Last year, we launched our 2016 Fit for Purpose Index, which explores how global brands are adapting to the shifting expectations from their stakeholders to play a positive role in society.
The research was conducted at a global level, which gives insight into how purpose breaks down over three major regions: Europe, North America and Asia. One of the findings from the research is that the global community remains incredibly diverse when it comes to engaging with purpose.
Europe succeeds when it comes to engaging specialists in their purpose and demonstrating how it has been embedded into the organisation
Europe is the most engaged region in purpose with 86 percent of brands in the region having a sense of purpose or clear social intent at the heart of the business. The most frequent type of purpose are those that lean on sustainability and meeting planet needs, this includes leading companies such as SSE, whose purpose is to provide energy in a reliable and sustainable way; and BASF, which exists to create chemistry for a sustainable future.
These brands tend to excel when it comes to hardwiring purpose into the strategy of the business. By making purpose integral to the business model and strategy, they prove that purpose runs deeper than a nice strapline and a campaign, and into the day-to-day actions of the organisation. Unilever and British Land make purpose central to their investor proposition and tell a compelling story on the way that they create wider value for their stakeholders whilst delivering shareholder returns.
European businesses are pioneers in corporate responsibility and sustainability, so it is no surprise that these brands also lead the way when it comes to aligning purpose and sustainability content. These organisations sustainability targets and KPIs support their purpose and allowing them to measure their impact. Nestlé is an index-leading business that credibly aligns its sustainability content with its brand purpose: “We enhance lives with science-based nutrition and health solutions for all stages of life.” This includes ambitious targets such as its plan to reduce salt by 10 percent in products that do not meet the Nestlé Nutritional Fund criteria, and reduce sugar in its chocolate products up to 40 percent. The company reports its progress on these targets on clearly and transparently.
North American brands excel at engaging all audiences
83 percent of brands from North America have a clear sense of purpose. Organisations from this region have the most inspiring purpose statements and actively engage their consumers and end-users with it.
One of the highlights from the Fit for Purpose research was the quality of purpose statements from North America. It’s hard not to be inspired by GE, whose purpose is to “invent the next industrial era”; or Nike, which aims to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world: “If you have a body, you’re an athlete.” Companies such as Nike, GE, HP, Microsoft and Pfizer all have inspiring, distinctive and authentic purpose statements. This contrasts with the rest of the world, where the statements are often overly corporate in tone and conservative in nature.
Because these purpose statements are inspirational and authentic, they are flexible enough to sit at the heart of a range of communications. For example, organisations from North America were the most likely to align their purpose with their recruitment messaging and attract employees that share the same ambition to change the world. A great example of this is HP, which seeks ‘reinventors’ to help create technology that makes life better.
Having an inspiring and authentic purpose statement also helps the brands share compelling and creative social media content. Pfizer is a highlight in this respect – it shares inspiring content through its social channels in a way that fosters dialogue and communications with its audiences.
Asian brands lead the way in story and consistency
The scores of brands from Asia varied significantly. Japan is one of the leaders in purpose with four businesses featuring highly in the index, but no brands from China made it into the top 100.
It would appear that Asian companies are the least engaged in purpose overall, yet there are still aspects of purpose in which Asian brands lead the way. One of these is through brand storytelling; Honda leads the index with a distinctive purpose and story anchored on the idea that Honda is a dream builder, epitomising what they do and why they exist in a way that’s inspiring and authentic to their business.
Because Asian brands tend to have such a strong brand story, they also score highly in another part of the research - consistency. As part of the Fit for Purpose research, RY assessed the overall consistency and alignment of purpose across channels and touchpoints. Hitachi stands out when it comes to aligning its purpose to its communications across channels. By aligning its purpose with its brand promise to “inspire the next,” Hitachi tells a consistent, purpose-led story across all brand touchpoints and channels.
Purpose is about connecting with people, no matter your approach
There is a lot of diversity in the way that organisations approach purpose from around the world. However, despite this, they all have the same goal, to connect to their audience and engage them on something that matters to them, whether they are a consumer, employee or investor.
RY’s Fit for Purpose research highlights those brands that are best placed to put purpose into practice and connect with their audiences on an emotional level. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but lots of brands all around the world are taking the purpose initiative, learning as they go and setting a new standard for stakeholder engagement.
Read more about purpose and our insights here.