Lead with Transformation

by Jun 13, 2019

Shelton Stat of the Week

31% of Americans say that a company’s involvement in social issues or its nonprofit partnerships and donations have a strong or very strong impact on their purchase decisions (EcoPulse 2018).

Lead with Transformation

Have you ever had one of those moments where someone says something to you and it rings so true, it literally feels like a wave of light rolls through your whole body? OK, maybe I’m the only one who feels it like that, but I definitely felt it when my friend Cathy Combs summarized what she was taking away from last week’s Sustainable Brands conference:

The opportunity on offer for corporate America is to lead with transformation.

I’ve long been a Simon Sinek fan and a believer in his approach of leading with purpose (“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it,” Simon says.) But I think some brands talk about purpose and don’t always take a lot of concrete action around it – their purpose statements come off as feel-good aspirational statements fit for a poster in an employee break room. But if you asked an employee to give you an example of how the company is living its purpose or a story about a time when the employee saw it in action, some are hard pressed to do so. 

There are several good examples of companies both espousing a purpose and taking action on it. Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays in honor of its values related to faith and family, CVS stopped selling cigarettes in honor of its decision to be a health care company. And REI, of course, started closing on Black Friday a few years back to honor their purpose of getting people outdoors.

I think if companies think about purpose as transformation – that they really don’t have a purpose if they can’t point to how they’re transforming markets and the world – we’ll go farther faster in solving our most difficult social and environmental problems. The trick is to use what your company does to transform the world. I saw a great presentation from SAP at Sustainable Brands about this – about how SAP is using its scale and its reason for being (technology/AI/data analytics) to transform companies and markets in order to drive social and environmental change. I also heard a great story of a new subsidiary being created within a major cosmetics brand to transform the agriculture market.

Purpose can certainly inspire – and Porter Novelli/Cone has just released a fascinating study using biometrics to gauge people’s reactions to various advertising messages, some purpose oriented and some simply functional. Not surprisingly, the purpose messages elicited stronger physical and emotional responses. And purpose messages that espoused values that aligned with the values of the person receiving the message got the strongest physical and emotional reactions. 

I’ll bet that stories of transformation, rooted in company values and purpose, would elicit even stronger reactions.

Try it out: Ask yourself if you can point to concrete examples of how your company is transforming the world as a result of your purpose. If you can’t, go back to the drawing board on your purpose … or work harder on taking bold actions that flow from your purpose, like walking away from $2 billion in cigarette sales and countless millions/billions from Sunday sales or Black Friday sales.

Let me know what you find!


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About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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