Recently, Thomas Kolster
wrote an opinion piece titled, ‘I don’t want yet another soft drinks company screaming purpose at me’. He is not alone in the long line of cynics. In 2019, The Nation called purpose a big-business ‘scam’.
Across the world, purpose is under attack. But if we rally together, we can still defend it. We can save purpose. In fact, we must save it.
Our planet, communities and people need it. During the pandemic, the world has become even more unequal. The divide between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ has deepened, and the division between food and feed has increased; we have similar numbers of people who face both obesity and starvation. Simultaneously, the level of food insecurity is on track to double by the end of 2020 over 2019. The planet needs a serious recovery.
Purpose also is good for prosperity with consumers demanding it. According to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer
, 64% of consumers are ‘belief-driven buyers’ who feel brands can be a powerful force for change and expect them to solve societal problems.
If we, as brands, are going to remain relevant and drive positive change, we must eliminate the purpose-as-an-advertising-brief tendency. At Dole, we are making a pivot to using purpose as a verb in everything we do — #purposeful. And in doing so, we are learning a few things that I would love to share.
1. #Purposeful is as much about the How and What, and not just the Why
The unilateral and myopic focus on the ‘Why’ tends to make us forget that this is simply one piece of the puzzle. Eventually, it comes down to what is the business scaling and how does it make it to increase prosperity. If ‘What’ you sell or ‘How you make or sell it’ comes at the cost of people or the planet’s well-being, the company’s growth is coming at a huge cost for our future. No matter your ‘Why’, if you’re selling a sugary drink in a can, you’re still selling a sugary drink in a can.
We are lucky, at Dole because we can, literally, eat our purpose: Sunshine For All. But we have lots more to achieve. Which is why, during the pandemic, we pledged ourselves to six promises that will ensure action and impact across three interconnected areas — people, planet and prosperity. We believe that unless all three thrive in unison, for each other, they will never be #purposeful.
The Dole Promise calls for:
- Increasing access to sustainable nutrition for one billion people by 2025.
- No processed sugar in all Dole products by 2025.
- Zero fruit loss “from Dole farms to markets” by 2025.
- No fossil-based plastic packaging by 2025.
- Net zero carbon emissions in Dole operations by 2030.
- Increasing “the value of Dole’s business” by 50% by 2025 “to create shared value across the value chain,” while continuing to positively impact all farmers, communities and people working for Dole.
2. #Purposeful is the business model, not an advertising brief
Being purposeful by acting on your ’what’ and ’how’ means activating your purpose in ways so that it is baked into your business, your products, your innovation pipeline, how you source and more. This is imperative for two reasons. First, purpose and prosperity should work together and not at the cost of each other. When being purposeful contributes to your bottom line, it removes the risk of it being limited to corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs (a veneer mostly) that are the first to go when savings are needed. Second, driving revenue via purpose enables you to scale your purposeful products and services to make an even greater impact for people and our planet. At the end of the day, any company will scale only what really matters. (I acknowledge that this might be easier for some depending on what you provide or sell.)
3. #Purposeful is what purposeful does (not talks)
What a brand says is far less important than what it actually does. Purpose is not a marketing campaign —it is a series of ongoing actions a company takes to ‘live’ it. Starting with what we sell or provide to how we manufacture, produce or provide those services. The bottom line is, as one of the brands (Patagonia) I admire said, ‘You can’t reverse into purpose with advertising and marketing’. This is a great segue to my last point.
4. Being #purposeful is also knowing what you will take on and stand up against or for
We believe purpose must permeate every part of the company, and how you make decisions, how you treat your partners, what you lobby/legislate against or for, and, yes, advertising. REI’s #Optoutside, Patagonia’s ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ and CVS’ actions against selling nicotine products are some great examples of when purpose has superseded immediate profit in their decision making.
When we recently launched work for our ‘Quaran-Tension’ campaign
, our effort was to bring light and levity to consumers during a difficult time. Well, the campaign has been criticized by a conservative group that called the ads ‘highly offensive’ because we showed same-sex parents. We chose to increase our spends. Why? Because the campaign is perfectly aligned with our purpose and beliefs. We believe in Sunshine For All regardless of race, gender, religion, orientation, income, beliefs or location.
In conclusion, I’m fully aware I don’t have all the answers when it comes to being purposeful. What I do know is that for every organization that has touted a misguided view to purpose, there are a few (not many) who have it right. The purpose paradigm must evolve, and it’s up to all of us to ensure it does. #sunshineforall.