Written by: Katie Baleno, Assistant Account Executive, Raleigh, and Rebekah Escala, Account Coordinator, Raleigh
Recently, our CEO Larry Weber, moderated a panel discussion around the future of marketing and how it relates to corporate purpose-driven strategies at a professional event called “Tech For Good” hosted by the North Carolina Technology Association (NC TECH). The conversation brought leaders from a variety of industries together to address how technology can be used to build an environment with the purpose of benefitting people and the world we live in. Other panelists who participated in this discussion included Jess George, a government and community affairs manager with NC Google Fiber; Amanda Levinson, co-founder and COO of NeedsList; and Jason Cooper, chief digital officer at Horizon Production.
Following the panel discussion, we had our own Q&A session with Larry:
Why do you think corporate purpose is so important?
Weber: I think marketing is going to become more about transparency and “doing good” because millennials, who are now the largest customer base in the country, seem to have a core belief that they'd like to buy from companies which have a moral purpose embedded in their culture. Corporate purpose is about taking your company’s DNA and complimenting it with a cause that makes sense for the organization.
As marketers, we need to incorporate that purpose into our content and media.
How would you define the difference between corporate purpose and philanthropy?
Weber: It's interesting because I've gotten several comments from folks regarding my book. They say, “Oh, this is just another book on corporate social responsibility.” But it's not.
We've lived with corporate social responsibility for decades and I have nothing against it, but it’s more aligned with philanthropy. CSR is when a corporation chooses a cause or a group to support in an outward facing, reputation building perspective. Meanwhile, moral purpose of a company involves examining your organization’s DNA and determining how that DNA can help attack a problem, whether it be a local issue or one as big as climate change or sustainability. The solution doesn't have to change the world, it should be something that makes sense for a company.
What key factors would you recommend other executives look at while developing a corporate purpose for their company?
Weber: There are four strategies I recommend.
First, look at your core business. What do you do? John Deere is the example I use often. They say they’re a tractor and equipment business, which they are. But what they’re really doing is helping farmers generate better yields. So you have to really define what your core business offering is.
The second strategy is what most people call a marketing strategy, but I like to define it as an engagement strategy. This involves defining your audiences and determining what it’s going to take to engage those different audiences or constituencies.
The third strategy involves understanding and defining the company's technology strategy. As in, how are they building it and what kind of innovations are they bringing to their products and their services?
Lastly, the company must integrate all three of those strategies to define their moral purpose. It’s not just about giving money – it’s actually about diving in and enjoying the volunteer work that specifically compliments the company’s DNA.
What trends are driving more companies to have a corporate purpose today than five to ten years ago?
Weber: The first trend that I’ve noticed is that governments, particularly in the United States, have become more interested in the big problems that we're facing. Corporations are the same way. I believe it's going to be increasingly common for leaders of major corporations to look at the problems society is facing and determine ways to help.
The second trend I’ve noticed is that millennials are demanding that the companies they deal with practice good behavior and have some kind of purpose.
Lastly, the news cycle is increasingly covering the problems that our society is facing, whether it be climate change or education. As a result, I think corporations are going to be pushed to help solve those problems.
What are ways businesses can ensure their corporate purpose is authentic?
Weber: An authentic corporate purpose must align with what made your business successful in the first place. Authenticity also involves telling a straight story about what you’re trying to accomplish and how you’re trying to do that. Whirlpool is a great example of this. Their CEO saw a statistic that a number of children in rural areas were missing school because they didn’t have clean clothes and were too embarrassed to come to class. Many families didn’t have washers and dryers in their homes, so the company started a program that put Whirlpool washers and dryers in rural schools. The students would bring their clothes into school – Whirlpool employees would volunteer in the schools and wash the clothes. This wasn’t a world-changing initiative, but it’s a great example of an authentic corporate purpose because it ties into the products that the company manufactures.
Do you think the tech industry has incorporated corporate responsibility and corporate purpose more than other industries?
Weber: Not yet. But the technology industry has the ability to incorporate corporate purpose because of the wide impact technology has in our lives. It’s the perfect group to bring a purpose to society. The tech industry is a problem-solving industry so that’s why it should continue to work hard to develop corporate purpose.
In what way have you seen the tech industry grow through corporate responsibility?
Weber: There have been a number of companies that have had a great impact in recent years. Salesforce is one. They’ve worked to combat homelessness in San Francisco. IBM has made a lot of progress in the healthcare space with Watson and their increasing focus on AI. I also believe they were the first major company to have a shared value committee on their board, which shows you how much importance IBM has placed on corporate purpose. Intel also comes to mind with their afterschool programs which focus on technology, and with their recruitment efforts that bring more women into software engineering programs.
How would you recommend a company engage in corporate responsibility and social good if they are just starting out and may not have the resources needed to make a large impact right away?
Weber: I think the first step is to at least have a position on social issues that relate to the kind of innovation the company is trying to create so that there's a culture within the company. These positions show concern for the local community and the areas that they operate in. So that's a start, and that doesn't really have to cost the company anything.
How do you see the industry changing ten years from now?
Weber: I really hope it’s not just wishful thinking, but I predict that most major companies will have a specific purpose that is integrated very strongly within their culture and is visible in both their marketing and recruitment efforts. Part of this change is going to have a selfish motivation for these companies because the biggest element within a company is talent recruitment. There’s going to be less talent in the next decade, and the companies that integrate moral purpose more effectively will attract the most talent.
The more companies that identify their purpose and implement social good efforts, the better the world will be.
Our conversation with Larry shed light on his dedication to incorporating a greater purpose into the mission behind corporate strategy – for his agency, the companies it serves and beyond. His ode to authenticity reflects the importance of having social good engrained in the culture of a company, rather than as a temporary philanthropic effort. By implementing and upholding higher corporate values, companies can transform their business through authentic purpose and better serve the consumers who drive their industry. To learn more about corporate purpose and the brands practicing it, pick up Larry’s latest book, Authentic Marketing: How to Capture Hearts and Minds Through the Power of Purpose.
About the Authors
Katie is an Assistant Account Executive at Racepoint Global based out of the Raleigh office, where started with the company as an intern in June 2018 following her graduation from NC State University. She has a passion for digital storytelling and an expertise in media relations, social media, product launches, award/speaking programs, event planning and crisis management for companies within the technology field – specifically with B2B services related to cybersecurity and telecommunication. She has a broad range of experience working with high profile companies such as Huawei, MediaTek and Formstack, as well as local companies requiring more regional efforts.
Rebekah Escala is an Account Coordinator out of Racepoint Global’s Raleigh office, where she started with the company as an intern in the DC office in January 2018 while completing her B.A./M.A. program at American University. She is focused on social media, media relations, award/speaking programs and crisis management for her client accounts, which range from high-profile companies such as John Deere and E Ink to smaller companies local to North Carolina.