Purpose-Led Marketing: Intention, Structure and Authenticity

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What is the role of media in helping brands find a way to support a cause while being authentic to who they are and their consumers?

MediaCom's Mark Egan, Managing Director, West Coast, and Latha Sundaram, Group Business Leader, Executive Director, speak with Don Lupo for the ThinkLA Podcast to discuss the importance of structure, consistency, and authenticity in a brand's purpose-driven marketing.

Q. We hear about purpose-driven marketing in the news; we hear about it in campaigns. How do you define purpose-driven marketing, and how does that differ from revenue-led or profit-led marketing?

Mark Egan: There's a lot of people defining it in different ways. We have borrowed from WARC a great definition: "a reason for a brand to exist beyond making a profit." It combines the ambitions and beliefs that motivate the organization and the changes that it wants to make in the world.

So much has changed. In previous years the reason for a company or brand to exist was based on shareholder value. One reason shareholder value and the drivers of that are revenue growth, increasing operating margin, and increasing capital efficiencies as levers to drive that. What we see now is an expansion from shareholder expectations to community expectations. It's not entirely altruistic. These companies that do this and that are successful with purpose grow at twice the rate. So, this is a win-win.

Latha Sundaram: When we speak to clients or speak to individuals, and they say, is it natural for the word marketing to exist side by side with the word purpose? And the truth is it's what marketing is all about on how we deliver value for our consumers. Consumers are asking for brands to drive more social impact and make this world a different place; then, I think it is natural for marketing to help deliver that purpose.

Q. So then, how do you find that cause to support? Do employees play a role? Does that just come from the board? How do you determine that?

Mark Egan: Traditionally, that's how it's been done. A board member has a particular connection, or a vocal employee brings forward something they're connected to or passionate about. However, because this is such a more significant issue now, we have a more structured approach for this through three stages to establishing your purpose.

Firstly, It defines what a brand stands for and the role it wants to play in a changing world and understanding how that purpose connects to the brand's DNA and makes sense in its place in the world and where it can go.

Secondly, it is auditing for a fit. Looking at your audience or customers, culture, and society, and going through a 'why, how, what, why is our purpose compelling and makes sense for us. How are we going to behave in that context to achieve that? What are the things that we do to get there?

Secondly, a sort of auditing - looking at your audience or customers, culture, and society, and going through a 'why, how, what' to learn why is our purpose compelling and makes sense for us. How are we going to behave in that context to achieve that? What are the things that we do to get there, and then lastly, how do you integrate and amplify that across your existing communications and various touchpoints? So you can see it's something that's, you know, if you're going to lead with brand purpose, it's got to be structured.

Lastly, how do you integrate and amplify that across your existing communications and various touchpoints?

If you're going to lead with brand purpose, it's got to be structured. And, behind that, you've got to have many executive stakeholders that will support this and meaningful points of measurement that you aspire and hold yourself accountable.

Q. Does a brand need to be monolithic in this when they are standing for a cause? How do you think they can best move forward with something like this?

Latha Sundaram: I don't think it's monolithic as much as being consistent and aligning with a cause that is true to you as a company, to your employees, and to the brands and the products that you have. Brands need to ask themselves, are you using the proper research and understanding of who you are and what your consumers want, what your products mean, picking that cause, and then being consistent.

Part of that consistency means it's not just you alone, but recognizing the role of partnerships and that partnerships can play. I think there's a lot we could say that didn't go right in the world the past year. The one positive silver lining is that we all saw that people started to change and want to make more positive things happen in society. Consumers noticed that companies were willing to take a stance and have more partnerships to get there. So it was that whole notion of the collective working to drive more of that change. The meaning of partnerships is why I think we saw purpose-driven companies pivot to start relying more on those partnerships with that single focus to make something happen.

Q. We hear about these incredible partnerships, yet brands are constantly criticized for putting up rainbow banners for Pride Month or putting up a black box for Black Lives Matter. How do those partnerships, especially how does the effort itself, express authenticity, and how can brands help an audience that's very aware when they're being marketed to understand that they're authentic about it?

Latha Sundaram: Glad you asked that because of that word -- authenticity needs to be so central to anybody who's saying they want to do more about their purpose-driven efforts.

And we see this coming from a few different points. First of all, making sure that you're not just advertising and putting a logo, but we often say, how do you have more actions versus ads and being authentic by doing what you say you're going to do. Secondly, the power of partnerships. Part of being authentic is saying, "I know I can't do this alone. I want to be with others who are like-minded, share the common goals that I have, and try to get to that together." So I think we see more and more of those who are authentic are the ones that join forces with others to make that happen.

Finally, and not just saying this because we come from a media perspective, but understanding the role of digital, how authentic you are, or you aren't. And we have all seen how digital has increased transparency over the past few years. Digital allows us to provide a forum for us to talk about these causes and what companies are doing, whether they agree or whether they don't, and you have to be ready to participate. If you just let it happen silently and you aren't an active participant, that's where you lose your authenticity. If you're not willing to be a part of that online dialogue, then you're missing out.

Mark Egan: And to bring it back to your earlier question, when you've purposely structured yourself to get there and thought it through, understand the why -- why you're doing this -- and then you must be in a position to communicate with authenticity because you know, why is it meaningful to you?

Latha Sundaram: It's essential to be intentional and focused as you put your plans together.

Q. So intention and consistency and all of that lay the groundwork for authenticity. Where does media come into all this?

Latha Sundaram: I think it's interesting when you see the role of media and how it's evolved over the years. Media has become more influential; their power to influence is more substantial. But, with that increased power comes a responsibility to be fair and empathetic in what those media channels are communicating. As a media agency, we sit at a unique intersection between what consumers are actively trying to do, what we know companies are trying to do, and what we know our media partners can do as they evolve to have more influence. That's what we feel is exciting about media. It's bringing all these forces together, and we as media agencies, having the ability to do that, it's our responsibility, we think, to do that.

Q. So then, how does a brand create credible content, and does the platform matter, or is this purely about the message regarding media?

Latha Sundaram: It's not just about who you reach, but who are you, and what are you trying to do as part of that? What a platform does as much as what a platform is as a channel or a distribution vehicle is so important, and consumers are linking that right to how they feel about their brands: the environments and where we are critical and part of this.

Mark Egan: Creating content credibly in this aspect is no different than creating credible content anywhere.

Q. Then, if you're talking platform and talking credibility, how does that shift the brand's responsibility for the purpose they're working towards?

Latha Sundaram: It's a shared responsibility. So we're in this together, so it's no longer just the company or just the platform. It's what we're doing together. And that's why we talk more and more about the role of partnerships and having that structure. So we see it as a shared responsibility for us as we try to get that message out there.

That's why I'm just really proud and excited to be a part of GroupM and what we're doing to ensure that through initiatives we have, such as the Media Inclusion Initiative and the diverse voices accelerator.

Part of our responsibility here is to ensure that we get that kind of content and create a forum for that content to be produced. So, it's great to see the industry see that need, and the more that we can all do, this is a small step, but we hope to get more in the right direction.

Q. So that's media's role, in terms of purpose, is kind of shepherding that and guiding that and ensuring that all those components are there consistently?

Latha Sundaram: And growing, right? That's us putting in the accountability and the structure making sure we're not just making one-off efforts for a purpose. So again, going back to consistency, having the proper framework and structure is essential.

The work we're doing on behalf of our clients with our responsible investment framework is helping to make those thoughtful choices about media.

Q. Could you go more into that responsibility framework? That sounds fascinating.

Latha Sundaram: It's a responsible investment framework that we started talking more and more to our media partners and our clients about. We think that this is the next evolution of media investment. We know that given the scale of media and the dollars and commitment that we have, a different valuation and measurement methods as we're trying to think about, what media do we select that is purpose-driven and aligns with where we're going. So the responsible investment framework allows us to help us think about those principles and come up with suitable methodologies to make those decisions.

We believe media dollars can be that force for good and help us use that scale. We now have the proper framework in place to do that.

Listen to the full podcast on Spotify, Apple, and iHeartRadio.

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