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    CMOs at Ford, Chipotle, AB InBev on reimagining purpose marketing

    Purpose-driven marketing is evolving for more engaged, demanding audiences and a more challenging future. 

    At an event in Orlando, Florida today hosted by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), leaders from top consumer brands including Ford, Chipotle and AB InBev – the owners of top beer labels like Budweiser, Corona, Stella Artois and more – assembled to talk values-based marketing. 

    Largely, participants agreed that leaning on a canned ‘mission’ or ‘purpose’ statement no longer cuts it. True brand purpose – which plays a major role in consumers’ real-life decision-making, as consumers are four times more likely to buy from a brand with a strong purpose, per Zeno Group research – requires taking meaningful internal and external action to embody stated values.  

    Here are the core takeaways from the conversations.

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    1. Real purpose requires a genuine, two-way dialogue

    It’s simple enough for a brand to publicize their values – and even to act on them. What pushed a brand to the next level of purpose is engaging in open conversation with consumers. 

    As Marcel Marcondes, global chief marketing officer at AB InBev put it: “We need to understand what our brand stands for and we need to understand what people care about. And whenever there is a clear problem to be addressed in that intersection, this is when we act. If we just talk about what we stand for, we’re talking to ourselves; if we just talk about what people care about, we’re chasing culture – and sometimes brand step into places that they don’t belong when they do that. The intersection is the key.” 

    For the beer behemoth, Marcondes explained, this insight drives creative strategy and decision-making. 

    In a recent example, AB InBev launched a major campaign for Michelob Ultra that not only expressed the brand’s values of representing a more health-conscious lifestyle but also spoke to consumers’ passion for gender equity in sports – by engaging fans in a unique way. The brand went on a mission to ‘hack’ the Instagram algorithm – by asking consumers to tap the ‘favorite’ button (which looks suspiciously like a design element in Michelob Ultra’s own logo) on posts highlighting female athletes. By doing so, the brand was able to give these posts preference in users’ feeds.

    “This is not only a consumer problem, but this is also something that … the brand stands for. Michelob Ultra is a beer that stands for an active lifestyle. It is a beer that has great taste, but with low carbs and calories, so that … you can work out and – not or – hang out,” explained Marcondes. “We support Serena Williams, we support female athletes, we create running clubs. Michelob Ultra has a huge platform for gender equality … [and this campaign helped to] start changing everything that we see in our cell phones every day, so that female athletes can have a higher share of [the pie].”

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    2. Purpose can’t be a marketing function alone; it should integrate with business strategy

    Unfortunately, it’s easy to mistake purpose with strategy, suggested Ford’s global chief marketing officer Suzy Deering. “Very often, you’ll hear companies talk about, like, ‘Well, we have a business strategy – that’s our purpose.’ No. Purpose needs to be long-lasting. Our business strategy … needs to be guided by our purpose.”

    She went on to explain that purpose must remain steadfast – but be used to inform an evolving business strategy. Strategy will always be changing depending on a variety of contextual factors. 

    At the automaker, Deering said that Henry Ford himself defined a solid purpose for the organization. “From the very beginning,” she argued, “he was a tireless innovator. He was very competitive … and he recommended that the way that a company operates is as important as the product itself. And that’s been in our DNA from the very beginning. It’s about trusting, it’s about understanding … that sometimes it may cost more in the short -term, but that long-term gain of creating extra trust and responsibility [is worthwhile].” 

    That focus on trust and responsibility has driven (no pun intended) the organization’s business strategy over the last 119 years, even as it pivoted drastically to accommodate new demands brought on by the pandemic. As the organization grappled with supply chain turmoil and economic uncertainties, it was forced to adapt its strategies and operations in major ways. It joined other industrial manufacturers in producing personal protective equipment to address public health needs in early 2020. 

    “How authentic you are is critical,” said Deering. “It’s always been in our DNA. This has been in our hearts or minds; it’s been in the hallways; it’s just been part of our true heritage.”

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    3. Stay committed – even through scrutiny and hardship

    Chipotle was founded on the principle of delivering ‘real food’ – not only nutritious, but also sustainably and fairly sourced and free of artificial flavors, colors and preservatives. It was an idea that founder and chef Steve Ells developed into a full-fledged philosophy called “food with integrity.”

    From its founding in 1993 through 2015, the restaurant chain saw rapid growth. But then something happened: it was slapped with a $25m fine for violating food safety laws. The news ushered in a wave of bad press. Growth slowed and sales dropped. But worst of all, said chief marketing officer Chris Brandt, Chipotle “lost some of its [consumer] confidence.”

    But then, the brand dusted itself off. It determined that the best way through the backlash was with a renewed and ongoing commitment to its purpose – to serve good food that’s good for people and the planet. 

    Brandt said that Chipotle decided “to bring our purpose to life across the business.” It invested more in career development for employees. It debuted a fundraising program to support local community initiatives to the tune of $10m per year. During the pandemic, Chipotle launched its ‘Roundup for Real Change’ effort, which enables consumers to round up their digital order total to support various charities. Plus, it rolled out an in-app tool that shows consumers how their individual orders positively impact the planet, with metrics on carbon impact, the use of antibiotics and the volume of water used. 

    Perhaps most notably, Chipotle has remained true to its purpose by continuous investment in its food and ingredient sourcers. It’s funneled major dollars into helping the next generation of farmers go organic. “One of the biggest things that separates Chipotle from everyone else is our sourcing. Were the toughest animal welfare standards in the industry. We believe in organic, and support farmers in transitioning away from harmful pesticides. And we want to support the next generation of young farmers in producing responsibly-raised food.”

    Today, Chipotle spends close to $400m more annually for responsibly-sourced ingredients than it would cost to buy those ingredients conventionally. “All of these principles of integrity and our commitment to our communities and our passion for sustainability,” said Brandt, “all come together in a single brand purpose … [which] we call ‘cultivating a better world.’” 

    For more, sign up for The Drum’s daily US newsletter here.

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