Social purpose and building a better business: Lessons from Gina Roughan’s #SMBuzzChat

Last night’s Social Buzz Chat threw up some interesting debates around social purpose – namely, the difference between CSR (corporate social responsibility) and social purpose (otherwise known as brand purpose).

What is social purpose?

Social purpose is about brands making a positive impact on the world, while still growing their business. It’s linking profit and purpose – so the purpose has to be relevant to the company’s core business. Whether it’s Dove’s #RealBeauty positioning, or Persil’s celebration of childhood play and getting dirty with its #DirtisGood social purpose, the smart companies are thinking about how to engage radically, and authentically, with society – it’s the business model of the future.

Why are brands needing to focus on social purpose?

People realise brands are there to make money, of course they do. But people want to buy from brands they trust. Edelman’s Trust Barometer (2016) shows 45 per cent of people say their trust in a business increases if they believe it has contributed to the greater good; ie social purpose gives the public a reason to believe in you, and belief is incredibly powerful in creating loyalty and advocacy.

This is particularly important in today’s digital landscape, where interconnectivity brings people closer than ever before and offers them so much choice. Companies who demonstrate a richer emotional connection to society are more resilient to this competition.

Purpose is not only key to building trust – it’s equally important when it comes to motivating existing staff, and recruiting talent in the future. Millennials in particular want to work with companies that can be trusted.

It’s not a new idea – is there a danger it’s just another buzzword like CSR?

It’s true – this is not a new story. The world is talking about social purpose having moved on from being just a CSR box-ticking exercise. However, it’s easy to say it, much harder to deliver on it and some brands are going to take a lot longer than others to figure it out – just like they did to adopt social media into their marketing mix, or integrate digital into their day to day.

Tesco’s multi-award winning Eat Happy project is a great case in point. As the UK’s biggest food retailer, Tesco has a vested interest in helping us all have a better relationship with the food on our plates, and this project, which aims to promote food awareness and nutrition to children, forms part of a long-term commitment to do just that. This isn’t a box-ticking exercise that can fill up a couple of minutes in a presentation at the AGM. Initiatives such as Eat Happy are about organisations embedding a social purpose at the heart of their ethos, and letting that be a genuine agent of change in their business model.

How can you use social media to do it in interesting ways?

Content about social purpose is more interesting and engaging to people than content about product. Social purpose naturally gives a brand more lifestyle-oriented content, which is perfect for social channels. No one wants to hear a staid corporate voice across social, and as we know, people on social channels will quickly call you out if your commitments or actions in their area feels false.

To do this authentically, don’t just look at what your competitors are doing and match it; look instead at what your customers want to do in the world around them, what makes them feel happier, what they talk about on social, what’s in it for them… and figure out how your organisation can change to enable this, particularly on social.

For L’Oréal UK and Ireland, social purpose is about showcasing what it stands for as a company and what its intrinsic values are beyond the products you see on the shelf. It is achieving this by promoting positive perceptions of women in science. For gravy brand Bisto, it’s about tapping into the issue of loneliness among the elderly with its Spare Chair Sunday campaign, part of its wider Bisto Together Project. Matching purpose with profit, the initiative encouraged families cooking a Sunday roast (with gravy, naturally!) to link up with not-for-profit Contact the Elderly and invite an older person for dinner. During the campaign period, Bisto claimed an 80.3 per cent share of the ambient gravy market, its highest point for five years.

Gina Roughan is content director at Zone. She tweets @ginaschauffer

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