Just as a puppy isn’t just for Christmas, a purpose shouldn’t be just for a campaign. That was the overriding sentiment at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this year. Sure, there was a certain level of hypocrisy apparent at the Festival, as reported by The Drum, but directionally conversations were headed to a higher plane.
It would appear that company and brand executives were more focused than ever before to aspiring to deliver more than just profits. Countless presentations and talks were centered on the subject, and even when the core topic was otherwise directed, many panel discussions reverted to purpose, the meaning of purpose, and the importance of walking the talk. Juries too seemed intent to reward work that was authentic and not flash-in-the-pan efforts.
One of the better panels on the subject – and admittedly there was no way to see all of them – was hosted by The Female Quotient Lounge: “Purpose As An Engine For Growth” featuring CMOs from SAP, BlackRock, Bank of America, Hulu and Deloitte Digital moderated by Lisa Howard, SVP and General Manager of Media for The New York Times.
Female Quotient "Purpose as an Engine for Growth" panel from left to right: Lisa Howard of The New York Times; Alicia Hatch, CMO of Deloitte Digital; Kelly Campbell, CMO of Hulu; Frank Cooper, Global CMO of BlackRock; Meredith Verdone, CMO of Bank of America; and Alicia Tillman, CMO of SAP // MARYLEE SACHS
I interviewed SAP CMO Alicia Tillman post panel. Her back-of-a-napkin theory is one that can be applied equally well to startups as to big corporates. She illustrates this by explaining SAP’s roots: “Every company started with a napkin of some sort.…Everything starts with this vision and a napkin scribble of what could be. Whether it’s changing something that already exists because you believe you can do it better or creating something that currently doesn’t exist that’s going to support a need to change something in the world.”
Alicia Tillman of SAP on Female Quotient panel // MARYLEE SACHS
Tillman advocates for purpose that is steeped in an organization’s roots – its “why” – but equally grounded in its aspirations. “When our company was founded 47 years ago, our founders were five former leaders from IBM and had left because they believed that they could build technology to help companies operate better than they were at that time. I learned this because in my first three months in the role I did something that most people will never say they do: I looked backwards. I looked back 47 years and why were we founded,” she continued.
She explained how purpose acts as the north star for the organization including “how we work, how we partner….It helps to make our marketing so much more relatable when we can connect with people based on their common values and show how technology is impacting them.” With 450,000 customers and 100,000 employees around the world, it’s no mean feat to be able to say that if you ask any employee, “they will tell you ‘it’s to help the world run better and improve people’s lives’,” she says. “One of the things we’re finding in our work is that it really matters to employees [to have a purpose].”
Tillman would like to see more companies coming together to partner on the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ at Cannes next year. “How are we going to achieve change and what are we going to do together to lead it?” she asks. This year, SAP partnered with other organizations including the Cannes Lions to create the Goals House at Cannes which ran a week-long program to build consensus for partnerships to scale impact for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Participating in a panel there, the moderator asked Tillman what would happen to companies that don’t operate with purpose and work to use what they create to solve challenges in the world. Tillman replied “They will go out of business, period….Employees won’t work there. And when you don’t have humans in your company, no innovation happens and therefore you have no customers and so therefore you have no business.”
From left: Kelly Campbell, CMO of Hulu; Frank Cooper III of BlackRock; Meredith Verdone, CMO of Bank of America, on CMO panel at The Female Quotient Lounge at Cannes // MARYLEE SACHS
The CEO of BlackRock, Larry Fink, has become a bit of a poster child for purpose due to his last two annual letters to CEOs focusing on the subject. BlackRock’s CMO, Frank Cooper III, was quick to point out that, “Mostly, he [Fink] is talking about long term-ism. But in 2018 and 2019 he pivoted quite a bit and focused on purpose. Essentially what he said was that any company that we think will thrive in the long term will have a sense of purpose. A sense of purpose beyond profits. In 2019 he said profits and purpose are not at odds with each other. They’re not antagonistic concepts. For me, that was a great moment because Larry knew two things would happen immediately when he sent the letter out.”
Cooper talked about the first being celebratory messages from all corners of life and business; the letter struck a chord because it came from the heart of financial services. “We manage six trillion dollars of assets and that tends to lead people to believe that we’re at the center of an industry that doesn’t want to change. For me, I found that it was really courageous for him to do.” Especially, as Cooper continued, since the second thing it did was put a target on BlackRock’s back.
“It sparked a conversation about what do we mean by purpose,” he continued. “Purpose is really the fundamental reason for being in society. Why do you exist? What value do you add?”
And purpose is picking up momentum. Cooper attributes this to an increased need for companies to have a social license to operate, and employees’ wanting to work for a company where they feel like they contribute to something bigger than themselves.
“This is now becoming a crisis because we have this global infrastructure that we all live in. And it's given rise to global problems. But, what we're seeing is government starting to recede from the global stage. We're seeing more nationalism, more populism. What's left in the void are these large corporations that are bigger than countries in many cases. Now the obligation is really on the companies to step into that void and serve people better.”
Julia Goldin of LEGO on The Economist Wake Up CMO panel on June 20 // MARYLEE SACHS
Julia Goldin, Global Chief Marketing Officer of LEGO Group, used an analogy to demonstrate the importance of purpose to her organization: “I think we got very complacent and comfortable. We got very comfortable with the fact that you're going to have a captive audience. When you have a captive audience, let's say you invite people over to a party, if the door is locked and they can't leave for another three hours, it doesn't really matter what you serve them because they'll be there, and they'll eat whatever you give them because they're hungry. But imagine that they could just walk away and say, ‘I'm going to a different place that serves me better food.’ We have to think that now with every interaction, our consumer has power, more power than ever before, to skip, get out of it, find a different way. And that means that the bar has to be very high on what we are communicating, and how we're telling the story. Firstly, we have to be purposeful in our communication, and sell them something that is actually meaningful to their life. And secondly, we have to deliver it in a way that really engages them. And I think that often we fell into a trap of convincing ourselves that it's going to be just good enough, and just good enough is not good enough anymore.”
Lego’s purpose is “to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow” which is aptly represented by the Silver Lion in Innovation it received for its #BrailleBricksForAll in Brazil. At a global level, 19 million children are visually impaired, but with all the audio books and computer programs available, fewer are learning to read Braille which is an issue since Braille users are often more independent and achieve higher levels of education and employment. For the first time in history, Lego accepted to modify its iconic product to help blind and visually impaired children to learn. The new “Lego Braille Bricks” are being tested in Danish, Norwegian, English and Portuguese with plans to launch in 2020.
It didn’t seem to matter if attending marketing leaders were B2C or B2B, most conversations at Cannes focused on or inevitably reverted to purpose and the power of purpose in driving business growth.
Ann Lewnes, CMO of Adobe, on Economist Wake-Up CMO panel at Cannes on June 19 // MARYLEE SACHS
Ann Lewnes, EVP and CMO of Adobe, was particularly vocal on the subject in a panel appearance. “Software is a completely people driven business, especially if you're a B to C, or digital web-first company. Our employees are our greatest asset, we don't have factories, and our employees are also very vocal. I think first and foremost we consider employees a key constituency, customers, our community. We have huge communities of users, 10 plus million creative people go on our community every single day to try and share their work. We also have investors obviously, who are another big constituent. But I think for us the purpose and when you say, oh, gosh all of a sudden everyone has discovered purpose, your purpose is driven by your product and why you exist.”
“The reason that we were founded was to help people create things, and so that has remained very constant. We empower people to create, we make the world's greatest creativity software. Later in our journey we decided, how are we going to measure whether all those people are creating, is there any value in what they're creating? How many people are looking at what they're creating, are they enjoying it? We decided to move into an adjacent business, and that business is all about transforming and making yourself a digital company, and so they're very related. The purpose comes through our ability to help people make change in their companies, and to express themselves and create content. Now we have this explosion of creativity, and that's a tail wind for us obviously. That was something that we actually didn't anticipate when we started,” she continued.
On the subject of CSR, Ann believes that “A lot of people are mistaking purpose for philanthropy. I think purpose is mission, it's why do you exist, what are your products intended to do, how are you a responsible company. That's all purpose.”
“Now, how does that relate to philanthropy and where we decide to invest in terms of doing good in the world? Well, we align it to the product strategy that we have, and that's where I think when purpose really works. If you're a company that makes creative software, how do you actually deploy that software for the world? One example: the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. One of the most horrific things that happen is when children go missing. For the past 10 years we have been helping through age progression using Photoshop to be able to see what a child would look like 10 years into the future. We found hundreds of kids…”
Ann cited other examples, tool which she said were adjacent to the purpose of the company and the product. “If our purpose is to empower people to create, how do we get people who don't necessarily have access to our software to be able to create? We give a lot of software away to kids, especially in under-served communities. We mentor them so that we can give them access to things that other kids have. We think it's really important that people are able to express themselves, and so I feel the purpose in in our business.”
Of course it’s been widely covered now that no one was more adamant on the need for organizations to operate with purpose than Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever, in his address early in the Festival.
“Purpose is one of the most exciting opportunities I’ve seen for this industry in my 35 years of marketing. Done properly, done responsibly, it will help us restore trust in our industry, unlock greater creativity in our work, and grow the brands we love.”
Jope continued: “There are too many examples of brands undermining purposeful marketing by launching campaigns which aren’t backing up what their brand says with what their brand does. Purpose-led brand communications is not just a matter of ‘make them cry, make them buy.’ It’s about action in the world,” Jope added.
And so I get back to my original premise: Purpose shouldn’t be just for a campaign, but lived and breathed every day by the organization and the people it serves, internally and externally.
Originally published on the Forbes website.