Why no one else cares about your corporate purpose, and what to do about it

Using digital to communicate purpose effectively.

Your company has just announced its brand new “purpose”. It took a long time to come up with, and the whole process was very political, but the CEO finally signed off and pushed it over the line. 

After all the effort, does anyone beyond the inner circle that worked on it actually care? 

The sad truth is, probably not.

But your job is to spread the word on the company’s digital channels. You have to get people to relate to the corporate purpose, make it real and help them believe it.

Maybe you are lucky, and your company’s purpose is sincere, specific and speaks to customers, employees, investors and other stakeholders about why the company exists, beyond making money. Or maybe it is full of platitudes, plays it too safe and doesn’t connect with your audiences.

Either way, I want to share five approaches that the best corporate digital communicators in the world adopt to bring their company’s purpose to life on digital channels, which will be useful whether you think yours is inspiring or humdrum, or somewhere in between.

Don’t hit people over the head

Keep it subtle. Even if your purpose statement is authentic and convincing, repeating it verbatim 10 times on the corporate website home page without context is bound to annoy people, even your natural supporters. And if your stakeholders are already sceptical, seeing the purpose on every page of the website and in every other tweet will aggravate them even more.

Do connect the purpose to action

It can be a fine line between overkill and subtlety, but UK-based pharmaceutical company GSK treads it well. It connects its purpose – “to unite science, technology and talent to get ahead of disease together” – convincingly to concrete activities happening across the business, such as research & development and corporate responsibility. The European Central Bank manages to weave its purpose – “We keep prices stable and your money safe” – seamlessly into its online description of what the bank does in the real world.

Employ your employees

Even the most clichéd corporate purpose will have some truth to it for someone, somewhere in the organization. You must find where that is and tell a compelling story – ideally through the real words of people on the front line of your business.

On social media, break the purpose down to specifics

Swiss food giant Nestlé is great at this. The company’s corporate Twitter page states Nestlé’s purpose at the top – “Unlocking the power of food to enhance quality of life for everyone, today and for generations to come” – but individual tweets talk about regenerative farming, sustainable coffee and innovation in food science.

Remember to play defence

This one isn’t related directly to communicating the company’s purpose, but vitally important for convincing sceptics. Imagine your company is in the middle of an ethics scandal and the first thing visitors see when they land on the corporate website home page is a glossy purpose statement. To stop people thinking “yeah, right” – including your own employees – you need to be addressing the scandal somewhere prominent and relating it back to why you fell short and will do better next time. No one expects perfection but they do want honest communication.

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    Our Bowen Craggs Club membership has enabled us to benchmark all aspects of our digital presence against global all-sector best practice, share lessons and ideas with peers, and get both quick-win and longer term recommendations for improvement. Bowen Craggs is also providing us with valuable advice on our approach to online communications following the acquisition of G4S by Allied Universal.”
     

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