The FQ Panel at SXSW: Aligning Corporate Purpose with Marketing Success

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Having a corporate purpose is not a new idea -- but how corporations align that purpose with their marketing messages is still a struggle. The value and importance of aligning brand equity to a clearly defined purpose was one of 31 panel discussions organized by The Female Quotient (FQ) at South by Southwest (SXSW).

The panel, Aligning Corporate Purpose with Marketing Success, was moderated by Caroline Dettman, Chief Marketing and Creative Officer at The Female Quotient. Her panelists included Alexis Schwartz, Executive Director, Head, Purpose Partnerships, The Guardian U.S.; Michelle Diedrick, Vice President, Field Marketing Central Division, Spectrum Reach; Maria Weaver, President, WMX, Warner Music Group, and Aliah Davis-McHenry, Executive Director, Global Corporate Marketing and Creative, Bristol Myers Squibb (pictured left to right at top).

In recent years, the importance of a brand supporting a purpose that links to a social or environmental issue has become more prevalent. In this area, there are some obvious success stories. When Dettman asked the panel which brands were getting this alignment right, the first that came to mind for the panelists was the outdoor clothing brand Patagonia. From their "Don't Buy This Jacket" campaign to their most recent announcement of founder Yvon Chouinard relinquishing his ownership in the business and directing its profits to fight climate change, Patagonia has always stood out for their bold stance on environmental issues. The cosmetic brand Lush was another one top of mind for panelists. From their clear stance on not testing on animals to sustainability efforts throughout their supply chain to inactivity on social media to support for mental health initiatives, they are another company who has always been vocal in their stance on social and environmental issues. Other brands top of mind for panelists were TOMs, Bombas and Dove.

When it comes to successfully aligning corporate purpose with marketing success, the panelists agreed that there were a few keys to success -- the most important being authenticity. "Communication and talking to both the internal and external consumer are important," said Schwartz. Another important part of being authentic was being a good listener, added Diedrick.

Corporate purpose doesn't always have to be about tackling a huge issue like climate change. But it should be something that can have a meaningful impact, Weaver said. She went on to share an example of how her division focuses on Human Rights because that's an area where they can have meaningful impact by choosing what merchandising they source and how they do so.

Schwartz added that corporate purpose seeps into everything the Guardian does, from not having a paywall because it breeds inequity in the ability to deliver independent journalism to not accepting advertising from fossil fuel companies as part of the Guardian's climate pledge.

Another key to successfully aligning purpose and brand is connection. Diedrick shared how communities thrive when people connect. Spectrum Reach does this through their Pay It Forward program that provides complimentary TV advertising campaigns and commercial development for selected multicultural small businesses. Bristol Myers Squibb brought the idea of connection to life through LIVING, a documentary featuring six people from around the world who have little in common except their desire to bravely face disease and boldly continue living. The film premiered at SXSW on Monday.

"At The Guardian, our employees say, 'Every day is Earth Day.' 'Every day is Women's History Month'," Schwartz said. A successful way they've been able to bring attention to these moments is through consistent editorial reporting. This way, moments like World Refugee Day receive attention too, instead of only key moments like Giving Tuesday or Black History Month.

"Employees are the best marketers that companies have," Dettman declared.

A theme throughout the discussion and a clear key to success was a focus on internal communication. "Foundationally, you have to start with your employees and showcase that you are living those values internally before you ever put anything out externally," Diedrick explained.

When it came to measurement and proving out success, each panelist had a different point of view and measurement tactic based on where their company's purpose initiatives are concentrated.

Spectrum Reach focuses their purposeful activities in the exact same way that they focus their business activities. When done that way, Diedrick felt it was important to also align and use the same business metrics such as engagement and conversion. "That's what makes it authentic and genuine," she said. A framework of accountability is also important, added Davis-McHenry. Another key measurement tool was internal surveys, particularly for Warner Music Group, which focuses their efforts on employee purpose initiatives.

At the end of the panel, the women agreed that next year their hope is that they are talking about more brands that are authenticity connecting purpose and marketing success.

Held at the Waller Boathouse, FQ turned the space into a place women leaders and entrepreneurs could connect. In addition to the panels, the space offered free drinks, a candy bar, and activations like getting a mini makeover, monogramming a notebook, hat making and hand massages. Throughout each activation, signage asked equity questions like, "Wouldn't it be sweet to close the pay gap in less than 132 years?" They also invited a Girl Scout troop -- the ultimate example of up-and-coming female entrepreneurs -- to sell girl scout cookies.

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