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Why retro-fitting purpose using comms and marketing is doomed to failure

The path to purposefulness is not a passing fad or a mere inconvenience to those seeking nothing but increasing returns. 

Personally, I hope it becomes a watershed moment when responsibility and accountability trump profits and yield. But even if you are doing the right thing for the right reasons, it’s still a minefield when it comes to actually communicating about it. There’s every chance you’ll become a target for criticism because of a lack of authenticity – damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

In our ongoing quest to help our clients see around corners, we’re making the following recommendations in order to navigate the potential purpose pitfalls:

  • True purpose is baked in from the outset – just because you bought a charging infrastructure business, this doesn’t offset the damage you caused by exploiting the world’s fossil fuel resources for the last century. So don’t act like it does. It is crude and offensive. Must you unpick decades of bad choices to make amends? Well it will be hard to convince audiences otherwise, but it is also not practical. Better to focus on genuine efforts, built from the ground up. True innovation which is driving more than just profits to the communities which you serve… and admitting the bad parts, not papering over them like they never existed.
  • Retro-fitting purpose using comms and marketing is doomed to failure. Prove me wrong by sending some examples my way by all means, but at best it lacks authenticity and at worst it’s Pepsi. These moves are typically made after a sudden guilty realisation or a misguided idea to solve the world’s problems (whilst conveniently gaining market share).

    Check yourself: does what you’re proposing really tightly align to the core values, products, services or brand promise of your organisation? Would it pass the BS test with your biggest critic let alone your customers? Any hesitation here and it is probably a stretch. You should think about an alternative approach as soon as possible, or face the backlash in lost sales, customer trust and share price. A good litmus test (as recommended to me by B Corp themselves) is a business’s About Us page. If your path to wholeness isn’t obvious (and authentic!) here then it won’t be long until you’re called out.
  • Don’t rely on your purposefulness selling itself, but don’t over egg it either. There’s a fine line between heroes and villains (often that line is invisible on social) but that doesn’t mean you should forgo communicating your worthy work. A better way to approach this is firstly to specifically target segments of your audiences, rather than taking a blanket approach.

    Like any comms, don’t assume everyone wants to hear everything – one segment’s passion is another’s apathy so do your research and get it right. Secondly, but most importantly, talk about what you’re actually doing, ie, the actions you’re taking and not the endless clever plans you have. Thanks to politics and large corporations reneging on promises, no one believes anything about future commitments any more. It’s action or nothing.

The path to purposefulness for businesses is certainly a rocky one. Even when you have a credible story, you can still come out looking like the bad guys. Whilst demonstrating a selflessness in modern society may feel impossible, it is this aspiration which must be your guiding principle.

Written by Matt Cross, head of B2B (EMEA) at PR agency Hotwire

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