Consumers are growing tired of companies making what they see as empty pledges to keep up with current trends. Matt Cross, Head of B2B (EMEA) at Hotwire, looks at how brands can avoid slipping up when it comes to businesses sticking to pledges they make publicly.
The path to purposefulness is not just a fad to those seeking nothing but increasing returns. Personally I hope it becomes a poignant moment when responsibility and accountability overcomes profits and yield. However, it’s still difficult when it comes to actually communicating about the things you are doing, even if it is for just reasons. Some gestures can be ripped apart for a supposed lack of authenticity – damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
In our ongoing mission to help our clients stay ahead of the game, we’re making the following recommendations in order to navigate the potential purpose pitfalls:
- True purpose is baked in from the outset – just because you bought a charging infrastructure business, doesn’t offset the damage you caused by exploiting the world’s fossil fuel resources for the last century. So don’t act like it does. It is crude and offensive. Must you unpick decades of bad choices to make amends? Well it will be hard to convince audiences otherwise but it is also not practical. Better to focus on genuine efforts, built from the ground up. True innovation which is driving more than just profits to the communities which you serve…and admitting the bad parts, not papering over them like they never existed.
- Retro-fitting purpose using comms and marketing is doomed to failure. Prove me wrong by sending some examples my way by all means, but at best it lacks authenticity and at worst it’s Pepsi. These moves are typically made after a sudden guilty realisation or a misguided idea to solve the world’s problems (while conveniently gaining market share). Check yourself: does what you’re proposing really tightly align to the core values, products, services or brand promise of your organisation? Would it really pass the BS test with your biggest critic let alone your customers? Any hesitation here and it is probably a stretch. You should think about an alternative approach as soon as possible, or face the backlash in lost sales, customer trust and share price. A good litmus test (as recommended to me by B Corp themselves) is a business’s About Us page. If your path to wholeness isn’t obvious (and authentic!) here then it won’t be long until you’re called out.
- Purposefulness will not sell itself, but don’t go overboard either. There’s a fine line between heroes and villains (often that line is invisible on social) but that doesn’t mean you should forgo communicating your worthy work. A better way to approach this is firstly to specifically target segments of your audiences, rather than taking a blanket approach. Like any comms, don’t assume everyone wants to hear everything – one segment’s passion is another’s apathy so do your research and get it right. Secondly, but most importantly, talk about what you’re actually doing, i.e. the actions you’re taking and not the endless clever plans you have. Thanks to politics and large corporations reneging on promises, no one believes anything about future commitments any more. It’s action or nothing.
The path to purposefulness for businesses is certainly not a smooth one. Even when you have a convincing story, you can still come out looking like a villain. While demonstrating selflessness in modern society may feel impossible, it is this aspiration which must be your guiding light.
By Matt Cross
Head of B2B (EMEA)
If you’re struggling to see how your PR remains purposeful beyond the next 90-day cycle, drop us a line to discuss how we’ve helped brands like Qualcomm, McAfee, Facebook and Adobe do just that.