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February, 2024

Lessons from Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty: Unilever marketers forgot product in ‘purpose’ mission; ESG now corporate ‘Voldemort’ but employee, stakeholder strategies a ‘massive opportunity’ for marketing influence in c-suite – Institute for Real Growth

By: admin

What you need to know:

  • Massive global study interviewing CEOs, CFOs, CCOs, CMOs and HR chiefs finds significant differences in revenue and value creation between firms that map out corporate purpose and align all stakeholders – i.e. staff, customers, community and shareholders.
  • Over-performers have cross-functional strategies and collaboration. Marketers can lead much of that collaboration – both within the company and externally – reckons Institute for Real Growth founder, Marc de Swaan Arons, and gain greater credibility and responsibility within the upper echelons.
  • The challenge is doing it without “land grabbing”, but he cites examples of marketers that are nailing that approach.
  • Purpose lies at the heart of the IRG’s “Humanised Growth” agenda. But genuine business purpose, not the cause marketing stuff that has acquired “Voldemort” status among corporates in that it shall not be spoken of.
  • Proper purpose, he says, can align all stakeholders and act as a filter for better business decisions, a revenue net positive rather than a potential reputational risk.
  • Marketers might baulk at the idea of taking on more responsibility given exploding remits, but de Swaan Arons suggests its up to CMOs to use their teams to do the trench work if they want to be strategic leaders rather than tactical firefighters.
  • There’s always more in the podcast. Get the full download here.

Companies have gone overboard with all the wokeness and greenwashing … and they have forgotten what they exist for. So now we are seeing the backlash.

Marc de Swaan Arons, Founder, Institute for Real Growth

It’s not often Suncorp’s CMO Mim Haysom is mentioned in the same conversation as Leonardo da Vinci but the latter’s rare ability to combine creative and analytical thinking is what 50 Australian CMOs working with WPP were briefed on recently as the next frontier for business growth and their own professional cred and advancement.

Indeed, Marc de Swaan Arons, a former Unilever marketer who co-founded the non-profit Institute for Real Growth (IRG) – backed globally by Google, Meta, WPP and Tata Consulting – says there’s a ‘massive opportunity’ for marketers to increase influence and impact with executive leadership colleagues via ‘humanised growth’. How? In this instance, it’s by customer-minded marketing bosses offering their strategy and insights nous to help build out divisional and all-of-company stakeholder-employee management blueprints and programs.

Taking that kind of approach may seem fanciful and foreign to already stretched marketing remits but a new global study by IRG across 475 CEOs, CFOs, CMOs and HR leads suggests the notion would be welcomed by company leaders and seen as a credibility enhancer for marketers – if they don’t turn it into a land grab on colleagues.

Suncorp’s Haysom and Piedmont Healthcare’s CMO Douwe Bergsma (US) are already front-running the trend, says de Swaan Arons, who also injects some cool pragmatism into the ESG, DE&I and purpose programs often championed by marketing teams. He cites the raging success and subsequent reality check for marketers working on Dove’s acclaimed Campaign for Real Beauty rollout in 2004 – within two years of that launch, it was in trouble. Purpose had usurped product development.

[Dove’s Campaign for real Beauty was code breaking [when it launched]. But fast forward two years and you've got marketers … who believe that's actually Dove’s reason for being. But they start to forget to mention that actually, it's a moisturising cream. They forget to innovate in the realm of product. ‘We’re here to sell soap’. So there was a relapse, about two years in, where there was a real correction needed.

Marc de Swaan Arons, Founder, Institute for Real Growth

Small wins vs. strategic gains

Marketers have been so busy sprinting to keep up with the pace of change that too many have become tactically-focused rather than strategic. Or as de Swaan Arons puts it, “totally absorbed by how to win” in the short-term versus business-wide “where to play” to drive longer-term growth.

Over time, he says CMOs’ strategic muscle “starts to become weak and at some point, the other business leaders who are having those discussions notice that you’re not showing up for those … and they start to see you less as a business leader, and more as a functional leader. And that’s when suddenly influence starts to wane and the [marketing] discipline gets into danger.”

While marketers are undoubtedly pressured by increased complexity and exploding remits, he sees an opportunity to stop complaining about dwindling boardroom influence and marketer tenures and get on the front foot.

But first marketers leadership peers need to become clear on purpose – theirs and the company’s. That’s one of the first key steps in the Institute for Growth’s ‘Humanised Growth” study, which mapped out the differences between over-performing and underperforming brands for revenue growth and value creation.

Campaign for real purpose

Getting too caught up in the moment versus the bigger business picture has backfired spectacularly for brands. De Swaan Arons says Unilever and more recently, AB InBev, are standout examples of social purpose clouding product-business purpose.

Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, he says, was initially “code-breaking, highly innovative and differentiating business strategy” when it launched. “But fast forward two years and you’ve got marketers, particularly younger marketers on the teams of Dove worldwide, who are highly motivated by this purpose and who think that’s actually Dove’s reason for being. But they start to forget to mention that actually, it’s a moisturising cream. They forget to innovate in the realm of product. So there was a relapse, about two years in, where there was a real correction needed … ‘Remember, we’re here to sell soap and this is our competitive strategy’. That last bit got forgotten by a lot of people,” suggests de Swaan Arons.

“You could even say that that’s exactly where Budweiser Light was six months ago when an inspired marketer honestly thought she was improving the world with the initiatives that she was leading, except they didn’t connect to the core DNA of the company.”

De Swaan Arons thinks that loss of focus is part of the reason ESG is suffering a backlash – particularly in the US. That is, the purpose tail has been allowed by too many to wag the product dog, something P&G CMO Marc Pritchard acknowledged two years ago.

Much of the problem, he suggests, is because ESG (used as an umbrella term for sustainability, purpose and DE&I) has become a metrics game, with businesses rushing to hit ESG targets.

“And so there have been companies that have gone overboard with all the wokeness and greenwashing … and they have forgotten what they exist for. So now we are seeing the backlash, because some of those things lead to bad business results, they lead to accusations … So now in times of economic challenge, suddenly, it is very unsexy to say that you’re doing these things. There is a big ‘but’ … but that is my explanation for the Voldemort effect.”

Locally that Voldemort effect has been compounded by regulatory crackdowns with Australian brands now “terrified” of being taken down by the ACCC and ASIC over greenwash, per AANA boss Josh Faulks. ‘Greenhushing’ has taken its place.

“So many people are jaded on purpose because they saw Target get attacked for its LGBQT activity, or Disney get attacked in Florida [after opposing the ‘Don’t say Gay’ bill], or AB InBev get attacked. They are saying, ‘no, we are staying away, bargepole distance please’,” says de Swaan Arons.

There are exceptions, such as Nike’s backing of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s taking the knee during the national anthem in protest of racial inequality and police brutality.

“He [Kaepernick] was suddenly disliked by half the country. So what does Nike do, because it sells shoes to 100 per cent of the country? It stood by his side. Why? Because Nike has always stood by the athletes … Nike’s board knew that there was only one choice. And they also knew that every employee was on their side. So when they got the flack, everybody stood strong,” says de Swaan Arons.

“Contrast that to AB InBev, who were doing a well-motivated and well-intended outreach to the LGBTQ community with a personalised can of Bud Light. Yes, it’s a nice idea. But guess what, it has nothing to do with the DNA of that company. In fact, most of the people that work there are in the southern and mid-western states, and they are not there. They don’t believe in this at all … They were like, ‘F-you I don’t want this’. So that was a company where there was no backbone, there was no spine, because it wasn’t who they really are.”

You can't please all stakeholders at the same time. You are always going to make someone unhappy when you start to reprioritise how you add value … But one of the key conclusions [of the study] is that when you start to add value for all these other stakeholders, you are crossing silos, crossing functions … And this is where the opportunity lies.

Marc de Swaan Arons, Founder, Institute for Real Growth

Don’t be a lemming

The problem with well-meant ESG, DE&I and purpose efforts is that “sadly, when someone gets something, right, a whole flock of lemmings do the same thing, and do it badly,” says de Swaan Arons. “Look at PepsiCo and Black Lives Matters. ‘I’ll hand the policeman and the protestors both a Pepsi and they will all be friends’. What the fuck? People were getting killed in the streets. It has to be true to who you are as a company. Very few passed that acid test.”

Which is why the Real Growth Institute’s latest study and subsequent report – based on 475 c-suit interviews, and including a deep dive in Australia – places a true understanding of purpose as one of the five drivers of ‘humanised growth’. The study “is not a marketing study,” underlines de Swaan Arons, spanning CEOs, CFOs, CCOs, HR chiefs (CHROs) as well as CMOs, “but in all of those five steps, marketing can help you do better.”

Know thyself – and the HR boss

The first of the five steps is, “know thyself”, says de Swaan Arons. “Where you’ve come from; what you are good at as an organisation; what your people are inspired by; what really is the DNA of an organisation”.

Secondly, “you need to know the stakeholders”, he says, defining those stakeholders as “the four Cs” of colleagues, community, customers and the capital markets, i.e. investors.

The Real Growth Institute’s Humanised Growth report suggests the latter, shareholders, have been prioritised for too long at the expense of broader value creation. Shifting that balance requires a roadmap that integrates all of those four stakeholders – but it’s not an undertaking for the fainthearted and requires a tactful approach.

“You almost can’t please all of them at the same time,” says de Swaan Arons. “You are always going to make someone unhappy when you start to reprioritise how you add value … But one of the key conclusions [of the study] is that when you start to add value for all these other stakeholders, you are crossing silos, crossing functions … And this is where the opportunity lies.”

For marketers that could mean better aligning with HR chiefs to improve employee engagement and comms, essentially saying “I’m not gong to take over, I’m just going to help you be successful”, suggests de Swaan Arons.

“And when you do that, as a marketer … now you’re building boardroom relationships across functions. There’s a McKinsey report from a few years ago that shows a direct correlation between the impact of the CMO when they do that, and their tenure (48 per cent longer, per McKinsey), because basically you’re making lots of buddies who you are making successful, so why would they fire you?”

If [HR chiefs] feel that marketing is land grabbing, they'll go to enormous lengths to explain why marketing is not the right person to help with the employee brand, which we all know is utter rubbish. So you're just bringing what you're good at it, you're applying your muscle in service of others, ultimately in service of the bigger entity.

Marc de Swaan Arons, Founder, Institute for Real Growth

Don’t land-grab, win

Other functions, says de Swaan Arons, are open to that approach provided “they don’t feel it’s a land-grab by marketing to prove how successful and important they are … If they feel that marketing is land-grabbing, they’ll go to enormous lengths to explain why marketing is not the right person to help with employee brands, which we all know is utter rubbish.”

A case study in point is that of Douwe Bergsma, an ex-P&G marketer turned CMO of Georgia-based Piedmont Healthcare (who recently told Mi3 how he unlocked the biggest budget in the $7bn company’s history).

“[Bergsma] went to the CEO and CFO and said ‘I know who my marketing stakeholders are, but as a company we haven’t got an integrated stakeholder map’.” I.e. a single plan that also spans staff, unions, regulators etc.

“’I’ve just learned’, he said, ‘that over-performing organisations have an aligned understanding of all stakeholders… how they impact us and how we impact them – so shall I create an integrated map? I’ve got market research in my group, why don’t I ask them to work with each of the disciplines and just develop an integrated stakeholder map?’” relays de Swaan Arons.

“The CEO said ‘yes please’ and six months on, they’ve got a stakeholder map that they’re now building their corporate strategy on – and Douwe’s at the table,” he adds. “Not only that, but when the Chief Communications Officer left, the CEO said, ‘why don’t you take that on as well?’”

Stretched CMOs underutilising teams?

The Douwe Bergsma approach is a great example for CMOs that want extra responsibility. The problem is many marketers – certainly in Australia – are already stretched, with brand and comms remits now often spanning customer experience, data analytics, privacy and AI, with swathes at the top end anecdotally mulling exit strategies as those demands increase. Do they really want to take on additional responsibility in an area where they may have little proven capability?

De Swaan Arons suggests that’s what marketing teams are for.

“If you’re a marketing leader, you’ve got somebody, hopefully, that’s getting into the trenches, getting their feet dirty [on all these new things]. At least, I hope that’s not what you’re working on day to day as a CMO. This [mooted strategic, cross-function expansion] is the ‘where to play’ part. This is actually stuff you do have muscle for already – building an employee brand is no different than building a consumer brand at its core. So you’re just bringing what you’re good at [to a larger table],” he suggests. “You’re applying your muscle in service of others, ultimately in service of the bigger entity.”

Purpose is just knowing what you're supposed to do as a company; who you want to be in an inspiring way. Purpose for Amazon.com is, ‘we're going to always be the best one to get you that package by tomorrow’. They have a functional a capability purpose. So developing a purpose and having clarity among all your stakeholders about what that purpose is … and using it as a filter to discriminate the yes or the no in key business decisions… that is the second part.

Marc de Swaan Arons, Founder, Institute for Real Growth

Think bigger, longer

After getting to know stakeholders, the next step is “reimagining” the business’ future. “What we see great companies do there is develop what we call a utopian vision, a positive vision for the future,” says de Swaan Arons.

“For example, General Motors looked at the market of the morning commute, a massive part of their business, and they said, ‘zero emissions, zero crashes, zero fatalities’. That is a vision for a utopian future … Get aligned as a board, as an exco, what is going to be the reality that we need to operate in, what we need to be successful in 10 years from now.”

Actual purpose vs. Voldemort causes

Which is where actual corporate purpose comes in – not the cause-related Voldemort version.

“Purpose is just knowing what you’re supposed to do as a company; who you want to be in an inspiring way. Purpose for Amazon.com is, ‘we’re going to always be the best one to get you that package by tomorrow’. They have a functional a capability purpose,” says de Swaan Arons. “For banks and investment companies, it is about delivering superior financial results. For Mars, they really care more about how the people feel in the company then about the bottom line. They believe that the bottom line follows – but that is literally what drives them as a family-held company,” he adds.

“So developing a purpose and having clarity among all your stakeholders about what that purpose is … and using it as a filter to discriminate the yes or the no in key business decisions… that is the second part.”

Strategic focus vs. whack-a-mole

The third pillar of the Humanised Growth strategy “is all about focus,” says de Swaan Arons. “When you go cross-stakeholder, it gets complicated.” Which increases the risk of being pulled in too many directions. He references last year’s Economist cover, called the overstretched CEO, by way of example. Hence the need to avoid tactical “whack-a-mole” and lean on integrated strategic clarity.

“When you have an integrated strategy, you can address the short-term issues which will always appear, but in the context of a long-term strategy.”

Organise beyond the company borders

Directly linked to ‘focus’ is the need to “organise across silos internally and beyond the borders of the company”.

“When you start working across silos, which is necessary to drive stakeholder value, you need much more collaboration across those silos,” says de Swaan Arons. He cites the likes of Walmart working with Patagonia on sustainable clothing as an example of cross-industry collaboration that has become a “hygiene factor” rather than a differentiator. “Because everyone is now doing it.”

Over-performing companies, per the IRG’s study, are also collaborating with NGOs such as the Rainforest Alliance or Fair Trade. But the biggest gaps between under-performers and over-performers is when companies and brands manage to also get government onside.

De Swaan Arons cites Suncorp’s One House campaign – designed by the insurer to highlight to homeowners, government and industry how homes can be made more resilient to extreme weather – as a standout example (and gives Suncorp CMO Mim Haysom a wrap as an “over-performing” marketer.)

“Once a government gets behind your program, you’ve got a bulldozer working with you. However, to get them there, you need a whole team of people that act like bureaucrats – because they need to work with bureaucrats,” says de Swaan Arons.

“So it really takes significant time and resources to invest to get that right. But what we see in the data is it pays back, because then you can effectively collaborate.”

 

The da Vinci leadership code

The fifth pillar of ‘humanised growth’ is modelled on the “da Vinci leader” which de Swaan Arons says is “not only differentiating, but key to success.”

“Everybody knows da Vinci was both creative and analytical, which is already quite a unique mix, right brain and left brain. But what most people don’t know about da Vinci is that he was also one of the founders of the Humanist movement, which says it all: It’s the empathy part,” he suggests.

“The new leader doesn’t have to have all the answers, but the new leader does need to listen to the other stakeholders. Making them feel heard is half the challenge. Let’s get the right people in the room, listen to each other, really understand the different perspectives – and then let’s take the right business decision that addresses stakeholder value for everyone.”

I left with a real respect for the can-do approach of the Australian marketer … there's a lot less whining about the loss of influence. They see it happening, but they're sort of like, ‘well, let's strap up and get going’. There is a real can-do, win-win mind-set.

Marc de Swaan Arons, Founder, Institute for Real Growth

Tata, WPP and Australia’s can-do marketers

Three of the Institute for Real Growth’s main funders are Google, Meta and WPP. The fourth is Tata Consulting, part of the Mumbai-based conglomerate which last year posted revenues of US$150bn. De Swaan Arons says Tata is “the most interesting one”, because of its deep commitment to purpose (the firm holds 66 per cent of Tata Sons’ equity in trusts, with trust dividends used directly to support social good). Essentially, he says, “they give two thirds of their profit back to society. I don’t know anybody else that does that … they are one of the most purposeful companies, if not the most purposeful company, I’ve ever dealt with.”

De Swaan Arons presented the Humanised Growth impact study at Institute backer WPP’s Sydney HQ a few weeks back, with WPP local leaders building on the study’s findings and unpacking the five drivers of ‘humanised growth’.

With the study interviewing more than 35 Australian business leaders – from CEOs, CFOs, HR bosses and CMOs – de Swaan Aron’s primary takeout is that the “very advanced Australian market” is facing “exactly the same challenges but also the opportunities that we hear and see in countries like Belgium, Holland, the UK, the US or Canada.” Just with less whinging than some of its marketing counterparts.

“I left with a real respect for the can-do approach of the Australian marketer … there’s a lot less whining about the loss of influence. They see it happening, but they’re sort of like, ‘well, let’s strap up and get going’. There is a real can-do, win-win mind-set.”

Now he’s taking the study’s finding to other international markets underlining how to create stakeholder value across silos – and the data underpinning the value and revenue over-performance that the Institute for Real Growth is convinced that approach can deliver.

“The key message [across all markets] is you’ve probably got the resources already,” says de Swaan Arons. “You’re just under utilising them.”

There’s always more in the podcast. Get the full download here.