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2023 State of Purpose: How ‘Whole Brand Thinking’ helps companies achieve—and prove—ESG goals

by | Apr 27, 2023 | Public Relations

As stakeholders from investors and employees to everyday consumers are demanding, brands and businesses are striving to identify and define their Purpose beyond their products and services—and also communicate those goals and accomplishments in an authentic, trust-securing manner. But in many cases, the siloed approach they are using is making those initiatives difficult. New research from creative idea firm Barkley offers insights, however, that could help to solve both problems.

The firm’s newly released annual State of Purpose Report is based on its vision of the “whole brand”—one that is full of purpose, and action that matches what it says and does internally with what it says and does externally. Whole brands understand that purpose, sustainability and issue-based initiatives are vital, strategic imperatives that can best be achieved companywide—not by a brainstorming team huddled in a meeting room independent of input from everyone else.

2023 State of Purpose: How ‘Whole Brand Thinking’ helps companies achieve—and prove—ESG goals

These challenges are only getting harder since, despite tighter corporate purse strings, purpose still matters to consumers, the research finds. Nearly all (94 percent) consumers say that supporting brands that care about environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues is as important as it was 12 months ago, despite inflation. But the big hurdle for brand communicators is that 71 percent of consumers say it’s difficult to know if a brand is acting ethically—and 62 percent say they look for proof.

What the firm calls “Whole Brand Thinking,” however, is not just about marketing and consumers

It’s about everything a company does, which means it’s just as important to know how employees feel. According to the research, 78 percent of employees say it’s crucial for the values of the organization to align with their personal values, and 50 percent say that working for a values-driven company brings out their best work. As we know, employees are a brand’s best ambassadors, and the research found that they were 10X more likely to recommend a purpose-led company.

2023 State of Purpose: How ‘Whole Brand Thinking’ helps companies achieve—and prove—ESG goals

“After the events of the past several years, consumers want to live more sustainably and they expect brands to make this easier for them. They aren’t just looking at advertising to make their purchasing decisions, they want proof and evidence of impact,” said Lindsey DeWitte, president of PR and EVP Purpose + Sustainability at Barkley, in a news release. “Remember, consumers have access to so much information today; they can quickly see how others perceive you. The good news is, developing a sustainability strategy simultaneously helps brands improve their reputation with consumers while also protecting the business from risk.”

2023 State of Purpose: How ‘Whole Brand Thinking’ helps companies achieve—and prove—ESG goals

This year’s research includes a companion piece, Start Here: A Guide For Creating Sustainability Actions With Purpose, which serves as a step-by-step guide to help brands identify and map the material issues that can impact their business and further develop their sustainability strategy.

The supplement is designed to help business leaders identify and map the material issues that can impact their business and features nine sections of ideas that can supercharge organizations’ resiliency by crafting a purpose-led sustainability strategy. The guide focuses on materiality: the process of identifying, refining and assessing the environmental, social and governance topics that could impact an organization and its stakeholders. It then walks brands through four steps for mapping these material issues:

  • Identify your most important topics: Define relevant issues for your organization and industry by reviewing ESG Frameworks and Benchmarking indices, found in the Appendix.
  • Listen inside and outside your organization: Survey both internal and external stakeholders to assess their opinions on issues that impact your business. Think clients or customers, investors and shareholders, suppliers, government agencies and the wider community.
  • Prioritize what matters: Plot external and internal views to define priorities, and cross-tabulate the results of both surveys in a matrix to create a priority list of issues to focus on.
  • Build a strategy worth sharing: Define goals and objectives against priority issues and your brand’s purpose.

2023 State of Purpose: How ‘Whole Brand Thinking’ helps companies achieve—and prove—ESG goals

“Developing a sustainability strategy is how you set yourself up to engage with key audiences across your brand and build resilience into your business,” said Pip Cross, sustainability lead at Barkley, in the release. “We use these same prompts, ideas, tips and tricks in our own work because we know the more your purpose powers your commitments to people, planet and community, the more inspired your brand culture is to deliver profit and continuous impact.”

Download the State of Purpose Report.

Download Start Here: A Guide For Creating Sustainability Actions With Purpose.

The report also shares case studies from Barkley clients including Fruit of the Loom, Inc. and Planet Fitness, as well as brands like IKEA and Smashbox to help show these steps in action.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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