THE BLOG

Even as a Sales Tactic, Purpose Beats Persuasion

01/10/2014 16:12 BST | Updated 01/12/2014 10:59 GMT

It is human nature to want to choose the world we live in. Humans are unique in how much they impact their environment―razing it, digging it, flattening it. It should concern us greatly, then, if the problems future generations will face are going to be well beyond their control.

How can we be smarter about the choices we make now? Surely there's a way we can make these problems easier to deal with for our children? With some corporations growing to become more powerful than governments, is it ridiculous to suggest that they have an expanding role to play in the solution to these problems?

It's time for corporations to step up and start to take responsibility to match their influence. It's certainly a big theme, and corporations such as Sony, Volkswagen and Microsoft all having social responsibility campaigns which are significant in scope and serious in intent - each backed up by millions of dollars annually. (In the case of Microsoft this is an impressive $904 million.)

Money is a good start, but it's also important that we foster a culture in which corporations see these initiatives as essential rather than as add-ons that might improve their image. This is especially true when you consider that corporations exert their power with no legitimacy - being neither elected nor appointed by elected office. The Indian government seems to be ahead of the curve here, and has gone as far as to legally require corporations to spend at least 2% of their net profits on social development annually.

What over-arching philosophy could corporations adopt to this end? What mantra could guide them in working to mitigate the challenges waiting for our children? I've recently returned from giving a TED talk in New York on behalf of Unilever's Dirt is Good brand about some of the challenges our children face in the twenty-first century - Unilever being another company with a public commitment to social responsibility. I have a background in marketing, and I was employed by a marketing department, and the thought struck me hard and clearly: what if more companies focused on purpose rather than persuasion?

If brands refocused their efforts on putting things out into the world that had genuine purpose, rather then merely trying to persuade its market to act in a certain way, would this help to promote the kinds of behaviour we will all need to adopt to solve complex social problems - without damaging their bottom line? I think that it's possible.

The creative agency I founded, Animl, worked with Unilever on the Kids Today Project―an effort to look at the world from a child's point of view to see how childhood is changing in the 21st Century. It comprised six made-for-digital films, in-depth website content and a social media campaign designed to stimulate debate on whether today's children are getting what they need to become happy and successful adults.

Unilever didn't simply try to convince mothers of the superiority of their product but instead took the time to engage on issues that are of importance to them. The social media campaign was a particular success. With the brand holding a dialogue with mums on a topic of mutual concern, genuine progress was seen and insights made on both sides. It goes to show that people are more than willing to listen to brands so long as brands are willing to talk about something that they value.

And what's more I've been amazed by the 'bottom line' results. With brand metrics for the project overwhelmingly positive, it's a good indication that a brand emphasizing purpose in its campaigning isn't just a good thing to do - it works as a sales tactic as well.

Companies have for some time now considered corporate social responsibility as an essential part of their operation, if only because the public demands it, and this kind of broad consensus is a good thing. But I want corporate responsibility to evolve even further. Being socially responsibly shouldn't be thought of as an obligation, or a means to an end. It should be seen as an essential component of success, and the core of any successful brand.

If companies put more emphasis on putting good things out into the world, working hard to cultivate a philosophy of social purpose over superficial persuasion, then not only will it improve their bottom line, it could also help improve our children's chances of dealing with the problems they're going to face in the future.