Recently, Google polled 3,000 Americans to find out how they responded to sustainability messaging. As more brands make efforts to become more sustainable or even start any sort of purpose-driven communications, these four tips will help you communicate purpose-driven messaging effectively.
Today’s consumers are smarter about messaging. Millennials, the first digitally native generation, are grown-ups, and have their own kids. Gen X (now called Zoomers), see right through greenwashing. They can smell inauthenticity and they actively bristle at brands leveraging purpose-driven messaging to improve their own reputations. And they are right to be skeptical. According to a Google study global survey of top-level executives 59% admitted to overstating — or inaccurately representing — their sustainability activities. Whoa. That’s not a trust-first strategy at all.
So how can well-meaning brands celebrate purpose-driven messaging like sustainability, and awareness days like Earth Day, without alienating their customers?
Communicate Sustainable Efforts with Plain Language
Purpose-driven messaging is nuanced, but sustainability messaging is quite difficult because sometimes an effort to be sustainable has unintended, non-sustainable results. Yet, it’s important to be clear and honest when discussing your company’s efforts.
One way to do this is to share your sustainability goals and roadmap and be candid about your yearly progress. An annual purpose-driven progress report that is open and available on your website allows your customers to come on the journey with you. And explaining how to you took action and the implications helps consumers understand the complications.
Let me tell you a story. Many years ago, I had a client who created disposable compostable plates and utensils. Before we could even get into messaging, I had to take a mini science lesson because compostable can be problematic due to chemicals used to breakdown items like this, yet using products like this is still better than using plastic that ends up in the landfill, right?
Everyone agreed that anything misleading would destroy trust. We landed on a simple outcome everyone can understand: less plastic is better. And this was a fantastic choice because everyone can clearly understand that we have a plastic problem, and it creates an awareness of a bigger issue that the brand is trying to tackle. Today if I had that client, we would dig deeper and be even more transparent, but this was 2009, and we were barely scratching the surface of how complicated “sustainable” really is to achieve.
Simple is better. Honest is better. Transparent is better.
Celebrate The Accessible
What creates change? From a sustainable messaging standpoint, we’re past awareness. In 2009, Harvard Business Review study found cost is one key reason people don’t adopt sustainable practices. Things like EVs and solar panels are financially inaccessible, to say nothing of the fact that the nations 44 million renters can’t do either of these things.
But what is one thing everyone can do? Reuse. That’s something to celebrate, and it’s accessible to millions of people. Folgers recently did a commercial about reusing its glass jars; I like this because I think it’s on-point to their consumer. The ad incorporated a touch of nostalgia which was effective too. On the flip side, in a recent AdAge podcast, some creatives slightly skewered the video by asking, “What about the plastic lid?” which I think misses the point. The point is: when you remind your customers of the accessible ways they can make a difference, it empowers them.
Focus on small, actionable, concrete actions that you can celebrate alongside your customers.
Dire Threats Aren’t Effective
“When asked to describe “actions or attitudes that could make people feel bad about their impact on the environment,” many U.S. survey respondents pointed to images of landscapes ruined by trash, fires, or pollution, while some pointed to images of animal suffering.”
Not only does messaging like this put the consumer in a terrible position, it’s disempowering. This kind of messaging is increasingly ineffective because consumers have had it with feeling bad about a gigantic problem that they, as an individual, can’t personally solve alone. And why is the burden even on the consumer all the time anyway? What is the business doing internally?
Instead, focus on positive outcomes. Before and after pictures of rooftop gardens, clean parks, these are all uplifting images that send a positive, impactful message.
Use Educated Consumers to Your Advantage
Sustainability has become political. It’s that simple. For example, according to Harvard Business Review:
“Republicans were less likely to buy a compact fluorescent light bulb that they knew was more energy-efficient than an incandescent bulb when it was labeled “Protect the Environment” than when that label was missing.”
Most consumers who want a sustainable bulb know incandescent bulbs are more sustainable. But instead of pointing to the environmental benefits, labeling incandescent bulbs as more energy efficient is effective for a wider range of consumers. Everyone can see the benefits of saving energy, whether for sustainability or economic benefit.
Without a plan and consideration for the pitfalls, purpose-driven communication can do more damage than good. For more recommendations, download our Purpose-Driven Guide, which provides an internal roadmap to avoiding the typical challenges of communicating purpose-driven messages.
What is a Purpose-driven strategy? It’s the natural evolution of four converging cultural changes; the first is when social, cultural, and environmental issues became more visible and urgent, followed by consumers who expect brands to connect with nonprofits or social impact, driven by a lack of confidence in government to solve big problems, and finally, institutional investors evaluating environmental, social governance (ESG). Purpose puts a movement and impact first; the defining commitment of purpose is when it takes precedence over profits. Purpose-driven companies believe when society, the environment, and our collective well-being are doing well—businesses do better too.
Purpose-Driven Strategies have Three Key Pillars:
Employee and Systemic Engagement, Externally Virtuous, Meaty Measurable.
These pillars of purpose require a company to be engaged in a systemic way, are independent of sales, and the impact should be both audacious and measurable. While purpose-driven strategies may give way to recruiting advantages, brand valuation, and competitive advantages, those are not the driving outcomes behind purpose. Purpose-driven PR is not the driving motivation behind purpose-driven implementations. The defining commitment of purpose is when it takes precedence over profits – when internal culture is SO strong, so empowered, that decisions at all levels are made with a purpose in mind.
These Purpose Driven Strategy distinctions are important—because consumers—AND Investors are savvier than ever: They see through cause marketing campaigns with little authenticity. They’re alert to saying one thing, but doing another -greenwashing is so common it had a name. Distrust in governments continued to decrease, while expectations of businesses continued to increase.
Purpose-driven strategies differ from the historical ways brands engaged with movements and nonprofits.
The Difference Between Purpose-Driven and Social Impact
Although used interchangeably sometimes, purpose and social impact are different. What exactly is purpose-driven strategy? It’s a deep, sustained engagement for change by which the company recognizes its own impact, including internally, at the corporate level. Social impact is 100% external and very often involves inspiring a stakeholder community, like customers, to work together for a sustained period. For this reason, businesses usually engage in social impact in partnership with nonprofits.
The Difference Between Purpose Driven Strategies and Philanthropy
The difference between purpose-driven strategies and philanthropy is based on the level of engagement the company commits to. Traditionally philanthropy was a broad term used to describe when a business contributed to a cause – anything from a social nonprofit to funding a building or a program at a college. This giving required very little else from the company outside of the donation. Companies often use philanthropy to attract other monied investors or achieve other strategic goals, but on the surface, having a philanthropic donation very often aligns with a marketing campaign or a PR campaign. Philanthropy also usually had little to do with employees and customer activism or interests.
The Difference Between Purpose Driven Strategies and Corporate Giving
That gave way to CORPORATE GIVING –programs. The United Way is an outstanding example of corporate giving, this is when an organization encourages its employees to unite behind a single cause to create a greater donation scale. At this stage, companies get more involved as multiple departments such as PR, or HR to create systems and messaging around corporate giving. Companies whose employees give a lot receive recognition in the community. Corporate giving gave employees the opportunity to easily give to an organization; some corporate giving programs allow employees to choose a cause that was important to them, but in the most traditional sense, the executive team partnered with a nonprofit to create a corporate giving program.
The Difference Between Purpose Driven Strategies and Cause Marketing
CAUSE MARKETING are initiatives that tied sales to a corporate donation – started in 1983 when Amex donated a penny to restoring the Statue of Liberty every time someone used their card—cardholders grew 45% and card usage increased by 28%. By 2013, 76% of consumers thought it was OK for brands to support good causes and make money at the same time. Before we knew it, there was a cause marketing campaign everywhere we looked, from pink ribbons to yogurt lids. Enterprises like Hersheys even had internal positions that combined marketing & corporate social responsibility.
If you’re interested in implementing purpose-driven strategies at your company, check out our free guide to implementing purpose.
On the surface, it might seem that purpose-driven companies are vastly different from hyper-growth companies or emerging industries, but nothing could be further from the truth. Purpose-driven perspectives for hyper-growth and emerging industries is actually imperative to future success. Fast-growing brands and purpose overlap in critical phases in a company’s or industry’s growth. Because fast-growing companies and emerging industries are closer to their customers and in the earlier phases of culture-building, purpose is more clear, and it’s actually the perfect time to codify purpose so as scale occurs, the purpose isn’t lost.
What Do Fast-Growing Companies and Purpose-Driven Initiatives Have in Common?
Reaching for a bigger idea, for a better way, and for bold innovation is something ambitious and hyper growth companies and purpose-driven initiatives share. The most ambitious entrepreneurs are driven by something bigger than themselves, or even riches. They’re driven to change the world with a big idea. Big ideas require a special blend of inspiration and persuasion to inspire early adopters. It doesn’t matter whether the company is B2B or B2C, early adopters are critical, and so is an inspiration. Purpose-driven initiatives inspire and engage as well.
Purpose-driven approaches and ambitious companies also share the need to inspire trust, and that’s what PR does better than any other medium. PR is the tool the world’s most trusted brands lean on to improve their reputations and create a connection with their customers. PR lasts longer than a commercial, it’s more trusted, and it gives ambitious brands the opportunity to tell nuanced and deeper stories.
Isn’t Social Impact too Expensive for Growth?
While fast-growing companies have certain cultural requirements: creativity, flexibility, and drive, none of these things limit purpose. This very question assumes that growth only happens when hustle culture dominates. We have many clients thriving in purpose without the debilitating effects of hustle culture. But even if your company is incubating a hustle culture mentality, when the stakes are higher than ever, people need a higher purpose that inspires them. So it’s important for companies in the growth stage to double down on brand and product purpose. In fact, purpose may be a matter of survival, and not just PR for hypergrowth companies. At least according to Larry Fink at Blackrock who has for years been advocating for brands to implement purpose in order to grow.
Further, purpose is an expectation of GenZ and Millenials, that companies embrace their social, cultural, and environmental responsibilities. Further, employees are increasingly choosing employers based on the company’s beliefs and values. So, recruiting the best talent will if not now, eventually, require companies and industries to double down on purpose.
One example of this is the emerging vertical of the cannabis industry. The cannabis industry is founded in activism, but when the industry codified as states legalized THC, the industry doubled down on purpose, taking on the social injustice of cannabis prisoners in the Last Prisoners Project. And the cannabis industry is exploding, so there’s a clear precedent for growth and purpose. Brands who take on purpose and a higher power super charge their hyper-growth.
When Do Hyper-Growth Companies Need to Define Purpose?
Growth stage companies have an advantage: history doesnt’ hinder them. Existing companies often have to go through an intense reorganization to discover and fulfill purpose. For hyper-growth companies or emerging industries, the time to determine purpose is now. Elevating your company’s biggest aspirations in alignment with today’s social, cultural, and environmental challenges is a key growth strategy. Both private and institutional investors are analyzing a company’s social impact before they ever commit to investing, and this trend shows no sign of slowing down.
Larry Fink, CEO and chairperson of the multinational investment firm BlackRock, created a tectonic shift in 2018 when he said, “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance but also show how it contributes positively to society.” In his 2021 letter to CEOs, he said, “It is clear that being connected to stakeholders — establishing trust with them and acting with purpose — enables a company to understand and respond to the changes happening in the world. Companies ignore stakeholders at their peril — companies that do not earn this trust will find it harder and harder to attract customers and talent, especially as young people increasingly expect companies to reflect their values.”
Defining, developing and implementing purpose is step one to ensuring a company’s strategic growth.
How Does Purpose-Driven PR Help Companies in Hyper-Growth?
A challenge many fast-growing businesses, especially those in emerging industries, face is brand building. Purpose is a considerable portion of a brand and while it gives internal and external stakeholders corporate structure, it also lends itself to authentic storytelling, which greatly aids in securing media coverage. For many companies in competitive emerging industries, PR is an important differentiator for those with industry-leading aspirations from brand domination to IPO.
With all the advantages of purpose-driven initiatives for fast-growing companies. The question is reall- can fast-growing companies afford NOT to define a greater purpose? We’ve been working shoulder to shoulder with our clients on purpose-driven communications and PR since 2008. From movements to politics to social impact, our success stories speak for themselves. Contact us today to get started.
Purpose-driven public relations means the brand proactively builds incorporates values that impact social, cultural, and environmental issues. A true purpose-driven company makes corporate choices within its purpose framework, even when it means purpose over profits.
Truthfully, public relations aren’t purpose-driven, a brand is purpose-driven. Public relations is simply a lever a purpose-driven brand can use to improve the world around them. Building a purpose-driven brand is an inside-out job. They aren’t PR campaigns or PR ideas; they are a cultural way of thinking that’s internalized by everyone in the company.
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The Importance of Internalizing Purpose
There are lots of ways a brand can support its customers, community, and the globe meaningfully. Cause partnerships, and donation campaigns, are all relevant PR campaigns, but they aren’t purpose-driven. Purpose-driven companies take the long view on purpose and impact.
Internalization distinguishes purpose-driven brands. When everyone from the Board, to the CEO to the janitor walks the talk of purpose, then a brand has authentically implemented a purpose-driven brand. This also means when employees face choices, they incorporate the purpose into their decision-making. This can include employee hiring, employee programs, purchasing, and product decisions. It also means employees feel safe in making a purpose-informed choice because they know they’re acting within the company’s ethos; their choice is supported and even celebrated.
Should Purpose-Driven Initiatives Even Have a PR Component?
The deciding factor on this issue is the “why,” behind the initiative. Every day, businesses from Fortune 500 all the way to emerging industries are making decisions that have a social impact, and most of the time, these decisions don’t get the credit they deserve. But it’s not one decision, or one campaign, or one person who makes purpose – it’s people moving in unison making decisions that impact millions.
For example, let’s take eggs. When you go to the grocery, you face a lot of buying choices. Cage-free eggs, organic eggs, local eggs, inexpensive eggs. Many of these egg producers are balancing product, purpose, and price. Even though the organic or cage-free eggs are more expensive, it’s likely the margins on those eggs are considerably less than the mass-produced eggs. It’s also very likely that the producers of the cage-free or organic eggs are making other choices that cost more – maybe they buy the more expensive food, maybe they supplement their electricity with solar power. These are all purpose-driven decisions that are really important, but they won’t make news. What may make the news is the impact or the multiple steps they take for their purpose might make news. The people behind these choices may have interesting stories to tell. There will be PR opportunities, but they require real storytelling. Therefore, it’s important to have experienced purpose-driven PR agencies who can tell ethos and purpose stories.
Brands should have PR at the table when incorporating purpose-driven ethos, but PR should be part of the purpose, not the purpose of the purpose.
Are Purpose-Driven Brands Born or Made?
Both and neither. Some brands are founded in purpose, we can all name a few. Other brands grow into purpose. Both are as legitimate as their ability to stick to their ethos. It’s important for both types of purpose-driven brands to be authentic. Just because a brand is founded in purpose doesn’t mean it won’t lose its way. And just because a brand develops purpose doesn’t entirely absolve them from past actions. All brands should be very careful with their initiatives because consumers are getting fantastic at sniffing out disingenuous missions. These disingenuous missions create consumer distrust and may even run afoul of today’s cancel culture. A brand is better off doing nothing than taking on duplicitous or insincere purpose-driven initiatives.
If your company is considering a purpose-driven plan, please download our guide and call us. We can help you and your team navigate the exciting opportunities – and avoid the pitfalls – for purpose-driven brands.
Ever since the pandemic, there has been a new emphasis on the emerging industry of telehealth, many of which are on the pre-IPO track. And while telehealth VC investment is expected to stay flat in 2023, the industry received an exciting $29.1 billion in funding in 2021, mostly for consumer tech services and apps, but B2B is also on solid footing. Regardless of funding levels, how has healthtech PR helped hypergrowth brands thrive through the disruptive business environment?
Hims/Hers HealthTech and Consumer Goods Maximizes Growth with PR
- $233 million raised
- First day of trading: Jan. 21, 2021
- SPAC proceeds: $280 million
- SPAC valuation: $1.6 billion, according to Forbes
Hims/Hers operates two websites offering medical services specific to men (Hims) and women (Hers). To catch the attention of VCs and to eventually go public in 2021, healthtech PR helped hypergrowth tech brandHims/Hers maximize their most opportune moments. With a total funding amount of $233 million and a successful SPAC IPO, Hims/Hers PR was strategic and purpose-driven, which helped it create consumer trust and make them a media darling at the right time.
Authentic Purpose-Driven PR
In 2021, Hims/Hers followed AirBnB in offering services to displaced Afghan refugees in the wake of the U.S. military’s sudden departure from Afghanistan. Not only did this create trust for their customers, many of whom expect brands to be socially impactful, but they also leveraged tech-based media such as TechCrunch to report the news and capture investors’ imaginations. It may have caught the attention of Walgreens, who missed the chance to contribute when their competitor, Walmart beat them to the punch because three months later, Walgreens started carrying the Hims & Hers personal care products in-store and online.
Targeting Early Adopters with Content
Although it went dark in 2021, Hims/Hers used Medium to own their story, create interest in the early-adopter crowd, and help them navigate the choppy consumer waters during the pandemic. Hims/Hers used Medium to make announcements, and they also hosted Q&As with medical professionals over topics that showed their consumers they understood them and their most personal medical problems.
Healthtech Kiira Health Leverages Healthcare PR at Opportune Moments
- $4 million raised
- Named one of the most promising startups in 2021 by VCs in Business Insider
Kiira is a healthtech startup that provides an online health clinic to college-aged women with an inclusive and culture-centered approach. The platform provided 24/7 365 access to trusted health experts, including primary care providers, ObGyn, nurse practitioners, and mental health experts. When the pandemic hit, many college-aged women found themselves without access to healthcare. This an especially acute issue because without “adequate resources and guidance, students are at risk for high rates of STDs on campus, unintended pregnancies, adolescent maternal deaths, and other adverse events.” according to CEO and cofounder Crystal Evuleocha, so she teamed up Dr. Candice Fraser, MD FACOG to solve the issue for millions of young women.
Using the Media to Reach Your Target Community
Both co-founders are open about their own experiences with a lack of access to care or questions about how to access care and the dangerous consequences. By leveraging personal stories that speak directly to the organization’s community, the co-founders have shown their audiences that they truly understand them, as they did in Forbes and Essence in 2021.
Moreover, when the founders speak to their community, they stay on message. They share the same information that inspired them to start Kiira Health and they underscore the most pressing issues for young women.
Using Press Releases For Corporate History
Should you issue a press release, or shouldn’t you? One time it’s crystal clear that you should, when there is a big corporate moment that will build your brand credibility with press and/or consumers, as Kiira Health did when it announced its first flagship location in Los Angeles. While press releases aren’t usually the source of media coverage by themselves, it likely didn’t hurt when Crunchbase included them in a story about health and wellness startups. This kind of press release acts a flagpole in the sand for future credibility building for both VC and media.
Folx Health Using PR to Elevate Understanding
- $59 million raised
- #28 on Fast Company’s list of World’s Most Innovative Companies 2023
Taking Control of their Founding Story
Folx Health is a telehealth platform that provides healthcare services tailored to the LGBTQIA+ community, starting at $59/month. In May 2020, Folx founder A.G. Breitenstein took to Medium to tell how Folx came to be. Although this Medium post is their only Medium post, it shows a particular media savvy. In December that year Folx’s $4.4 million funding led to coverage on Mashable, Built in Boston, and Crunchbase. The Medium post is so important because it is an early flag in the sand about the founding story of Folx, which is important when a big media announcement hits and suddenly there is a lot of press and a lot of opportunities for the founding story to be misunderstood or misrepresented.
PR to Take a Stand
On the heels of its $30 million raise in October 2022, Folx appears to take control of its narrative again. This time, it does so as a fierce source of information about healthcare’s inadequacy for the queer community. Time after time, Folx uses an intelligent combination of data and storytelling to articulate Folx’s purpose and need to a broader audience. And this time, Folx CEO is the spokesperson for thier entire community: The American healthcare system, “at best, wasn’t built for us. And actually, more often than not, it’s openly discriminatory,” says Liana Douillet-Guzmán, of the LGBTQ community.
All of these hypergrowth healthtech brands provide examples of PR in healthcare brands, but these examples can also be useful for all startups in any phase of growth. Taking ownership of PR in the earliest stages can pay remarkable dividends in the early development and later hypergrowth stages. During times of volatility, PR can be the shining beacon into the future and light the path for future growth, even with past coverage.