Purpose and Profit at the PRSA International Conference

What is the relationship between purpose and profit? When asked, consumers frequently say they prefer brands that are socially responsible, but their purchase decisions don’t always reflect this. For example, while the 2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR study found that 84% of global consumers say they try to purchase products or services that are socially or environmentally responsible, only 63% say they have actually done so. 
 
What accounts for this gap? If consumers want to make responsible purchase decisions, why don’t they do so more often? A number of the keynote speakers at this year’s PRSA International Conference provided valuable insight into this question.
 
Let the product speak for itself
Daniel Lubetzky, founder and CEO of KIND Snacks, put social purpose at the heart of his first company, PeaceWorks. Lubetzky hoped to bridge the divide between Israelis and Palestinians through cooperative business partnerships, and he made this mission central to his early marketing efforts. However, the business struggled. It was only when PeaceWorks started to de-emphasize the social mission, and emphasize product attributes like taste and healthy ingredients, that the business began to grow. “I know there are studies that say people purchase products for a company’s social agenda. I don’t buy it,” Lubetzky said.  
 
Lubetzky asked the audience if they had tried a KIND bar. Hundreds of hands went up. Then, he asked if they were aware of KIND’s social mission. All but a few went down. This was an intentional part of their strategy, explained Lubetzky. Only after ten years in business have they started to talk about their social mission. Despite the personal importance of the mission to Lubetzky, he knew the product had to “speak for itself”, irrespective of any larger purpose.
 
Empowerment encourages action
Bea Perez, Chief Sustainability Officer at The Coca-Cola Company, had a different take on the importance of social responsibility for success. She spoke passionately about the imperative for companies to put purpose at the heart of their business. She argued that companies that do not become purpose-driven will not succeed, and that “sustainability is shareholder value”.  
 
Perez described Coca-Cola’s work around empowering female entrepreneurs, improving access to clean water, and incorporating sustainable water usage practices into their operations, and insisted these were not just nice to have, but imperative for the long-term success of the company.  “If we’re not welcomed by society, I’m not sure who will be up on this stage in 200 years,” Perez said. 
 
Loyalty vs. satisfaction
How can these two points of view be reconciled? The final keynote speaker of the conference, James Kane, may provide the answer. Kane, a leading expert on the topic of loyalty, made a sharp distinction between loyalty and satisfaction. Satisfaction is about meeting expectations. If a product does what it says it should, then consumers will be satisfied, but they won’t be loyal. Kane argues a loyal relationship is built out of three components: trust, belonging, and purpose. The first two are often “satisfiers”. A consumer expects you to be trustworthy, and to offer advantages over other brands that show you understand the problems they face.
 
Once these expectations have been met, however, a loyal relationship is created by exhibiting a sense of purpose the consumer can relate with. When a brand stands for something aspirational, it establishes connections that go beyond the transactional. “We follow people because we believe in the same things and have shared interests,” said Kane. This means that the consumer won’t switch to the latest competitor to come on the market with a slightly better price or novel value proposition. They will stick around because they identify with you, and that alignment makes their lives more meaningful. 
 
Maintaining relationships in the future 
So, what can brands to do move relationships forward? At Ebiquity, our Market Intelligence practice provides a full suite of research services that help brands understand their relationship with consumers. Traditional and social media analysis are ideal tools to not only understand and track the conversation around a brand or industry, but to measure how effectively communications efforts are in moving that conversation forward. Plus, ad monitoring and survey and focus group research provide a nuanced understanding of how consumers relate to a brand, from awareness through loyalty.
 
But, before trying to establish a deeper relationship with consumers, products need to prove they can meet expectations and deliver an advantage over competitors -- Kane’s insights suggest they may have put the cart before the horse. Only once these table stakes have been met can a deeper relationship be established. 
 
This appears to be the strategy Lubetzky has now taken with KIND Snacks. Coca-Cola is a long-established company, whose products are well-known to consumers. For them, loyalty is the key issue. How do they maintain a relationship, so that “200 years from now”, as Bea Perez said, they will still be there? Understanding what kind of relationship a brand has with consumers can help determine the most effective communications strategy to take that relationship to the next level. 
 
Thanks to PRSA and all the speakers for the insightful event!
 
For more information, please contact info@stratigent.com
 
By Christopher Martin
About the Author:

Christopher Martin is Associate Account Director at Ebiquity, plc

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