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Companies are under growing pressure to better orient their business around social causes and, more importantly, to make a positive impact on society.

To help draw out some solutions to this challenge, the inaugural Booth Marketing Summit in London, cosponsored by the James M. Kilts Center for Marketing and the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation, brought together several faculty members and a select group of alumni.

By sharing knowledge, research, and lived experiences, the participants were able to highlight a set of actionable insights that centered on three key learnings on how to approach efforts aimed at marketing for good.

Be Strategic, Consistent, and Authentic 

When a company decides to commit to doing business for good as well as just doing good business, it must clearly define a purpose-driven strategy, align the company’s goals and activities with that strategy, and then consistently pursue it.

Vahé Torossian, ’10, corporate vice president of business applications sales at Microsoft, said for the technology giant, being a financially successful company was no longer sufficient. Microsoft undertook research to identify customers’ expectations in terms of the value that it creates—something he called its North Star.

He said a clear finding was the need to ensure company strategy was focused on genuineness and authenticity. For example, 72 percent of customers were more likely to support brands that were authentic in their advertising. “The only one way for us to crack the code of trust, loyalty, and authenticity was very much to focus on that connection point,” he said.

When Microsoft realized prioritizing sustainability and supporting the startup ecosystem were critical parts of its mission, it put in place measures to support those. On sustainability, it committed to being carbon negative by 2030 and to removing all the carbon it has emitted directly or through electricity use since the company was founded, in 1975. To help startups, it established a $1 billion capital fund to create a pool of innovation.

“Since then, we have been communicating on the progress and learnings, what works and what doesn’t work,” said Torossian. “That’s an example of a strong commitment, how we measure it, and how we are transparently communicating.”

Abigail Sussman, professor of marketing and the Beatrice Foods Co. Faculty Scholar, has researched consumers’ responses to internal changes to corporate operations versus corporate donations to external causes.

She concurred with Torossian that consumers look for authenticity. In her data, making external charitable donations was seen less favorably by consumers relative to internal change within the firm, leading to lower relative purchasing intentions. “The internal investment is what’s going to be seen as more authentic, more effortful, and more effective. It will even make the company appear more competent,” she said.

Torossian’s corporate experience and Sussman’s research findings align about the need for a company to take a holistic and strategic approach to purpose-driven work that incorporates the importance of corporate social responsibility—and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) in particular—in many aspects of its marketing model.

For Stephen Taylor, ’07, former CMO at HMG Global, home of Nokia—a relatively small player in the phones market—it was essential to define a purpose that differentiated the company from its giant rivals.

Taylor led an effort at HMG Global to adopt a new market strategy that would appeal to customers who wanted to keep their devices for longer rather than choosing an annual upgrade. As a corollary, he cited clothing company Patagonia’s 2011 Black Friday campaign “Don’t buy this jacket” that encouraged customers to consider the environment impact of overconsumption. This connected back to his point that “you’ve got to have an authentic story before you can genuinely go out and start shouting,” he said.

Taylor provided another example from a previous job that reinforced this idea. He explained that Proctor & Gamble successfully adopted an authentic strategy in their campaign for Pampers diapers under which the company donated a maternal and newborn tetanus vaccine to UNICEF for every pack bought. After 16 years, 100 million women and babies across the world have been vaccinated, and 500,000 babies’ lives saved.

All three of these speakers emphasized to attendees that successful ESG-focused marketing must be aligned with a company’s corporate mission and consistently portray authenticity. When there is a proper roadmap, business can do good business—and do business for good.

“The internal investment is what’s going to be seen as more authentic, more effortful, and more effective. It will even make the company appear more competent.”

— Abigail Sussman

Use Purpose to Strengthen Competitive Differentiation

Establishing a clear marketing strategy that is centered on a purpose-driven strategy can help a company identify opportunities to both deliver benefits to society and also create a competitive advantage that drives revenue growth.

This was the case at UPS, one of the world’s largest shipping couriers, which in recent years has focused on small and midsize businesses (SMBs), whose particular needs were highlighted by the impact of the pandemic on shopping patterns.

“They need partners that help them achieve their goals. So we started with a simple question: How can we convince them to work with us so they know what we stand for?” said Sylvie Van den Kerkhof, ’93, vice president of strategy at UPS.

As part of this focus, the company produced a new purpose statement: “Moving our world forward by delivering what matters.” “Knowing that we mean so much to so many was a foundational piece of our story,” she added.

UPS carried out coordinated internal changes and external campaigns to focus on the SMB sector through its “Be Unstoppable” campaign, with a focus on championing minority-owned SMBs. Over the course of 2021, its small-business volume in the United States grew 18 percent, while in Europe overall revenue for this group rose 15.5 percent.

Rafael Oliveira, ’04, international zone president at the Kraft Heinz Company, said it was important to connect the brand to stakeholders’ values. Brands with a clear purpose can be powerful and can deliver positive social impacts at scale, he said.

In Indonesia, the company put this into practice in 2018 by focusing on the heavy load women in the household bear during the 30 days of daytime fasting for Ramadan, cooking predawn meals as well as undertaking work and household duties.

It created a campaign for its ABC brand called “Real Husbands Cook” that encouraged men to take on more domestic duties. “It connects to what the brand stands for. Success, engagement, brand development, profits—they interact, and they all follow through.”

He said because the campaign sought to give consumers a voice, there was no backlash against the message, as husbands were consumers too. “To be honest, we want to stand for what we believe is right and what is good,” he said. “There are always going to be people who don’t believe. But if you’re going to alienate some customers, so be it. I think it’s the kind of risk that you have to take.”

Companies that invest in their local community and devise tools aimed at helping to make a better society stand the chance of engaging consumers and partners along that journey, which winds up being a good thing for business in the long run.

“You’ve got to have an authentic story before you can genuinely go out and start shouting.”

— Stephen Taylor

Understand What Your Purpose Means to All Stakeholders

Businesses that want to use marketing for good need to listen to its shareholders but also consider its relationship with all stakeholders—including customers, employees, the communities in which it operates, and governments and regulators—and gain a deep understanding of how it can make a positive impact on them.

This stakeholder focus means executives need to juggle competing priorities as part of their marketing initiatives. Karen Kirby Gieras, ’04, global marketing director of innovation at Haleon Healthcare, gave an example of a new product improvement that added a cap that was both child resistant and senior friendly. These important product benefits, which improve safety as well as expand accessibility for those with limited dexterity, come at the cost of more plastic and therefore a higher carbon footprint.

“As responsible business owners, we are always weighing multiple factors including accessibility, water, electricity, and waste management at our sites and those of our partners,” Gieras said.

While he was COO at Maersk Drilling, Morten Kelstrup, ’08, also embraced the challenge of putting the issue of climate change at the center of the company’s mission amid pressure from all stakeholders including employees and consumers as well as investors and governments.

“We are in an industry that is fighting very hard to try to move from being seen as the problem to being part of the solution,” he said. As a result, in 2020 Maersk set a target of lowering the intensity of CO2 emissions from its drilling operations by 50 percent by 2030. “This was seen as big at the time,” he said.

When thinking about all stakeholders, it is important to transition the company from a product-centric mindset to a people-centric mindset, according to Microsoft’s Torossian.

He cited Microsoft’s product development with and for people with disabilities. There are 1.2 billion people with a disability all of whom spend money on a range of products—estimated at $7 trillion a year. Microsoft has created adaptive controllers that enable people with limited mobility to access videogames, and developed packaging that is easier to open, he said.

Torossian shared that Microsoft’s mission is to empower everyone to achieve more. By amplifying their inclusive innovations to make the company’s technology more accessible to all, Microsoft’s marketing for good helps to build a value-focused brand that is “anchored to reality every single minute”.

Marketing for good has a great deal of potential to bring benefits to society as well as generate profits for an organization. Although there is no prescription for how a company can accomplish these broad-reaching goals, industry leaders and academic researchers at the inaugural Booth Marketing Summit in London provided some evidence of ideas that work and underscored the importance of learning from what doesn’t.

This article refers to an event on September 12, 2022, and some titles and company names may have changed since then.


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