Last week, we held a Business Breakfast Briefing hosted by Andy Last, CEO of MullenLowe salt, to discuss his recently published book, ‘Business on a Mission: How to build a sustainable brand.’ The audience learned about the key components of building a sustainable brand, from the history of social mission to the challenges brands face today. For those of you who couldn’t make it, we’ve captured the key highlights as well as some answers to the most popular questions asked by the audience.
The link between business and society
In the 19th Century, businesses such as Lever Brothers were acutely aware of their relationship with society and showed a real interest in the welfare of their employees. Later, however, as shareholding became share-trading and increasingly driven by algorithms, companies began to focus more on their own narrow interests, resulting in a disconnect with society.
Today, changing consumer and societal expectations – liberated by the power of technology – are making businesses much more aware of the need to be a force for good, while remaining profitable.
In fact, such is the growth in consumer demand for socially responsible brands that nowadays, businesses can make more money by engaging more closely with society. There are many great examples of this, including Unilever’s sustainable living brands growing 50% faster than the rest of their business.
The starting point for social missions is driven by different factors in different parts of the world. In Singapore, for example, the SGX requirement for Sustainability reporting has caused many businesses to reexamine their relationship with society. In Latin America, businesses know from experience that they can’t drive profitable growth where there is social unrest. In the USA, the strong culture of philanthropy is at the fore.
If you’re thinking of creating a social mission, what should you avoid?
Make sure your social mission is highly relevant both to the brand and to the product. Engage people outside of the organisation who will know the area in which you want to engage and therefore will know what can make the most lasting impact. For example, if you’re thinking of developing a social purpose around education, ask education experts for their input. Also, don’t make the ‘say’ bigger than the ‘do’ – don’t set yourself up for failure by striving to achieve unrealistic ambitions for your brand, but whatever you decide on make sure you can walk the talk.
Does celebrity endorsement work?
If you want to use a celebrity influencer for your mission, it needs to be genuine. For example, with our client Lifebuoy soap in India, we work with Indian actress Kajol on our ‘Help A Child Reach 5’ campaign about preventing unnecessary early deaths amongst children under five by teaching the importance of handwashing. Kajol has young children herself and so she relates to what the campaign is looking to achieve and shows a genuine interest and passion in the cause. Whether you work with celebrities or online influencers, they need to have authenticity and a real connection to your social purpose, otherwise their collaboration can come across as superficial – where sometimes the story is more about them – and not the cause they are being engaged to advocate.
Should business have social mission at their core from the beginning?
Looking at startups, we witness a lot of them using social value at their heart from the outset and it has proven to be a very useful tool, both for investment and getting people to stock their products. This isn’t necessarily because of superior price or product but because they are run by ethically minded people. We’re also witnessing the younger generation demanding to purchase from and work for brands and businesses who have a social purpose. For example, in Singapore, 58% of Gen Z (16-20 year olds) rate companies that help make the world a better place as important a consideration as salary when seeking employment