Remember Bill Murray in the 1993 movie Groundhog Day? As a weatherman sent to cover the annual Groundhog Day festivities in a small Pennsylvania town, he tries to win over a news anchor played by Andie McDowell. Unsuccessfully. Repeatedly. Living in a Groundhog Day. Oddly, aside from the obvious parallels with our lockdown existences, there is a lesson in this tale for business and marketing leaders. One about purpose and what it means for a company or a brand.
While purpose is nothing new, it has gained recent prominence in business leadership circles. Last year, the Business Roundtable – an association of CEOs of America’s largest companies – redefined what it sees as the purpose of business and corporations. For the previous 22 years, its position on the purpose of a company was based on Milton Friedman’s economic theory and the pursuit of profit for the sole benefit of stockholders. Now, it says the responsibility of a business is to create customer value, invest in employees, nurture fair and ethical supplier relationships, and care for the community and environment. While long-term shareholder value still features, it’s no longer the sole yardstick.
A look at the recent entries to the World Advertising Research Center’s Brand Purpose award competition helps in gauging how well businesses are doing with purpose. Entries could be arranged in three piles. The first was for brands that had found a unique insight with a social conscience. The second was for those that sought to bring their brand purpose to play for good in a challenging context. The last pile was reserved for brands that looked at purpose as a band-aid to cover up prior corporate sins.
The winners to this competition came from the first two piles.
With Covid-19 redesigning our ‘normal’, it’s arguably clearer than ever that we need brands to adopt a genuine sense of purpose. These are not only thriving during the crisis but will fare better when the crisis is successfully addressed. They will shape this new normal everyone is talking about, because as much as an observation, it is also a need for a readjustment.