Don’t let your company wash purposefully

Recently the WSJ the article published “Does your Mayo need a mission statement?” by Saabira Chaudhuri in which the author rightly mocks brands that adopt a targeted strategy solely for marketing coverage of distressed brands and irrelevant mass consumer products.

Something we at StrawberryFrog, the creative purpose activation company, call Purpose Febreze, also known as purpose washing.

While it’s easy to hit the bull’s eye on brands struggling to find purpose — and there are examples of that — the bigger picture for Unilever and CEO Alan Jope is how much the company has benefited from targeted blockbusters like Dove. Sales were up 8 percent last year (as noted in the article) — a notable gain in a highly competitive commodity category like soap.

And there is clearly another side to this story. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence that an activated goal does indeed drive business outcomes and business transformation—if the goal is put at the heart of business strategy.

Harvard Business School Professor Ranjay Gulati’s New Book Deep target covers many cases. This one Harvard Business Review article“Put purpose at the heart of your strategy” provides three additional examples of goal-oriented transformation within large companies with multiple products.

The world’s first empirical study of targeted brands, called the Target Power Index, provides further evidence. Launching today, May 24, at the Purpose Power Summit, the index reveals the US companies that are winners and laggards. Further, magazine, StrawberryFrog and Dynatas Goal Power Summit includes a long list of CEOs speaking about the benefits of putting purpose at the heart of corporate strategy.

However, there are some challenges for leaders looking to capitalize on a purpose.

First, goal-oriented transformation starts with putting the goal at the center of your strategy, not just creating a marketing ploy. When done right, the goal can deliver business results. The WSJ author reveals that Hellmann’s is actually doing quite well: “Unilever attributes Hellmann’s recent sales growth to the brand’s food waste campaign, but the company has also invested in a vegan option and in new flavors that they say have done well.” Hellmann’s is a great example of using targeting to drive innovation, which is important for those defending their market against agile and fast-moving disruptors.

Second, the goal is to do, not advertise. The biggest challenge to goal-oriented leadership is helping CEOs activate purpose for the people who matter inside and outside the organization. Chip Walker, head of strategy at StrawberryFrog, puts this thought into the new book Activate brand target“We did the world’s first empirical study of purpose-driven companies and we’ve seen how important a goal is. More importantly, we saw how companies that activate their purpose do much better than companies that don’t.” Goal drives high growth in companies: in creating new markets, meeting wider stakeholder needs and changing the rules of the game.

Third, a goal can help CEOs simplify strategy. Today, many large companies are limited by the sheer number of different strategies at the top of organizations: company, brand, CSR, Covid, EVP, etc. Purpose helps business leaders focus on what Harvard Business professor Felix Oberholzer-Gee advocates in his beautiful new book Better, simpler strategy. The goal is to increase people’s willingness to buy from and work for a company.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not’s.