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Oct 15, 2020
Alex Lewis
2020 has shown that companies have a ‘purpose gap’
New research from Revolt highlights a gap between business rhetoric on brand purpose and the experiences of their customers.
Read the original article on WARC

The unprecedented world events of this year have forced many companies to focus on whether they are doing and saying the right things.

The outbreak of COVID-19 saw companies all over the world reassess their marketing, advertising and media strategies. And then the death of George Floyd and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement pushed companies into their virtual boardrooms to assess whether and how they should respond.

This has been tough for many businesses. They have had to wrestle with the very real need to be responsible in their actions and authentic in their communication. And one of the reasons this has been hard for some companies is because they don’t have a clear purpose. They don’t have a ‘destination’ that purpose affords or the strategic framework that enables them to quickly establish their position on key events.
A lot of companies have focused their communications on reactive reputation management or short-term ad campaigns that aren’t true to who they are as a business.

Most CEOs now believe their company needs to adopt a broader measure of success. Just 7% of Fortune 500 leaders believe they should mainly focus on making profits and not be distracted by social goals.

More companies now understand the need to adopt a purpose that is fully embedded in the DNA of their business. And from Revolt’s recent research of 101 leading companies across 12 categories, we have discovered that more companies are now adopting a purpose that is focused on the positive impact they can have on our lives, rather than on what they do as a business.
A gap between expectation and experience
Today, 41% of major businesses embrace a brand purpose that is supporting their commercial aspirations through clear and direct action to help improve the world in some way.

But not all businesses are getting this right. Too often there is a ‘purpose gap’ between what the public expect and what they actually experience. At Revolt, we believe there is a framework of seven principles that help companies to bridge this gap and to have a purpose that is embraced by the whole business and truly shapes their corporate behaviour.

Clearly defining the purpose and the businesses role in reaching the ‘destination’ is critical. Purpose is less often created than extracted. This relies on asking the right question to the right people, both inside and outside the organisation across core themes: people, history, business, consumers, brand, society and planet. The most powerful purposes are as clear on the how as they are on the why.

With a defined purpose, a business must have a roadmap that enables the whole business to play a part in that journey. For example, Adidas has created a ‘family’ structure uniting its brands under its ‘Through Sport We have the Power to Change Lives’ purpose; at IKEA, all parts of business fall under the single purpose of creating ‘A Better Everyday Life’.

Having the right platform is critical as it is the creative enabler for a company to communicate purpose and purpose-related activities. Increasingly, companies are ensuring that their purpose is central to their marketing and advertising strategy. In Revolt’s research, we found that 65% of businesses now communicate their purpose externally and 27% are using paid media to do this.
Learn, build and measure to sustain purpose
Just as important as defining the purpose is having the tools and systems in place to ensure that purpose is part of a company’s everybody operations. Learning, building and measuring are the things that sustain a purpose and ensure impact.

More companies are now focusing their purpose activities on ‘missions’. For example, Honda has a mission to get people to care about air quality and Ariel is focused on raising funds for biodiversity. We found that over 30% of companies now look to build their reputations through a branded mission.

And, as I stated at the start of this piece, having a clear purpose enables a company to take a clear position. Key world events are not going away – climate change is going to be an issue for all of us for years to come – and companies need to take a position that is aligned with their purpose.

Finally, we have the importance of alliances. Alliances with staff, brands and partners are crucial building blocks for a purpose’s momentum within the company. Forward thinking companies are turning their internal campaigns into external reputation builders through their earned (Starbucks), owned (Adidas) and paid media (Walmart).

The events of this year have shown that companies are more in the spotlight than ever before. Informed and empowered consumers now expect companies to do and say the right things. Having a clear and authentic purpose is a key way for a company to meet – and exceed – public expectations and to ensure its organisation is on the right journey.
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