace? The Body Shop has always had a belief that business should be a powerful force for good. Not sitting back, the brand is now working with The Future-Fit Foundation to set goals beyond being 'less bad', instead doing business in an intentionally transparent way, making a net positive impact on the planet: "enrich our people; enrich our products; enrich our planet" is their message.
Taking a stand is an essential, proactive action that makes it clear where a company stands when issues arise. Old models of CSR need updating to make them relevant, exciting and engaging for consumers. To achieve this, consumer-facing platforms and campaigns are needed to bring the brand's message, perspective and initiatives to a wider, global audience. Doing so helps to connect with consumers concerned with serious social and environmental challenges. Starbucks may face a number of challenges, but the company's commitment to employing 10,000 refugees over the next 5 years is laudable, if controversial in some circles. Not only does it help address a serious global crisis, but it reinforces the company's reputation at the local community level.
Starting a movement is a sure way of building brand loyalty, as it welcomes more and different voices to the debate over purpose. By utilising collective knowledge to solve problems, consumers and employees can be be encouraged to take action as part of the brand. Given that net trust in global corporations is less than zero (and is particularly pronounced in the developed world), companies are likely to feel apprehensive about 'going it alone'; under these conditions, partnerships make perfect sense for tackling meaningful issues in a way that unites the community. Ben & Jerry's have a long established record of fighting for climate justice. Now, recognising the lack of momentum at government level in some countries, notably the US; the company is now rallying its customers in partnership with the online activism platform, Avaaz, to raise awareness and demand climate action. "If it's melted, it's ruined" is true for both their ice-cream and the planet.
It's good to remember that humans build brands, and brands are built for humans - to meet our shared needs, hopes and desires. If companies seek to solve the pressing environmental and social problems we face by designing with people at the heart of what they do; the chances are they will remain resilient, establish brand loyalty, retain and attract motivated staff, and lead the way in innovating and delivering positive outcomes.