What David Bowie Taught Us as a Brand
Purpose as a Launchpad for Employee Advocacy and Business Innovation
May 4, 2015
Companies placing purpose at the core of their business strategy see the benefits of creating a tailored pathway to employee engagement, social storytelling, and overall business innovation. Making a positive impact is ultimately peculiar to your company, to what you do, and to how you apply and integrate purpose throughout the organization. IBM’s 2014 World Cup Film (below) presents an exciting approach to ‘doing good’. The result is a surprising and inspiring social platform for making a difference.
One key perspective to keep in mind throughout your organization’s social impact journey is that purpose is a launch-pad for unprecedented creativity, especially when you allow your employees and customers to participate and co-create your brand story. That’s where leading brands win as powerful storytellers by ensuring their internal storytelling and employee advocacy is aligned with their external marketing alignment. On the opposite spectrum, brands that forgo internal alignment are saying one thing to the outside world when the reality is different inside; and they are ultimately setting themselves up for failure. To set yourself up for success, let’s look at three key strategies: Story Adoption, Story Integration, and Story Alignment.
1. Story Adoption: Every company has an opportunity to tell a story internally that can be incredibly effective in terms of building the business and the brand. To do so, you need one of two things: You need a visionary (think Steve Jobs of Apple), or a vision; the vision here being a projection five years out that inspires your employees to come to work and to bring their best selves to their roles, and to champion the company’s mission. As employees do so, they become happier, stay longer in their jobs, and feel more satisfied while they’re at work.
Integrating stories, values, and purposeful missions resonate can be challenging for a range of reasons. Here are just some of the obstacles to manage:
- Tension between a short-term leadership perspective and a long-term focus. Oftentimes a focus on sales results can override long-term vision or strategy.
- A mindset that segregates full-profit vs. non-profit, or profit vs. purpose. This is a legacy mindset with a false separation between living and giving. There may also be internal tensions between different silos where your CSR department doesn’t talk to marketing that doesn’t talk to the foundation that doesn’t talk to corporate communications. There may be HQ and regional tensions, or company versus product team clashes. When this internal disconnect, even chaos, is the case organizations cannot think about or communicate clearly their long-term strategy or their core purpose. Nor can they tell a story consistently over time, due to a disconnection between internal and external marketing – when they’re saying one thing internally and a different thing externally.
The main consideration, and solution, here is defining who your brand is in relationship to the world. With the world standing back and asking, “What are you to us?”, you first need to achieve internal alignment to have effective external storytelling. This in turn translates to brands rethinking where (and when) to invest marketing dollars.
Oftentimes, the process of internal story adoption comes to life through a series of baby steps. Here’s a couple of ways to start making it happen:
- Make the business case to leadership and marketing, speaking to both purpose and profit. If you present purpose exclusively as if it’s a good intention project, it will not resonate with leadership because you are not presenting a substantial solution or opportunity. Rather, showcase hard facts and relevant research, including competitive case studies, that point towards the need for leading with both profit and purpose.
- Integrate purpose into a single product or brand. By isolating impact and building a success story, you can show proof of concept and gain support and backing to spread throughout other areas of the organization. Many organizations use pilot projects as a safe way to test and gain social proof before receiving leadership sign-off.
2. Story Integration: Today’s brands can no longer hide behind their products because consumers are looking to the organizations themselves and holding them accountable. In the past, the house of brand strategy was quite common and accepted, typified by numerous sub brands with little or no mention of the company brand behind them. However today, consumers and employees outcast this overly simplistic and outdated approach to storytelling, and the first step to change is internal integration.
To integrate a purposeful story, there are a number of shifts that need to be embraced across your company, the first and foremost being creating a cultural leadership mindset. Generally speaking, management does not want things to change. Leadership, however, is something very different. You have to not only aspire to selling more products, but aspire to be leading the change within your industry. And, above and beyond that, you have to aspire towards cultural leadership because that’s what your consumers want. In practice, this means shifting mindsets inside the boardroom and across all executives and employees (because your employees want this too). And you cannot overlook the wants of your employees as they are the ones to make the change happen.
Here’s a snapshot of what today’s employees want, as identified from Deloitte’s Culture of Purpose Study:
- Development programs offering education.
- Creating business services and products that make a meaningful impact and benefit society.
- Capacity to encourage and participate in community outreach and volunteerism.
And here are a few of the common mistakes to avoid when trying to meet these needs:
- Do not rush past the story to the telling. This mindset – if we are doing something good, we are going to just tell employees what it is – misses the mark. Instead, brands need to step back and dialogue with their employees addressing questions such as “What is the fully integrated seamless story that we’re going to be telling? How are we going to point all our individual efforts in that one direction so we’re ringing the same bell over and over again?”
- Avoid self-directed speech. Brands all too often share their purpose in a self-directed way touting such stats as, “Our employees volunteer 27 thousand million hours. We gave 17 billion dollars to charity this year.” The result? Your audience becomes disenchanted, unengaged, and disconnected to your true purpose and impact. Why? Because it’s still about you.
- Give employees a role to play. By involving employees in your brand’s sustainability journey, you avoid these initiatives being perceived as image management solutions rather than tangible, meaningful activities. Here, the conversation with your employees could sound like: “This is what we’re committed to as a company. We would love your input on what this might look like, and here are the different roles you could play. Can we work out a way to do this together?” This change in approach immediately becomes far more inclusive and ultimately inspires a more engaged, and invested, employee base.
3. Story Alignment: With your purpose-driven story now communicated and integrated internally, achieving consistent and enduring alignment becomes paramount to sharing it externally, specifically across values, mission, and structure.
The first area of focus is creating alignment around values between the interior character of your organization and its collective culture. Here, you consider the organization’s role, character, personality and place out in the larger world.
Secondly, you need to create a mission alignment between the individual personalities of people and larger societal needs. This manifests through shared commitments to higher-order purposeful initiatives, through to tangible activities on a community or individual level.
Finally, on a collective level, you need to have structural alignment between the culture of the organization and the culture of society at large.
Taken altogether, you can see the integrity that drives employee advocacy. Through values alignment, mission alignment and structural alignment you can create an environment conducive to successful employee engagement.
4. Employee Advocacy: The goal is to point existing and future efforts in the same purposeful direction aligned with your brand story. It is not about changing everything or telling employees, stakeholders, and your customer community what to do. Instead, it is about reframing the logic that’s informing everything you do as an organization, and pointing all activities, campaigns and decisions in the same direction in the service of a singular brand story.
It’s also about creating efficiencies and maximizing impact. In the same way we seek to create marketing efficiencies through repeating the same message over time, we should be looking at breaking down the inefficiencies that manifest through silos. Brands often have CSR work, sustainability, corporate citizenship, cause marketing, employee volunteering, and philanthropy segregated or disconnected throughout the organization. All of these efforts, as well as each employee’s individual efforts, should be pointed in the same direction. Only then can everyone within the organization go to work and clearly state, “This is why I work here,” and “These are the different ways that we bring our brand story to life.”