Creating internal shared missions
What if brand purpose emanated from inside-out?
Fortunately, the conversation around businesses doing meaningful things in addition to generating profit is getting louder and louder.
Unfortunately, that conversation often turns to portraying purpose in advertising, which can go horribly wrong. Too often, these efforts emerge from a desire to be perceived in a certain way, without asking the harder questions about whether the company can be and act a certain way.
There’s a wave of advertising agencies responding to clear consumer preference for brands that have a greater mission than just profit by setting up ‘good’ divisions. That’s a challenging trend for a couple of reasons; one is that any time a company has one division, or one practice, focused on ‘good’, it creates a very odd remit for the other divisions. ‘Good’ should be pervasive, not a single vertical.
The other reason is more important. The response to consumer preference for brands that serve a greater mission should not begin and end with a marketing solution. By recasting existing acts and behaviors—the status quo—with purpose-oriented advertising, there’s a real risk of curtailing the more profound transformation that employees and customers are seeking.
One of enso’s board of advisors members, Bruce Mau, described his career to us once as having three chapters: starting as a graphic designer, designing the outer skin of a product. Then realizing that in an era of transparency, designing the skin was not enough, that he had to design the thing itself. Some years later, he realized that to really affect the thing itself, you have to design the organization that creates the thing.
The existence of the plethora of advertising-driven ‘purpose’ initiatives reminds me of Act 1 of Bruce’s career: designing the outer skin only.
So at enso we don’t think about building advertising campaigns to burnish the perception of the status quo. We’re interested in building mission-driven brands, but doing it around a real mission and substantive action. And following Bruce’s advice, that often means working on the organization itself, rather than just the outer skin of an organization. And to go one step further, creating mission-driven organizations really means working with the people within to (re)connect with their own missions.
Mission driven people → Mission driven organization → Mission driven brand → Shared Mission → Positive impact
To do that, we’ve begun engaging people in a process of articulating what drives them: the deeply held values and aspirations they have. This often comes from a series of questions: what does ultimate success look like, for me as well as the brand? What will I be truly proud of in 5 or 10 years? How does my/ our journey affect what we’re striving for? That process, done collectively, reveals areas of commonality that can determine the values of the team and organization itself. That process also reveals areas of diversity, which helps team members understand each other at a deeper level, identifying different roles each may play.
By articulating a team’s values and collective mission, the organization gains a guiding principle for everything it does, and every way it is represented in the world. Entrenched practices are evaluated in a new light, and new opportunities evaluated against a clear north star. That’s important for obvious reasons, but not least, if an outward expression of the brand seems at odds, or disconnected with the core mission, it appears inauthentic and a cynical appropriation (see: Pepsi-Kendall Jenner ad).
Amazing things happen when an organization gets clear on its mission.
The best employees are more likely to be attracted and retained. We’re seeing that the imperative towards purpose is shifting from extrinsic motivations to intrinsic motivations (from ‘millennials demand it’, to ‘our best people demand it’). In an environment where over two thirds of employees feel disengaged in their work (this is a shocking statistic — think of the lost human potential), the company that inspires and motivates the best has a fundamental competitive advantage.
Customers are more likely to feel emotionally connected beyond a rational attraction to product features. Given Kahneman and Tversky’s Nobel-winning work demonstrated how — contrary to traditional economic theory—the vast majority of our decisions are made based on instinctive emotion rather than rational thought, emotional connection between brand and people is another competitive advantage.
Mission also becomes an important management filter that enables much stronger (and often easier) decision making. Applying a mission filter to the thousands of decisions that get made every day in an organization creates the deeper transformation that people are looking for. What product features should we prioritize? The ones that best serve the mission. What supply chain choices should we make? The ones that best serve the mission. How do we treat our people? In a way that best serves the mission. This kind of reflection — across all divisions, not just marketing — enables a company to truly transform.
And if the mission is big enough, it’s possible to build a shared mission with other cultural stakeholders (e.g. other brands, non-profits, philanthropists, civic leaders, cultural or creative leaders) around a vision of shared success. Other cultural forces propelling the mission creates another huge competitive advantage.
By one measure, firms that are fueled by passion and purpose outperform the S&P 500 by 14X over 15 years (rising 1,681% vs. 117% for the S&P 500).
Pepsi focused a lot of energy on making a ‘culturally relevant film’ to create the outer perception of values and mission. What would have happened if Pepsi’s leadership spent that time understanding and articulating its people’s values and building a shared mission from inside-out?
Pepsi could learn from Nike’s transformation from social pariah to sustainability leader, which was an inside-out transformation. They started with empowering 100 people to be leaders of this transformation, but then realized that was not enough—to be successful, it had to be a complete transformation in how it operated. This transformation included the board, design, sourcing and production teams. It linked its new sustainability mission with innovation. In other words, progress for the company was inextricably linked to progress against its mission.
Another core part of Nike’s strategy was not doing it alone, but building a shared mission. Partnering with other brands, non-profits, academics and manufacturers (formalized as the Fair Labor Association), Nike was able to create systemic shifts that it could not have done alone—and increase its market capitalization many times over.
This is transformation far beyond the ‘skin’ of the brand; it’s rethinking how the business behaves, acts, and expresses itself.
So that’s why enso consciously departed from the idea of being an ‘advertising agency’ long ago. We think of enso as a mission-driven creative company, using creativity in all its forms to help inspire people inside and outside brands towards their full potential.