How can a social or environmental purpose help your marketing? And why do so many companies mess it up? I speak with Fiona Ras-Jones about the right ways (and wrong ways) to build a purpose-driven business.
From planting trees to fighting hunger, many companies have a cause to champion. But with so much greenwashing and virtue signaling, audiences are (understandably) suspicious. How do you build an authentic purpose into your business in the right way? And can it really help your marketing?
Join me on Marketing Unf*cked as I speak with Fiona Ras-Jones, founder of the Make Impact agency, as we talk about the right ways (and wrong ways) to build a purpose-driven business.
We get into the perils of greenwashing, how to measure the effects of your work, and the many benefits you can find by aligning your purpose with your business — at every possible level.
In this episode:
Let’s define what a purpose is, and how it impacts your business.
You have to do integrate your company’s purpose throughout your entire business.
Why do marketers need to have a purpose in the first place?
Customers want companies they can believe in, and they are more aware than ever before.
Why aren’t more marketers working on their purpose?
Every good purpose aims to solve a clearly defined problem.
Once you define your purpose, how do you measure its impact?
What are the prerequisites you need to achieve first?
When your purpose is aligned with your business, more profit also means more social impact.
How do you align your purpose with your business when it comes to e-commerce?
We’re all scared of doing this the wrong way...but it’s a learning process.
Consider the negative impacts and side effects of your business.
What are the benefits of the Theory of Change Framework?
How do we communicate our positive impact to customers?
Consider the power of a clear, compelling story that conveys your purpose.
How do we deal with the challenges of greenwashing (and other forms of “washing”)?
Don’t project perfection, but be honest and realistic about how much impact you can make right now.
Welcome to the only actionable podcast to help you unpack your marketing and run a business that gives a shit. I'm your host Siobhan and this is Marketing and today we discussed purpose, or more specifically your social and environmental purpose and how it can help you marketing with Fiona Ross Jones. Let's do this. Fiona. How do we unpack marketing?
Well, there's a lot to be unpacked. But one of the main things for me is for people to stop greenwashing and understand what a social environmental purpose really is, and how it impacts your business.
Okay, so you've just said a lot of things that we need to unpack. We've got greenwashing social and environmental purpose. Where do we want to start? Let's start with purpose because I think we need to understand that before we discuss greenwashing. Can you just walk us through that a bit?
Yeah, sure. So a company's purpose is well the classic answer is there why? And I'm sure everyone's kind of watched this Simon Sinek TED talk on it here. You know, like looking at it really, it's, it's what the company is for beyond making a profit. And when it comes to a social or environmental impact, it's thinking about that in relation to the business and thinking about how that can be integrated right the way throughout. So I like to use the framework of you know, it's something you love something you're great at something you're paid for, and something the world needs and, and really your whole aim as a company then becomes to profitably deliver that purpose. It's not some kind of cause add on, or something to be developed in, you know, by a marketing team. It needs to run through every single thing you do. Everyone in the company, every one of your customers suppliers need to understand how they're a part of it and how they're contributing to it.
So then, if that's the purpose, right, is everything that goes beyond kind of a profit, let's say, Why do marketers think it's so important to have a purpose? Or like, how does that even help us? Because everyone's talking about it, right? Everyone's saying we do this and we plant trees here and I'm sure we can get there later as to why that might not work. But what is the reason marketers think they need to have a purpose.
I'm having a lot of benefits to having a purpose. I think, you know, from a marketing and sales perspective, we can kind of start there. You know, customers want to buy from companies that they believe in doing it. People are a lot more environmentally and socially aware than they were. Edelman survey demonstrated that 80% of people want brands to solve society's problems. There's loads of statistics around it, but so that from a sales perspective is compelling. But I think you know, there's also a lot of other benefits to the business in terms of attracting and retaining talent. Investors want to invest in these companies that having a positive impact, you know, they see that kind of long term perspective and the potential there. There's the opportunity to differentiate and tell a clear story. Innovation that there's lots of benefits to doing it. And unfortunately, sometimes this has been taken the wrong way. And and led to greenwashing because people have tried to make shortcuts. And and yeah, and that has damaged the companies who are really genuinely delivering it and doing it.
So before we touch on greenwashing, what, you know, if there are so many benefits, and if they are proven with data and everything and everyone knows about these benefits, then why aren't more people working on a purpose? What's holding them back?
I think a lot of people are, but I think that a lot is complicated. I think it's complicated to do. And I mean, I'll guess I'll talk about doing it. Well, you know, like first of all is, is you know, really behind every good purpose. Is a clearly defined problem to be solved. And it's something that you really need to understand thoroughly in order to make a real impact on it and understand how that relates to your business and what you're doing. And I think that it takes work to do it properly, but the rewards are many as we've just discussed, but I think there's there's challenges around around it, particularly in terms of how people might be perceived if they are doing it wrong, which kind of goes back to the greenwashing really, which I think why some people steer clear of it.
So what's the how's the right way to do it? Tell us the right way. To have a purpose or work with a purpose or market according to a purpose.
So I think, you know, as I said, the most important thing is to understand the problem behind your purpose. You know that what is it that you're actually trying to solve?
Can you give us an example to like a purpose and the problem behind it so we can kind of understand that better?
Yeah, so I think a couple that I really like everyone on now is, uh, say Tony's chuckle only, you know, that they're really trying to solve modern slavery and the supply chain. So that's their, the overall problem they're trying to solve and their purpose is, you know that 100% Chocolate is 100% safe free and that's the norm in chocolate. You've then also got a really nice one like Ella's kitchen children's food brand. And you know, the challenge that they're working on there in the UK is that like, by the time the kids start school, one in five of them are going to be overweight or obese. And the purpose is to improve children's lives through developing healthy relationships with food. So, understanding a really clearly defined measurable problem, but also kind of like that, how that relates to your business. And, you know, and kind of defining the scale at which you want to approach it thinking about the entry point, you're going to kind of come at it, and your whole approach takes work.
So yeah, and it's, it's good like she had the problem and that clearly, the purpose kind of really fits well with that and then you said that the problem is measurable, but how do you really measure for that purpose even outside of marketing like I'm sure people volunteer or my provide good foods, such as Ella's kitchen does for kids. But how do you measure this and, and taking it even further, how do you mark it? The purpose and then measure it?
Lots of really good questions. In there. So I'll start with like how you measure it and you know to say there's, there's no precise science behind it like overall, but there's definitely really strong ways that you can do it. I'd recommend looking at something called a theory of change framework, to really to help you understand, like, what is the change you actually want to bring about? Who are the people you want to influence what do you want them to do? And once you've defined like the overall impact that you want to have on the problem, what you want to achieve with your purpose, have a think about okay, well what are the prerequisites like what needs to happen in order for me to achieve that purpose? And then work out how to make that as measurable as possible, you know, things that, you know, around that like is often awareness raising, there might be lobbying, there might be volunteering involved, but with a really good social environmental purpose for a company. It also links to products sold, or services sold. And I think that that's a really important distinction to be made, where you've got a positive unit where you've got a social or environmental purpose, more products or services you sell, the more impact you create, and there needs to be that full alignment.
Do you have a good example of where that actually that alignment happens? Because so with ls kitchen I can kind of see it you know, you're selling baby food, let's say and toddler food that that aligns with this idea of having good food so the children aren't obese. But let's take a more extreme and maybe even service industry example if you have one where the service they provide aligns with their purpose and has that impact.
Okay, so I'm working with wholegrain digital web design agency, based in London, and their overall prep, I won't be able to get it exactly right in my head now because we're just finalizing it but the problem that trying to tackle is website carbon, essentially. So again, hopefully I'm gonna get this statistic right. But it's it's something like if the internet were a country, it would be the biggest polluter in the world. And, and so that's something that they're trying to tackle through making the internet lower carbon now, what they do in that sense, as you know, essentially, they sell websites, they sell low carbon websites for every website, they sell, they're reducing carbon. They also do a lot of other really amazing things. Like you know, they've written a book on sustainable web design. There's an online carbon calculator that you can type in your website and it comes out of that showing you how carbon intensive your website is, benchmarking into other websites and giving you tips on how to reduce it. They do talks, lobbying, like all kinds of things to affect the industry, which is also great marketing as alongside that awareness raising, but you know, essentially, they are selling low carbon websites. And for every one of those, they're able to measure the reduction in carbon produced. So
I like that example. Because in a service industry, I think sometimes it's hard to kind of relate to the purpose. So wholegrain it was a great example. But then let's just switch completely to the opposite to E commerce where I'm sure this is where we see a lot of greenwashing. We see it in other places as well. I see it there a lot. But can you use a good example of how a purpose can align with an e Commerce Industry? It just feels a bit foreign to me because ecommerce is so profit driven and you've got so much of this past passion, etc. So how do people address things there?
Give me an idea of a view. Give me an example of an E commerce company I'll try and talk through how they might do it.
Yeah, so I mean, there are various ecommerce companies are the ones that bothered me a little bit which I'm sure it's it's a finicky subject though. I like the the swimsuits made out of recycled plastic. But really what they do is every time you use them or wear them they believe microplastics back into the environment. So that feels a little bit backwards to me. Granted, I don't think they started out like that right. I thought that they were doing the right thing. So they're I feel like they have a clear purpose. They want to get the fishing nets and recycle and the plastics out of the sea. And they're selling bathing suits to do that. That makes sense and I can understand the impact but then there are a lot of these companies out there who say, for every purchase, you know, buy from us every pair of pants you buy from us out of let's say, cotton, we donate to this fund and it's like usually some Children's Fund or something. So I feel like a disconnect there. So how can a company like that come up with a purpose that aligns with their clothing?
So I think this Yeah, that's a really good example. And there's a lot in there. I think that, you know, something that I wanted to say was like, the whole process is a journey. When we're talking about you know, those swimwear brands and you know, like from recycled plastic, and it's releasing like, but it's like, nobody's perfect. Like there are no perfect solutions in this space. And I kind of wanted to make that really clear, because I think that a lot of people are scared to go into this space and make these changes because they're scared of doing the wrong thing. You are going to do the wrong thing. We're all doing the wrong thing. But it's a learning process. And I think that that's a really important thing to remember through that process and a lot of those companies are taking those steps going forwards. And if we're if we're kind of looking at a I forgotten what company gave me as an example, I
didn't give you a specific company, just an e commerce Store, a store that was selling, let's say cotton sweatpants or joggers.
Oh, yeah. So thinking about that way you've got I mean, it's interesting. So I guess that is a design to give impact business model. It is an impact business model, essentially, you know, like every item that they've sold, they are producing some kind of positive impact, but it's not fully aligned with the business of it's not related to what they're doing. And I think that that's really key as well. So you know, if you think about what you know, it's really Yeah, to be authentic. You also need to look at the impact that your business is creating. That's like environmentally and socially have a look at your supply chain. Have a look at you know how you're treating your workers have a think about you know, broader impacts to your local community, like every industry, and every business will have negative impacts. To ignore those, I think is a real shame and kind of lacks authenticity when then it's like ignoring those but doing something good for an external cause. I'm not saying that it's a bad thing to be giving that money to charity, I think it's, you know, is really admirable. But at the same time, I think it could be more aligned for purpose and it could help drive the company forward. A lot more. So if I were that company, I would take a look at those impacts take stock and you know, like a great way to start to do that is to maybe use the B Corp, B impact assessments completely free. So way to really like, understand and measure the impact that you have across your business from governance to workers, community environment and your customers. And really, you know, take stock and have a think about well, how can we tackle some of these negative impacts? How could we, how could we improve some of the the impact through what we deliver and take it from there?
So ultimately, is that what the theory have changed and helps you do that framework it allows you to understand where you can have an impact closer to home that aligns with your business? Is that the purpose of that framework?
I think they kind of the, the theory of change is great in a lot of ways. I think there's a lot of benefits overall. It's you know, it's a narrative to help understand and explain and test your your impact overall, it makes it make sense it helps you focus, it helps you make decisions, communicate with your team, what you're trying to achieve, communicate with your customers. It's an incredible tool for for a lot of reasons. And I think thinking about ways that you can build in multiple levels of levels of value throughout your business as well to maximize opportunities for growth, if it's there in you know, like in black and white and the diagram is so much clearer to see how you can build in levels of value. So I'd say that's the kind of main yeah, those are the main benefits behind having a theory of change.
So then, let's say a company like the E commerce company has done the B Impact Assessment just to get an idea as to what kind of impact they have more internally as well as within their community. And they've also gone through this process of a theory of change. How do they market that? Well, because as a consumer, right, it's easy to say Oh, everything I buy it's going to go to some charity. It's something you can grasp, right? It's something I can say, Okay, five bucks, I did something good. It makes me feel good as a consumer. So how can you get someone or or do you see pushback here when people want to feel good? Like from a marketing perspective, that's easy to sell. But if you're gonna say, oh, when all of our cotton is done at a company where they get maternity leave and insurance and everyone's treated well, that's not that easy of a selling point.
Yeah. So I think that there's a couple of layers in in there. So like one is through doing the B impact assessment, I think it's a really good way to kind of like understand that that broadly across your business. I think it's really hard for businesses to authentically communicate their impact in a lot of ways because of the greenwashing. I've kind of mentioned that a couple of times. I'm going to come back to it. I think that we don't have any any way of kind of telling if so it just distracted by your dog there.
Yeah, he got excited about something.
So yeah, I think it's hard to communicate all of those impacts. And, you know, unless you're like me and Impact Report geek, you probably you know, not going to kind of dig deeper and I think that's where the B Corp assessment and certification comes in. It's really useful. You know, I had one client say, Oh, wow, this is amazing. It's a badge basically saying we're not assholes. You know, from that, that outset. There's some kind of certification again, it's not perfect. It's not the kind of an overall perfect fit, to say everything but it's a really good indication that a company is considering their impact right the way through their organization. So I think that that's a really useful tool on that front and you can tell deeper stories through it. But having that one clear purpose with, you know, gives you a story to tell and you know, part of you solving that problem to achieve your purpose is worth raising awareness around a cause that makes sense for your business. So, you know, we've given the example of Tony Chuck Langley, you know, they talk about slavery and chocolate a lot and they talk you know, and they find ways to engage their customers engage partners, in that narrative, as part of that really clear, compelling story is authentic, it makes sense. You know, it runs through our, you know, you've got the ability that so there's a water bottle company, like a you know, reusable water bottle company called Dopper. And their tagline is the message is the bottle which is really nice. I think, you know, the whole thing is about, you know, reducing ocean plastic. They tell that story to raise that awareness but very much linked to their product. It makes perfect sense with their product. And so, you know, in that marketing, you're raising awareness of the piece, you're attracting customers, engaging customers in the issue, helping them and supporting them to take action for you to achieve that overall purpose alongside selling your products and service, which is achieving that. And so it's all interlinked, whereas with this, you know, with the E commerce business where they've got some kind of, you know, cotton, cotton, where then they're donating to a children's charity, they don't have the clarity of that story. You know, why are they telling the, you know, like, why are they donating to those children? How does that actually relate to the, you know, the clothing that they're selling? It doesn't make sense. There's that disconnect, and it kind of lacks that, that authenticity. So it's harder to go out there with that one clear message and, and come across to as authentic to the consumer because I think, you know, they are, you know, consumers are getting more and more savvy around these things. You know, they want that, that authenticity. They want that clarity, and they want to, you know, they want to know like, what they can do and how they can take take action beyond just giving money to charities and causes.
Okay, so I think I've got a good grasp on this. And I want to just go back to something you've mentioned now a few times which is this whole idea of greenwashing. And how what you specifically said was that people who are doing good are afraid to market it because they come off as greenwashing. So, explain that a little bit because I so I see greenwashing a lot, I don't like it, but I definitely didn't think it was holding people back. So I'd love to know a little bit more about that.
Yeah, I think I think if you're authentically delivering impact, you know, I mean, you know, I don't think that a lot of the big players who are doing it really well. I don't think it's holding them back. You know, and I've given several examples of companies who are doing it really effectively but it's not but a lot of my clients and people that I chat to, are concerned about standing up above the parapet, like standing out for their cause and what they're doing and then being shouted down and and kind of being attacked for you know, for doing these things. And you know, like referring back to what I said before there is there are no perfect solutions to the social environmental challenges. All we can do is do our best until we know better. But it's scary because a lot of people are being attacked for greenwashing when they're not. And it takes it takes a lot to kind of stand out and I think as well that you know those companies who really want to do it in a really doing it for the right reasons. Sometimes they don't share their social environmental credentials, because they don't want that to take away from the product or feel like it's, you know, they're kind of manipulating the, the good, the good that they're doing or you know that this this kind of feels inauthentic in some way. And I think that's a huge problem because it then means that those companies that are doing good, aren't using all their levers to grow. And I really want to see these companies growing outperform, you know, outperforming their competitors and changing their industries as the yeah, there's a big problem with it.
That's interesting. And then let's talk about greenwashing itself and the problem of greenwashing because it's come up now, I don't know how often within 20 minutes, the word greenwashing keeps coming up. So talk to me a little bit about the impact of greenwashing, but also how somebody or a marketer, let's say who is aware that the company has been watching or that they are just putting a spin on things to sell things from a marketing angle, can maybe even improve that or slowly start implementing a change?
So I think that's a really good point, like marketers do have a lot of power within within their organization. First and foremost is kind of understanding the whole thing like you know what, yeah, what is greenwashing? There's like purpose washing cause washing has all these different terms for it. But basically, we're talking about people overstating their social or environmental impact for the benefit of making sales. And I think that there needs to be that questioning, like, why are we using a social or environmental cause to do that? And when it comes to, you know, the companies claiming to have a purpose, you know, is it actually being measured, you know, like, are they clear minded? Has it been thought through? Can you genuinely say that the aim of the organization is to profitably deliver that purpose? So, I think, you know, from the purpose perspective, I think those are some really important questions to start asking. I think it is interesting as well. So there's in the UK, there's new legislation that's been brought out with the green claims code. And that's, it was brought out in January of this year. And that actually kind of gives powers for companies to be prosecuted or ads removed that are found to be greenwashing. So the green claims Code website is quite an interesting place to start. To understand APO greenwashing and help you identify if that's happening, like from a marketer, you know, like from a marketing perspective, though thinking about you know, how you can, how you can do it I think the first question is kind of like what like, why are using, like the social environmental stuff to sell, what are the benefits and start to have a think about, well, what are the negative social environmental impacts of our industry, and what we're doing and maybe just kind of like, have a look at one of those look inside, you know, like, have a look at one of those, and think, Well, maybe how could we start to talk about this and kind of tackle this, let's try and look at that problem and see how we can solve it. And, you know, a lot of times there's other people that are already working on it, other businesses who want to collaborate and thinking about that. So I think that if you want to really start making a positive social environmental impact and using it in your marketing, I think that's really important. And also just being really honest, like, you know, some of the best advertising I've seen, says, We're not perfect, we're not doing it, right. You know, like, you know, in this space, like, we're learning, you know, the haglofs we're carbon neutral, but we treat we cheated to get their videos great example of that. They're really honest about like, what they're actually doing, the lengths they've gone to to reduce their carbon, but they feel for various reasons that they explained that they can't do it now, and that they're working towards it. And in the meantime, they're going to offset the carbon till they reach their end goal. And it's a it's an amazing kind of educational piece as well. You know, it's like three and a half minute video explains what carbon neutral is explained, you know, explains the whole thing, their reasoning behind it and people love it. That kind of honesty because I think if in marketing where it's kind of shown or like, black and white, like we're perfect, we're wonderful with this that near that like people don't believe it. Anyway, people are going to start doubting it anyway. So you know, think about how you can be honest and be transparent through that.
Great, that's that sounds really amazing. And I want to leave it there. I just have one last question closing Can you tell us where we can find you online?
Sure. It's make impact.co.uk or you can come and follow me on LinkedIn, which is Fiona RAs, R EY s hyphen Jones, J o n e s Thank you really enjoy session you.
Thank you Fiona, and thank you for listening to marketing on fact, all resources mentioned in today's show can be found in the show notes. If you'd like to show leave us a review or send me some feedback. We will not see you in two weeks. This is the season closer. We will see you again in September in all new format.