Chip Walker has spent a lot of time bringing the concept of goal to life for corporate clients from his role as chief strategy officer for marketing and design agency StrawberryFrog, Chip Walker with Scott Goodson, the agency’s CEO. and its co-author. on “Activate the brand objective”.
I recently zoomed in with Chip to learn more about the central ideas behind the book and key lessons from the Purpose Power Index 2021, a fascinating study they collaborated on.
Q: What do you mean by objective? I have found the term to be so overused in business circles that it hardly makes sense. I admire the way you have broken it down into components.
A: For me, the simplest way to think of a higher goal is that is why a business or organization exists beyond money. If you want to get more specific, we’ve actually done a lot of quantitative analysis with a research company called RepTrak looking at the data on how the public perceives companies they see as having a higher focus. And there were four characteristics that stood out. First, it is a business driven by more than profit, second that it improves people’s lives, that it does things that benefit society, not just shareholders, and finally that it is committed to change the world for the better.
Q: In the book, you say that most companies are lousy at activating their goal initiatives beyond a tagline and some one-off activities like pledge and donation announcements. What are the necessary steps to avoid this trap?
A: Clarity of purpose is the foundation. As a leader, you and your people need to be clear about the higher purpose of your business. Which sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many companies have statements of intent that none of their employees can duplicate, let alone any of their customers. If people have no idea what your higher goal is, it’s over.
Another important factor is the willingness to be bold. Even if employees and customers know what the primary purpose of your business is, but don’t see you doing anything other than business for a living, they probably won’t give you much credit.
The other big deal is story – specifically telling a complete “goal story”. For employees and customers alike, the goal is not just a “why” statement about your business. It’s a story in their minds about your whole business and how it operates and lives in the world. Your business might be doing a ton of things to make the world a better place, but if it hasn’t paid income taxes in a decade, it’s a big wake-up call to people, a ‘hole’ in your story. They want to see you living out your purpose in the fullest way possible – through the products and solutions you create, in the way you treat the planet, the way you treat communities, etc. programs or initiatives.
Q: To successfully embody the brand’s purpose, you advocate the importance of movement thinking rather than relying solely on top-down mandates. What do you mean?
A: It’s the difference between leaders who tell employees “do this because I say it” and make them do something because they really want to. Movement Thinking uses the principles behind successful societal movements like #MeToo or #BLM to galvanize people. The thought of movement indeed reframes the purpose of your business or brand in a way that people can easily understand and want to participate in. It helps achieve a desired change by rallying people around a common enemy and a cause that moves them emotionally and leads them to action. This is because people can’t really join a goal, but they can join a movement inspired by a goal.
Like traditional brand positioning, Movement Thinking is a framing tool, a way of contextualizing a brand’s place in the world, and therefore its identity. It is a way of bringing about a particular change that we would like to see in the world in a grievance that needs to be dealt with, a wrong that needs to be righted, and a position that we are motivated to take in order to get it right. .
Q: Can you cite any examples of companies that have successfully activated the brand goal? What are some of the actions they’ve taken that tell you they’ve gone beyond the “window dressing” approach?
A: A good example is one of our clients, SunTrust Bank, which recently merged with BB&T to become Truist. SunTrust came to us several years ago with a higher goal that they had articulated as “to light the way to financial well-being”. We used this as a starting point to create the “onUp” movement, which was a stand against the financial anxiety felt by so many Americans every day, and a stand to help make more Americans financially confident.
SunTrust first started onUp internally with a program to make its employees more financially confident themselves, and it was so successful that it quickly became part of the corporate culture. The Bank then rolled out a program called “Momentum onUp” which provided financial education to employees of some of its large customers like UPS and Delta Airlines. onUp has even invaded the company’s external marketing with communications campaigns such as “Trust starts here”. More than 6 million people have joined the onUp movement since its inception, and the number of employee hires and retention has risen sharply, even as the bank’s financial situation has improved.
Q: You recently published the Purpose Power Index 2021, an interesting study of which companies the public sees as goal-driven. What do you think are the most important conclusions of this study?
A: We’ve seen so many surprising things, but here are four big ones.
1. It is really difficult to be seen by the public as being motivated by a goal. Of the more than 200 companies we surveyed, the vast majority are NOT considered to be motivated by a higher goal, and in reality only a few were considered “stars”.
2. That said, a higher goal seems to be open to ANYONE who makes a serious effort. When we did this study in 2019, before the pandemic, key goal leaders tended to be smaller companies born out of goals like 7e Generation, Method and TOMS shoes. In 2021, everything exploded and we saw companies from all walks of life getting credit for higher goals, many of which are quite large. These included big tech innovators like Tesla and SpaceX, corporate giants like UPS, Clorox and Kimberly Clark, and former big pharmaceutical brands like GSK and Pfizer.
3. Social activism is probably the last place a business should start on its journey towards a goal. While the social crusade from brands like Nike and Patagonia receives a lot of attention due to the controversy it sparks, it’s not the most important thing for consumers. More than social activism, they value – in that order – making products that improve the world, innovative solutions that advance humanity, help care for the planet, and support employees and communities.