Three Critical Lessons in Scaling Profit Through Purpose From Unilever

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While incorporating purpose into your brand can strengthen internal and external communities and create social and monetary value, it must be executed properly to yield the results you are looking for.

A recent study found that shareholders could expect an estimated 3.5 percent increase in returns for companies that carry out corporate social responsibility and related marketing efforts. However, not all CSR campaigns provide the same return on investment. Specifically, philanthropy and charitable giving did not increase ROI in the group studied and marketing CSR efforts was critical to the financial payoff.

What this means for your brand is that you must make purpose relevant, rather than loosely related, and use it to tell emotional stories that connect customers to your brand. A company that does an exceptional job of marrying purpose with profit is Unilever. Here are three key lessons from the consumer goods powerhouse that you can use to scale your brand’s impact and bottom-line:

1. Promote Transparency: Just as profit and loss statements are essential for shareholders to measure financial performance, transparent information on the environmental and social impact of products and services is essential for stakeholders to measure impact.

Unilever recently launched a fragrance transparency campaign that makes it easier for consumers to discover what goes into their products. The company created a webpage to invite consumer dialog and answer questions about ingredient content and selection criteria. The corporation also increased the number of ingredients listed on the smartlabelTM website and app, which empowers consumers to scan a barcode at the point of sale to asses its social and environmental impact. In essence, transparency not only builds consumer trust, but it can also strengthen loyalty and generate sales.

2. Weave Purpose Throughout Your Business: Purpose is more than an afterthought; it must be core to your brand and woven through your business. Having a clear corporate mission devoted to serving a higher good is an powerful compass to navigate long-term business strategy. And it provides clarity on important decisions, from product sourcing to marketing campaigns.

In alignment with the brand’s commitment to social and environmental excellence, Unilever recently declared that it would source 100% of its packaging from recycled or compostable material by 2025. While the brand is clearly articulating its commitment to global sustainability, it is also distinguishing itself from the competition as a force for good and inviting consumers to be part of the solution every time they purchase a product.

3. Tell Stories: Every aspect of your business — from the supply chain to corporate culture to distribution — provides compelling storytelling opportunities. Use these opportunities to create emotional connections with your customers and engage them to share your content. Storytelling is essential to igniting consumer advocacy and fostering a culture of purposeful contribution which will inspire consumers to become brand ambassadors.

Unilever has done a great job of harnessing the purpose-driven storytelling potential of their commitment to empowering women. In 2015, Unilever’s Dove brand launched the #SpeakBeautiful campaign in collaboration with Twitter, which sent positive messages to women who posted about negative body image on the social media platform. The company continued its efforts last year by joining The Association of National Advertisers and its Alliance for Family Entertainment in the #SeeHer campaign, which sets out to generate a 20 percent increase in genuine portrayal of women in media by 2020. And the numbers show that authentically representing women in marketing is already paying off with more than a 25 percent increase in purchase intent. While the company’s decisions make financial sense, they also strengthen internal culture and the external reputation, which ultimately scales word of mouth advertising.

Purpose is more than charitable giving or an ad hoc marketing effort. To maximize purpose and profit you need to be a mission with a company rather than a company with a mission, and effectively communicate how your impact grows with your bottom-line to inspire stakeholders to help you build your brand and a better world.

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Written by

CEO We First Inc, author NYT's bestseller We First, strategic corporate consultant and trainer, father, Australian, optimist.

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