Six Steps Your Brand Must Take to Compete and Win the Purpose Race

Simon Mainwaring, Contributor, Forbes
October 5, 2016

It’s no secret that businesses everywhere, both large and small, are increasingly showcasing their purpose to not only receive due credit for their good works, but to also position themselves as the more socially-conscious option amongst the competition and thus, hopefully, give themselves a competitive advantage in the process. And while that’s all well and good for customers and consumers (and society at-large), for businesses it means things are becoming increasingly competitive as the marketplace becomes not only more crowded with purpose-informed messages and tactics, but also becomes more sophisticated in how it develops and implements those practices, as well as the increasing sophistication of the intended audiences.

But as with nearly all things in the business world, benchmarks have been established. Let's take a look at four of the measures below.

Fortune Magazine’s “Change the World” metric involves recognizing the biggest of the big corporate giants — those with annual revenues of $1 billion or more that create a positive impact as “part their core business strategy.” The brands were then put through a three-step evaluation that included their “Measurable Social Impact” (this first test receives extra weight), followed by their “Business Results” and finally their “Degree of Innovation.” This approach seems relatively straightforward and easy to digest, but quite obviously only allows room for the type of heavyweights typically featured on Fortune. Still, it provides a welcome window into how the giants of the world are working to affect change.

Radley Yeldar’s “Fit for Purpose 2015” which claimed to be “the first assessment that measures how brands are translating their purpose into impact,” took a look at both the top 100 companies in the Fortune 500, along with 100 more from the Eurofirst Index to create a list for their 2015 report. From there, “only companies with a public, clearly stated purpose or social intent were considered for a full review,” and scores were then determined based on a set of four weighted criteria — purpose and story, communication, performance, behavior — that were put up against the publicly available information produced by the brands on the list. For Radley Yeldar, the perspective feels more outside looking in than that of Fortune’s chummy approach, with the emphasis being on ensuring that the listed brands are “walking the walk and talking the talk.”

Ethisphere has what it calls “The World’s Most Ethical Companies” program which, when compared to both Fortune and Radley Yeldar, focuses more on a company’s internal culture via a brand’s ability to: promote ethical internal standards and practices, allow staff of all levels to make “good choices” and influence “future industry standards by introducing tomorrow’s best practices today.” Ethisphere employs a proprietary ratings system called the Ethics Quotient, which is comprised of a framework of multiple-choice questions that are then verified and compared against supporting documents and other independent sources to arrive at a score. Certainly when compared to Radley Yeldar, Ethisphere is very much an insider’s perspective on a brand and its culture/behavior, and because of this, and the nature of Ethisphere’s submission process, their list is comprised of comparatively “smaller” companies from around the world, as opposed to the top titans of the Fortune and Radley Yeldar lists.

And finally, and perhaps most interestingly, Just Capital is preparing to release a list that ranks companies against a set of fairness, or “justness,” criteria that are important to the working public. Issues such as paying a living wage, equitable employee compensation, health insurance benefits, among many others, have been compiled and weighted to determine scores. Quite obviously, this is a vastly different approach than the previous three in that the focus has shifted to how a company does, or does not, properly take care of its own as perceived by the public. As consumers and investors become more sensitive to supporting companies with poor reputations, especially when it comes to how it treats its people, a negative Just Capital score could hinder long-term investment potential, as well as talent acquisition and retention.

It’s an interesting mix of criteria to be sure, and depending on the size, scope and ambitions of one’s business, there seems to be a metric that can help provide valuable insights and benchmarks into its purpose-driven performance.

But what if your brand is just getting started, or looking to implement purpose for the first time? What are some steps and best practices you can implement now to hopefully one day find yourself high atop one of the aforementioned metrics?

  1. DEFINITION: It’s essential to define an authentic and proprietary purpose, one that’s “ownable” and unique to your brand. Just as you wouldn’t want to offer another “me-too” product or service, neither do you want to offer a “me-too” purpose.
  1. STORYTELLING: Share a simple, consistent and purposeful brand story. Customers and consumers have more and more brands and messages vying for their attention every day, so crafting a story that’s compelling, succinct and that can consistently cut through all the clutter out there is essential.
  1. CULTURE: Foster a purposeful culture that inspires employees to become advocates. They’re probably your biggest line item, so it only makes sense to invest in a culture that will pay positive dividends both internally and externally.
  1. CO-CREATION: Build a purposeful community that gives consumers a co-creative role. Think about it — we all like to be engaged and made to feel a vital part of the team, and your consumers are no different. Find appropriate opportunities to leverage their passion and enthusiasm for your brand.
  1. CONVERSATION: Lead a cultural conversation that shapes consumer thinking and behavior. Social media has broken down the traditional barriers that previously existed between companies and consumers, and in the process has allowed them to help shape a brand’s narrative. Make sure you’re giving them the right storylines.
  1. IMPACT: Measure and manage impact metrics to demonstrate tangible social change. Just as you track your business’ other relevant data to determine strengths, weaknesses and opportunities, so too it is with your brand’s purpose. Hopefully one, or a combination of the above, can prove to be a helpful jumping off point in determining your company’s level of socially-conscious success.

By following these six steps, you can not only ensure that your company will become purposeful, but you’ll also be able to compete in the arena of an increasingly purposeful marketplace.

This article was written by Simon Mainwaring from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

The views of the author of this article do not necessarily represent the views of First Republic Bank.