Perspectives - The importance of brand purpose and its lived experience

By Mandy Galmes | 1 December 2020
Mandy Galmes

Mandy Galmes, CEO Hill+Knowlton Strategies Australia

For businesses and for leaders, the greatest impact from COVID has been in how we show up – what we do to support our people, our customers and the community around us. McKinsey phrased it neatly: those who have thrived have truly “tuned in to turn outward”.

The pandemic has reframed not only the importance of brand purpose but its lived experience.

Those businesses that have thrived have authentically put purpose into practice to make a positive difference during the crisis and beyond. For example, Coles has an ongoing program to donate surplus edible food from its supermarkets and distribution centres. During the onset of the crisis, Coles committed additional food and groceries to the value of $1 million a week to help Australians who are facing hardship.

Salesforce is another example of a brand that has looked internally to its values to guide its crisis response. As well as all the practical support for employees and customers, Salesforce launched its B-Well content series to provide access to wellness resources, information and support from Arianna Huffington, Larry Brilliant, Deepak Chopra and many more.

A recent report from CapGemini Research Institute found that more than 50% of consumers expect organisations to put purpose into practice and give back to society both during crisis and beyond.

As an industry we need to work alongside our clients to embed purpose clearly and consistently within their organisation and bring it practically to life through all comms. It’s about activating purpose and not just relying on it being a message in a TVC or digital campaign. This is how we build our clients’ reputation, market share and help them achieve sustainable long-term business performance.

The same can be said for leaders. In our experience supporting organisations through times of crisis we know that as challenging as it can be, crisis is a defining time for leadership. The COVID pandemic has shown that when the traditional guard rails of business success are removed, the expectations of leadership changes too.

Much has been said and written about the leadership of New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Her strength as a leader has been linked to her vulnerability, compassion and empathy. She has demonstrated that compassion isn’t weak, it’s about being brave, courageous and leaving ego at the door. She has also shown that leaders can consciously and consistently use high levels of empathy to reassure and motivate. 

To continue to make an impact as agency leaders, we need to give ourselves a break, to be vulnerable and compassionate with our people and our client and to make the space – even in crisis – to turn off, turn inward so that we can continue to give ourselves to our agencies, our clients and everyone else in our lives we continue to support – that’s going to require a step change for many.

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