Better Brands for a Better World

What does your brand stand for?

Values marketing. Cause marketing. Purpose-driven marketing. It’s a movement still looking for a name that will stick. But, there is no doubt, it’s progressed into a movement. And, it’s raising the bar on what is expected from marketers who intend to be leaders in a marketplace that’s driven by Millennials.

This is the vision — and the challenge — that I’ve emphasized to my team since the beginning of our agency: to build brands that create a better human condition. I challenge them to come up with ideas for our clients that are consumer-centric. Events that build the brand’s values. Campaigns that connect emotionally and help change lives. Promotions that are not tricking the customer into buying something, but rather filling a need in their life.

You may recognize this kind of values-based marketing from time to time. You may notice it at a local level or even on a larger scale like Warby Parker’s ‘Buy a Pair, Give a Pair’ model. Brands that are socially responsible and embedded with values tend to reap major benefits.

These efforts don’t exist solely in the corporate responsibility or philanthropic spaces. In fact, many companies have the ability to create good in the world and profit from it.

I’ve mentioned this trend before, but was greeted with something less than enthusiasm. I’ve been told that it’s nothing but a “touchy-feely” fad and that the purpose should be selling to consumers without making them angry. That sounds pretty jaded to me.

Maybe this will silence the naysayers: In 2014, socially responsible investments reached $6.6 trillion. Not only has it been verified by investors as a viable business initiative, it’s also the focus of a new feature in Fortune.

At the end of August, Fortune released its inaugural Change the World list, focusing on 51 different companies that are “doing well by doing good.” In other words, these companies not only made efforts to effect change either environmentally or socially, but also increased profits after doing so.

Whole Foods, number 30 on the list, has been lauded as well as lambasted for its business practices in recent years. Even after a particularly damaging segment on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver in which the comedian accused the grocery store chain of overcharging its customers, Whole Foods continues to grow.

In spite of criticism, Whole Foods’ co-CEO and co-founder John Mackey continuously pushes forward in the way of what has been called “conscious capitalism” — the idea that being socially and environmentally responsible and making a profit are not mutually exclusive goals.

Whole Foods has not only excelled with this model, but continues to pioneer change in the grocery store industry – from new rating systems that hold farmers to higher environmental responsibility to animal-welfare standards that help improve the living conditions for livestock.

Another featured company, IBM, is working on a $100 million project bringing mobile health applications to Africa. The application is an extension of Watson, the artificially intelligent computer developed by IBM that competed in 2011 on the show Jeopardy! Now, Watson is on deck to power an application pioneered by South Africa-based Metropolitan Health. The application hopes to enhance health services by responding directly to customer inquiries and being a 24/7 health and wellness information repository.

Purpose and profits: They can exist in harmony. Big, powerful, purpose-driven initiatives don’t have to negatively affect your bottom line. In fact, the impact is threefold: employees, investors, and consumers. At the employee level, you are creating an environment that fosters highly-engaged, highly-productive employees through a purpose. Investors are happy (obviously) as profits increase. Finally, companies that are built on the foundation of improving people’s lives outperform the market by 400%. Pretty impactful numbers.

Thinking way outside of the proverbial (profit) box to find ways to socially and environmentally innovate within the capitalistic model is not only sustainable, but desirable. Soon this model will become a minimum expectation to stay in the game and raise the bar of competition.

In the past, marketers asked if this model could create an advantage. Today, the question they’re asking is, “how can a non-purpose-driven brand even compete?”