In a society that has been rapidly and radically restructured over the course of the last two years, businesses are increasingly taking a values-led approach that alludes to the emergence of a brighter future. Stalwarts in the responsible business space such as Patagonia and Thankyou are continuing to interrogate and subvert the status quo, and impact-driven businesses are appearing across industries: from super funds to supplement brands, travel companies to traders. We spoke with the founders of B Corp certified PR and Marketing agency Compass Studio about the rise of purpose-driven businesses: why is it happening now, and what role does storytelling have to play?
While the concept of “voting with your dollars” has governed the spending decisions of some conscious consumers for a while, societal and environmental events over the past few years have instigated a turning point. The public consciousness is becoming increasingly aware of the challenges we’re facing as a society, and the responsibility to act extends beyond individuals, to the organisations they shop with, support, and are supported by.
In an early 2022 article predicting business trends for the year ahead, Forbes acknowledged the emergence of what we've been acutely aware of for years: “any business that ignores sustainability is unlikely to do well in this age of conscious consumption.” A new burgeoning generation of consumers simply do not give their loyalty – or their dollars – to businesses that do not care about the future of the planet and its people. Every organisation needs to be reducing the environmental impact they make – from their supply chain and beyond – and environmental responsibility isn’t the only issue that our increasingly discerning society is looking to businesses to solve.
In restructuring the fabric of our world overnight, the pandemic presented the possibility of change: it illuminated the fact that the old way of operating isn’t necessarily the only route. As we look back on the years that have brought about untold change, we’re asking the question – what are the changes we’d be happy to see? With the climate crisis still a pressing concern – as well as the health of us and our community – we’re turning to the businesses we interact with every day to help make a difference. Happily, those businesses are responding. Over the past five years since we founded Compass, we’ve seen an impact-led approach to business enter the mainstream, with change-makers in every industry shifting the paradigm towards a more responsible way of operating.
The modern market now wants to know why an organisation exists – what problems does it solve and what higher meaning does it have. We have no doubt we’ll see more righteous mission statements and promises of ‘better’, more values-led, business in 2023. In 2023, businesses will be expected to listen to their community, and make decisions based on shared values: a triple bottom line approach that considers people and planet as well as profit. Implicit in the word “community” is an across the board approach – one that acknowledges the needs and desires of everyone involved in its evolution: from customers to investors to employees.
For those businesses founded with social and environmental responsibility at their core – whose missions are underpinned by an aim to make a positive contribution to the world – these new consumer demands are relatively easy to meet, but can be difficult to communicate.
For instance, as an impact-led super fund committed to empowering women, Verve Super used their platform and voice to advocate for budget reforms to support gender equality: their values guide not just their internal operations, but their external action. In this new landscape, it’s incumbent on the business to not only do the work, but ensure that consumers are aware of the impact their spending decisions can have.
Impact-driven businesses whose operational approach is governed by social and environmental responsibility are able to move nimbly in response to societal concerns, but their ability to meet the needs of society at large as well as the needs of their consumers is often underappreciated. Impact-driven businesses can exist with integrity, but without acknowledgement, when their story isn’t successfully told.
While more consumers are looking to place their loyalty with brands that have their future in mind, there is still a high level of uncertainty as to whether brands can provide a product or service that delivers on sustainability or impact goals, but also on price, quality and even aesthetics. There is a widely held assumption that if a product is good for the environment, the company treats its workers well and the board and team genuinely cares about its wider impact on the world, the product is going to be inaccessibly expensive. Disproving this misconception is where good marketing comes into play – to shed light on the impact-driven businesses who are paving the way for a better world, and to disrupt the narrative that responsible decision making comes at a cost. For purpose-driven businesses, it’s essential to be able to efficiently convey both traditional (ie. product or brand USP’s) with a traceable, transparent and authentic impact filter.
There is a sweet spot that exists between good business and good storytelling: where businesses who are making the world a better place are celebrated for their integrity, where those stories inspire others to follow suit. In this exact moment in time – while there are regulatory changes being introduced, like the UN's zero-tolerance approach to greenwashing, the industry as a whole is yet to be widely governed or regulated – it’s up to companies themselves to fiercely improve their internal operations, as well as their external messaging. And it’s up to consumers to be the judge of how well they do both.
To read more insights on the topics that guide Compass Studio’s approach, visit their website at compass-studio.com