Over the last year, as we have seen virtually every aspect of the world around us change, a solid corporate purpose has proven to be the bedrock of many companies.
At red thread brands, we believe that developing your organizational purpose has always been important. But over the last year, as we have seen virtually every aspect of the world around us change, a solid corporate purpose has proven to be the bedrock of many companies. We’ll discuss why a strong value system helps your company weather storms, but it’s important to note that for a company’s purpose and values to be of any benefit, they have to have real meaning.
A quick note of distinction before we jump in too deep: the title of this article mentions “corporate values,” but I am mainly talking about your organization’s purpose. Your purpose informs your values. It’s your big, hairy, audacious statement to the world that identifies your business’s reason for being. Your corporate values are the beliefs that help your company uphold that purpose. They are at the core of how you execute on your purpose. Your corporate purpose may or may not be public knowledge.
It is up to each individual company to decide how they communicate their purpose. However, your corporate values, explicitly communicated or not, are evident in the way you do business – the ways that you treat your employees, the marketing that you approve, and the way you provide customer service. Your values are the most identifiable to your customers and most likely what they will refer to. But red thread believes a strong purpose is an integral part of a robust values system.
We’re a business. We’re here to make money.
It’s true that businesses – especially those with shareholders – expect to make a profit. In fact, most companies that don’t make a profit don’t remain in business very long. However, your business does not exist to make a profit. That sentence was important; read it again. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Your business exists to provide a solution the world needs. The impetus behind the desire to solve that problem may very well be your organization’s “why” – your purpose. Understanding that purpose, effectively incorporating it into your brand, and communicating it to your employees and customers can help your business profit. Statistically speaking, an organization with a strong sense of purpose will outperform the S&P 500 14:1.
Add to this that over-emphasizing turning a profit could hurt you. Brandwatch analyzed the emotions surrounding the mention of the word “profit” online from July 2019 – July 2020 and compared them to mentions from July 2018 – July 2019. In just one year, consumer research indicated a 14% increase in negative associations with the word “profit,” a 32% increase in disgust associated with “profit,” and a 5% decrease in positive associations. Yikes.
In just one year, consumer research indicated a 32% increase in disgust associated with “profit.”
3 Reasons Why Purpose & Values Are More Important Now Than Ever Before
During times of significant change, ::ahem – NOW – ahem:: having a clear, well-known corporate purpose and values system provides a stable foundation for your organization. A foundation that can prove beneficial in (at least) 3 ways:
During major shifts, consumers rely even more heavily on organizations they feel they can trust. Consistently communicating who your company is and what your values are provides a basis for trust with consumers and employees. The Edelman 2021 Trust Barometer found that businesses became the most trusted institutions from 2020-2021 over NGOs, Government, and Media. 68% agreed with the statement that “CEOs should step in when government does not fix social problems.” That’s a level of trust and expectation that will require your company and CEO to have a guiding beacon in the form of a corporate purpose.
2. Employee Empowerment
The foundation of your corporate purpose provides a unified goal. This common objective empowers employees to make decisions that align with corporate values. The department store, Nordstrom, is a well-known example of this. Nordstrom is “committed to providing our customers with the best possible service.” If you are going to list something as expected as “service” as one of your values, it better be mind-blowing service. And Nordstrom has stories upon stories about doing just that. There’s even a story about a location that replaced a former tire store.
One day, a man came in to return a tire. Naturally, you would expect Nordstrom to decline. They don’t sell tires, and certainly wasn’t the same business where the tire was bought. But that’s not what happened. Instead, the customer service agent at the returns desk happily accepted the tire for a return. He did this knowing that the action was providing “the best possible service.” When employees understand the purpose behind what a business does, they are empowered to make decisions that serve that purpose.
3. Fast Action
Your corporate purpose provides a firm footing upon which to take action during times that require quick decision making and even quicker execution. Accenture reports that 47% of consumers expect brands to translate their values and promises into new and innovative products and services – in the middle of a global pandemic. But you can operate within the shifting sands and know that you will hold true to your identity because it is rooted in your purpose and values. If your organization has a solid purpose that serves as your guidepost, it is easy to determine if the action in question is the right one. Does it serve to further your purpose? If not, move on to the next option. You can quickly take action, knowing that your actions align with your values.
So we’ve established that Purpose and Values are essential. But do customers really care?
In 2009, Simon Sinek published Start With Why and wrote, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” A Cone Communications 2019 study strongly supports that statement, finding that 79% of Americans report that they feel a deeper personal connection to companies with values similar to their own. 88% report that they would purchase products or services from companies that are purpose-driven.
Purpose and values serve to humanize a company. They provide an insight into the people who founded, run, and operate the business. They allow us to connect with other people who value the same things we, as consumers, do. As we are coming off of more than a year of social distancing and staying home, consumers are craving connection. Brand purpose ignites the physical and emotional responses in people required to build connection. A 2020 Brandwatch study found that consumers don’t just want to support brands that talk about values – they want them to demonstrate their values in the way they operate. Over 75% of respondents said it was either somewhat (28%) or very (55%) important for a brand to operate according to its values/principles.
And that consumer intent equates to profitability
A 2018 Harvard Business Review article stated that “when two seemingly contradictory objectives (e.g., maximizing shareholder value/profit vs social responsibility) present themselves, avoid the temptation to pick a side. Instead, embrace both ‘truths’ and manage the tension between them over time.” When consumers and employees understand the purpose and values of a company, they trust that company to put their best interests first and respond purposefully to the changes taking place. BlackRock, an investment management company, posts a letter to CEOs every year. For 2020, this letter reports:
“81% of a globally-representative selection of sustainable indexes outperformed their parent benchmarks. This outperformance was even more pronounced during the first quarter downturn, another instance of sustainable funds’ resilience that we have seen in prior downturns. And the broader array of sustainable investment options will continue to drive investor interest in these funds, as we have seen in 2020.”
BlackRock is pointing out something interesting:
Companies that act with purpose and clearly respond to the changing world in a manner that aligns with their values and those of their consumers are seeing positive returns.
Even during a global pandemic.
red thread brands has years of experience facilitating branding and purpose workshops. If your company is interested in establishing or redefining your corporate purpose or values, or looking to better align your brand with your values, we can help. Are you ready to start connecting with your stakeholders on a deeper level?