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Considering purpose

The two problems that brand purpose poses for CX professionals


Brand purpose has become a hot trend for 2020, but it requires customer experience to bring it to life. This presents two challenges for CX teams. 

12th Mar 2020
Captain PRPSFL
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You’ve probably heard all about Purpose by now, and its benefits. It’s the hot trend for 2020.

EY’s Beacon Institute calls Purpose “an aspirational reason for being which inspires and provides a call to action for an organisation and its partners and stakeholders and provides benefit to local and global society”.

Kantar have shown “Purpose-led” brands growing twice as fast as others, partly due to the trend reported by Edelman that shows that growing swathes of customers are choosing brands because of their stance on social issues (64% in 2018). One can find reams of other supporting evidence of the power of Purpose.

CEOs all over the World have heard about Purpose and its benefits, too. Many have decided their customers want to see them being “good corporate citizens” and have challenged their CMOs to come up with advertising campaigns showing their social and environmental credentials.

The unfortunate fact that these credentials have often been over-hyped or completely made up has resulted in “woke washing”. So widespread is this phenomenon that Unilever’s Pierre Jope lamented in 2018 that it was at risk of undermining businesses’ ability to make a positive contribution to society. Pepsi’s disastrous Kendall Jenner ad is a great example of perceived “woke washing”, Gillette’s “Toxic Masculinity” Superbowl slot another.

Our research shows that authenticity is the bedrock of Purpose: Purpose without authentic delivery is meaningless marketing babble. It’s why PWC’s Purpose to “build trust in society and solve important problems” is undermined by the conflict of interest inherent in clients using both their auditing and consulting services simultaneously.

It’s why the alleged use of sex workers in Haiti was so damaging to Oxfam’s claimed Purpose to “create lasting solutions to end the injustice of poverty”. PRPSFL have deliberately amended the Beacon Institute’s definition of Purpose to make the phrase “authentically-lived” front and centre.

Authenticity and the customer experience 

It is this need for authenticity that brings customer experience to the heart of Purpose. A brand cannot authentically live its Purpose without bringing it to life every day through the experience delivered to its customers, whether it sells cars, carrots or consulting services. 

Thus the Purpose trend creates two key challenges for CX professionals in 2020. 

Firstly, not only is it important to understand Purpose, it is absolutely essential that CX professionals can reflect their brand’s Purpose in their CX strategy. No function in the organisation has greater responsibility to turn a Purpose into a living, breathing, everyday reality and ensure authenticity than CX. 

The sustainable footwear brand, Allbirds, provides two great examples of a brand getting this right. In installing innovative, tilting seating in its stores, it prioritises the comfort of its customers when tying shoes over saving money, reinforcing its authenticity. Using 2019’s Black Friday as an opportunity to stop selling footwear in its London store in order to host community events shows it truly is more focussed on sustainability than sales. 

No function in the organisation has greater responsibility to turn a Purpose into a living, breathing, everyday reality and ensure authenticity than CX

Secondly, Purpose isn’t created, it’s discovered. Any attempt to define a brand’s Purpose must be rooted in what is actually happening on the ground. CX, therefore, must be a key input in any Purpose discovery initiative, reflecting the true impact a brand is having on its customers’ lives and in the wider World. This is yet another C-level conversation in which CX professionals must be represented but are frequently omitted. 

Why customer experience needs Purpose

If it is true to say that Purpose needs customer experience, is it also true to say that customer experience needs Purpose? We believe so, for three reasons.

Firstly, CX strategies designed to deliver bland, corporate targets such as market share, profit, or even “NPS of 50” are typically generic and uninspired. But CX strategy designed to “accelerate the world’s transition to renewable energy”, “use the resources we have to do something about the fact all life on Earth is under threat of extinction” or “serve Britain’s shoppers a little better every day” can be differentiated and groundbreaking. (That’s not to say that it necessarily will be, just that the chances are greater!)

Secondly, as CX professionals strive to deliver the promises a brand makes to its customers, it is those brands who are clear what they stand for that are better able to succeed. Pity the CX team trying to deliver a promise they can’t define or that doesn’t match what their customers think they were promised! 

Clarity of brand promise is one of the outputs of a clearly articulated and shared Purpose and the brands that are consistently praised for their customer experience are, in our opinion, those that are clearest about their Purpose and most effective at embedding it in CX.

First Direct continues to excel in customer experience - from launching telephone banking and banking apps to the masses back in the day, via eschewing IVR and off-shored call centres - because it consistently enables customers to live more and worry less. John Lewis succeeds in CX terms because it authentically pursues 'the happiness of all our members through being an outstanding retailer’ rather than chasing short-term profit gains or cost savings.

Lastly, research shows that people working in organisations with Purpose are 30% more productive and 40% more engaged, are more willing to use their initiative and make better decisions. These are absolutely the conditions in which great CX flourishes.

So, this year, we must ensure that Purpose is essentially and intrinsically linked with CX. Purpose does not exist without CX and CX cannot excel without Purpose.


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