State of Purpose in Business

Key Takeaways

  • Employees and customers want companies with a social purpose.
  • Effective programs take time and thought.
  • Social mission is an asset during downturns.

Why is it important for companies to have a social mission?

One of the best things about brands having a mission is for the people who work in the company to understand what that company stands for. You want people to be motivated and inspired. Give them a reason to get up in the morning and go to work on behalf of a brand that they understand.

Does social mission matter to consumers?

This generation is of people who immerse themselves in experiences and are less about material things. Knowing what a brand stands for helps consumers to go with company they relate to and then to stay with that company over time.

No longer is it enough to just be about the goods you sell. There needs to be a higher purpose connected to those goods.

How did these changes in behavior happen?

The rise of social media resulted in people having much more of a two-way conversation, not only with each other, but with the brands they engage with. People wanted a voice and they expected a response.

Another big factor is that people have more options with their work lives than they used to. Young people want to do something meaningful and that desire has infiltrated the workplace. All those cultural factors place a demand on enterprises saying, “if you want to be relevant to both the worker of today as well as your customer, this is what you have to do.”

To be relevant to both the worker of today as well as your customer, this is what you have to do.

Do you think companies really care about social mission or is it just marketing by another name?

Pressure is being put on corporate America around this issue. Not all of the work that comes out of that pressure is genuine and real. When it’s a contrived situation employees and customers sniff it out.

When a leader has something that they not only care about authentically but that also makes business sense for their company to go and do, then it’s real and it’s good.

How can companies look authentic with their social mission and not to come across as pandering?

Spend time talking about your plans before doing anything. People are in such a rush to get out there. I think your program will come off as authentic when your people are able to talk about it in the natural conversations that they’re having throughout the day.

When corporates are called out for falling short of their social mission it blows back on them badly.

If you’re going to go out there on anything make certain that you can open the curtain to your company. With social media being what it is now, people take notice and want a voice. Companies can get into trouble more easily than before.

As we enter uncertain economic times, are companies stepping back from their social mission and saying, "it was a nice idea, but now we have to cut costs."

Yes, but they shouldn’t. Just like the arts program in schools that are the first thing to be cut, but shouldn’t be, when corporations have to tighten up, they immediately look only at what they have to do to increase growth and earnings.

Times of downturn are when you should pay even more attention to your social mission. Understand that the bottom line of your business has a lot to do with how you conduct yourself. You need to be proud to go out there with your message.

How would you convince a CEO to keep their Corporate Social Responsibility budget?

When a CEO is really excited and empowered around their social mission it can help the community feel more secure about the company during difficult times. So long as it is authentic and true.

Social mission can’t be a contrived attempt to deflect from bad numbers, but if your CSR program is something that you believe in and good for your business, I would encourage you to stay with it.

When it’s a contrived situation employees and customers sniff it out.

Do companies face a backlash risk if they tie their brand to a social mission and then abandon their program when times are tough?

Social missions build communities and those communities notice when you are not transparent or when you turn away from your program when times are not so good. On the other hand, if you use your community effectively it will come back to defend your brand. So that’s another reason that I think that investing in social mission it can work in downturns.

What interesting trends do you see around companies and social mission?

Global citizenry and sustainability are huge right now. During fashion week in Milan they brought members of the fashion industry together to discuss sustainability. It was very interesting to see a whole industry organized around this one idea.

There are also a lot of companies trying to show emotional connections to people and good global citizenship. We worked on a program called Skype in the Classroom, which enabled kids all around the world to Skype with each other. It helped them break

Is it harder for companies with established brands to create a social mission where there hasn't been one in the past?

Yes. Many brands are born today with purpose at their core. Some heritage brands have a CSR program that hasn’t changed over time and others just didn’t pay attention to it. But it is definitely more challenging when a brand has been around for years.

What should companies avoid when creating a social mission?

It can be a mistake to sponsor a lot of things with a check writing campaign without thoughtfulness to what your brand stands for or what consumers are thinking about. Before starting, pull up a chair with your customers and get to understand why they’re buying from you.

Kaplow Communications is a thriving NYC-based communications agency whose clientele includes Target Corporation, Microsoft, and Laura Mercier, to name a few.

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