Purpose Marketing Could Help Restore Marketing Trust

In my last column, I highlighted four trends I picked up from attendance at a few industry conferences around the world. One of the trends has apparently struck a chord with some of you, so I wanted to dig a little deeper into the central idea.

The idea is this: marketers are including more and more “purpose marketing” elements into their overall marketing campaign. Companies as varied as Walmart, The Coca-Cola Company, Subaru, AB-InBev and Unilever believe that if you don’t convince your consumer you’re fully onboard with doing business conscious of environment, workforce diversity and so on, you are likely vulnerable to competition or obsolescence. 

The Coca-Cola Company is known to have committed to (this is from its website): “By 2020, improve water efficiency in manufacturing operations by 25 percent compared with a 2010 baseline. AB-InBev has a pledge to deliver clean and fresh water to victims in disaster areas such as during the last hurricanes and the California wild fires.”



Unilever is probably the farthest ahead in its thinking. Under retiring CEO Paul Polman's leadership, it developed an ambitious vision to fully decouple its growth from environmental degradation and increase its positive social impact through the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. Obviously, with Polman stepping down, it will be interesting to see how new CEO Alan Jope will continue this approach. But it is probably fair to say that Unilever will not revert completely to “not caring.”

The reasons companies get involved in these efforts are selfish. They are not doing it because of some altruistic higher motive, but because it is good for business. First, consumers care more and more about the environment. And as the planet hurtles towards total manmade self-destruction, I think more people are going to care over the next decade.

The second reason has nothing to do with consumer sentiment, but is focused purely on business self-preservation. Put simply: AB-InBev and The Coca-Cola Company care about clean water because without it, they do not have a business. Unilever cares about bees and honey because it needs them to produce their foods and snacks.  It is of course nice that these companies can communicate their clean water efforts or honey bee preservation efforts, but even if consumers did not care, these companies would. 

And that brings me to my suggestion, which I shared briefly in my post from two weeks ago. All these companies release an annual report on their green, clean and fair-trade efforts. They do so because they want to demonstrate they are not only committed, but deliver actions and progress. 

It is my suggestion that companies add a chapter to these reports on how they treat consumer data. Over the last decade, we have seen an ever-increasing number of data breaches, failed retargeting strategies, social media and online video backlashes, etc. There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. It has caused a quarter of the population to install ad blockers. It has led to social and digital media with an all-time low in consumer trust. 

I think if companies show that they’re serious about doing a better job with the data they collect and use, and report on actual steps that demonstrate they’re committed to making improvements, this could go a long way to improving relationship between marketers and their consumers. 

Who is going to step up?

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