It’s time to make ‘purpose’ the fifth P in marketing (Column)

January 30, 2014  |  Phillip Haid  |  Comments

“Doing charity” is a missed opportunity to differentiate your brand

Phillip Haid is co-founder and CEO of Public, a cause agency and incubator

Two days ago, Bell launched the fourth edition of its annual “Let’s Talk” campaign to help reduce stigma around mental health, and by all accounts it was their biggest and most successful year ever. Newspaper, TV and mobile ads encouraged us to talk and text more, and in so doing Bell contributed more than $5 million to mental health services. Bell should be applauded for both the leadership they have shown and for the giant megaphone they have deployed to make people more aware of the issue.

Phillip Haid

But as another year of “Let’s Talk” comes to a close, I can’t help but feel they missed a golden opportunity to treat mental health less as a charitable ad campaign and more as a powerful and ongoing tool in their marketing arsenal.

What I’m talking about is a seismic shift in the marketing mindset from “doing charity” as a good corporate citizen (which most Canadian companies continue to do and believe is the right approach) to behaving like a social impact investor that identifies the change they want to see happen in communities and then aligns their business interests and marketing efforts to drive bottom-line results and social change.

To be clear, this is not corporate social responsibility, which separates a company’s P&L from its community giving and views the latter as a “responsibility,” not a business opportunity. This reduces its scale and social impact.

This is about seeing “purpose” as the new “P” in the marketing toolkit and using it as a direct means to make more money, increase sales, acquire or retain new customers as well as improve brand loyalty. It’s what we at Public call “profitable good” and it is driven by embracing the fact that consumers are self-interested. Having a beneficial impact in the world means giving consumers something in return for their good will.

Olympian Clara Hughes is the public face of Bell's annual mental health initiative, which this year raised $5.5 million on Jan. 28

Imagine if Bell – rather than “doing charity” for mental health – embraced the issue as a key differentiator in marketing efforts throughout the year. Imagine they enticed new customers with a contribution in their name to a local mental health organization, or incentivized existing customers with discounts and premiums every time they contributed to the cause or volunteered for a local mental health organization. And what if I could get special access to their sporting or music properties if I leveraged my network to raise money or spread the word for mental health? If Bell’s commitment to mental health was treated as a true marketing driver, I firmly believe they could turn their $60 million charitable contribution into $500 million through customer engagement, acquisition and sales.

To be clear, I am not picking on Bell. It is in good company, as there are very few Canadian companies today that see social purpose and change as a key business driver. And that’s a shame because it will be one of the biggest advantages companies have to offer in the years to come. Why do I believe this? For one, millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2030 and they expect it. Purpose is integral to how they view the world. They want it in their work and they expect it in the behaviour of the brands they engage with.

Second, for retail brands in highly competitive and commoditized markets, social purpose becomes a key differentiator; it is as good a selling feature as the popular discounting strategy used by many retailers.

Finally, we know it works. P&G used social purpose to sell more Pampers by offering to vaccinate a child (via Unicef) for every box of Pampers sold. And they saw their market share increase significantly. TOMS Shoes built its entire business model on the idea of profit and purpose and it is one of the fastest growing shoe companies in the US. And since 2010, Unilever globally has integrated social purpose into its brand and we all know the success of Dove and Real Beauty.

So to all the marketers out there wondering how they are going to come up with their next great marketing campaign to increase market share for their water, soap, shoe, car, cereal or mobile account, go get some purpose.

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