During a recent conversation with an industry peer, I was asked my opinion on ‘purpose-washing’. This is a current trend amongst companies and brands picking a cause to target the audience with a campaign proving why they care and, as a by-product, promoting themselves. As with green-washing and rainbow-washing, companies are increasingly trying to do good and coming off as insincere in the process.
Now that’s not to say some aren’t guilty – I have worked with clients who might as well have said ‘just stick a rainbow on it’ for a Pride Month post and I’ve highlighted the issues with that. But when it comes to purpose, the balance is difficult, and things get a little more complex.
Shameless Promotion or Genuine Purpose?
Delivering messaging about your purpose allows anyone to call you into question. It becomes a whole lot more personal and can directly affect the culture within the business. The culture of a company should be directly linked to its purpose and values. Where it doesn’t quite match, we see companies saying one thing and acting entirely differently.
Campaigns based on a company’s purpose are a lot more permanent. They are telling the world what you’re all about, the reason your teams go to work every day, the ‘why’ that gets you up every day. So getting it right is important.
Recently we’ve been working with a client facing a similar challenge. They’re a fantastic team, passionate about their work and really care about the people and communities on whom they have an impact. Because of the nature of their business, they have some inherently tricky stakeholders. It’s taken many months, but we’ve helped survey all individuals in the business, alongside HR, Marketing and the Directorship, through workshops and weekly meetings to get under the skin of the business, to develop an honest and sincere communications strategy. This time and effort have paid off, ensuring a true reflection of the business in our messaging that’s also airtight against any scrutiny. The easiest part about all this work though has been everyone in the business acting exactly in the way they are telling people they are. It’s honest, it’s human and most importantly, it’s exciting.
My favourite element of this approach is the belief that if something isn’t perfect the first time, the client accepts that they’re only human, mistakes are allowed and genuinely lessons are learnt.
The Human Trend
This trend of being human through comms is nothing new. Those who are best at it have been doing it from the start.
Mailchimp is a great example. They’ve shown how tone of voice can help make customers feel at ease, just by using clever copy. Even though a corporate business now (even more so having just been purchased by intuit), the brand feels honest in its representation.
While we all understand businesses need to make a profit and many decisions aren’t always made in the best interest of its people, the workforce of future generations is refusing to accept this. Living the values that a company preaches is even more important.
Campaigns like Mary Portas’ ‘The Kindness Economy’ are driving these human business moves and helping highlight the businesses doing the right thing, even thriving better than the big brands. We’re seeing more and more businesses becoming B-Corps, a very public statement on putting people before profit. Not just product-led businesses but service-based companies are following suit.
A personal favourite, Huel, portrays a fantastic culture, involving members across their teams communicating news and developments, showing a real community at work. The cherry on top is their principle value proudly presented on the wall of their office. Fundamentally, ‘Don’t be a dick’ works at any level or situation, so regardless of any other value, team members can always reflect on their actions against this.
Another fantastic agency whose approach has a very human perspective is make:good – using council funding to bring community projects to life. As a result, they are able to connect public office with real voices living in their communities.
A Matter of Reputation
Ultimately, if businesses aren’t already acting in line with the purpose and values they’re preaching, then it won’t be long before reputation catches up with them. The people they are most likely to alienate may be the workforce they rely on to deliver for customers.
Design & Digital Director