Authenticity is not a buzzword. Clients, customers and colleagues know the difference between performative displays and conscience-led action.
“Customers remember the chain stores that displayed Black Lives Matter stickers in their windows during the protests, but don’t have any Black executives on their leadership teams,” says Scott Goodson, the founder and CEO of StrawberryFrog.
The Canadian-born, New York City-based marketer is co-author of the book ACTIVATE BRAND PURPOSE: How to Harness the Power of Movements to Transform Your Company with Chip Walker. Foundational to the book is the concept of Movement Thinking, a process that uses the inspiration behind social movements to help businesses recover post COVID-19. The intention of the process is to close the gap between a company’s intent (showing public support for BLM, for example) and action (actually hiring Black executives and managers).
According to Goodson, there is a difference between an activist brand and a brand that has activated its purpose.
“An activist brand is taking a more social activist stance that is more about being socially conscious,” Goodson explains. “They have social and political intent both on the left and the right. You can place brands like Hobby Lobby and Patagonia on the political spectrum. A purpose activated brand doesn’t have to go so far.”
An example from the B2C world is Pampers, a brand that stands for baby development.
“We helped them activate that purpose and the role Pampers has played in helping parents and helping their babies to develop socially, mentally and physically,” Goodson says. “Purpose is not just a marketing ploy or a publicity tool. It drives the training of your people, from the company culture, to hiring and even to the remuneration and bonuses employees receive. A lot of companies put BLM stickers on their web sites or, during Pride Week, have rainbow advertising, but they haven’t really thought about how to make change within their companies or their relationships with the Black or LGBTQ communities as customers or as employees or as leaders.”
The lack of change, or pretending your company is doing something when it isn’t, is a phenomenon Goodson calls purpose washing.
“There’s a reason we’re seeing backlash against cancel culture from the change resistant,” Goodson says. “With consumers calling out companies for being opportunistic, there is a fear that it might lead to real change. That change is critical within companies because the world is changing so quickly. Employees and consumers are exhausted not by change, but by the lack of it.
That crucial need for change has been brought home by the pandemic.
“What COVID has done is put everything under a microscope,” Goodson says. “There just isn’t that sense of stability right now and it’s hard to believe you aren’t flailing in the wind. Truist I SunTrust banks managed to merge and create one of the largest banks in the US by writing a purpose statement to improve lives in the communities where they operate. It was designed to help bring together the two cultures. By defining their purpose, they put in place a rudder so that, when the pandemic hit about a month later, they could go back to it and steer their course.”
It’s a voyage Goodson sees the corporate world staying on as the pandemic winds down.
“We are in the purpose economy right now,” he says. “Every day there is new evidence of this in the fight for talent and the huge changes happening in leadership positions. It’s becoming clear that the money is following recognition of the problems we face and rewarding those who focus on solving the problems.”