Increasingly, companies and brands are focusing on their mission and purpose as a way to elicit positive consumer engagement and press, and hopefully add to the bottom line. This is especially true today, given the growing consumer base of Millennials who are continuing to look to companies small and large to make purpose a mainstay of their business models and marketing plans. Recently, we’re witnessing a change in how corporations are delivering against their missions and purpose statements, with a few corporations pushing the envelope.
Rather than just sponsoring non-profit organizations and charities, these companies are choosing to go further by investing in broader public issues that align and support their company’s mission, such as public health and minimum wage. In doing so, they are doing more than just garnering press attention—they are differentiating themselves by re-grounding consumers in their corporate missions and positioning their companies to be part of larger conversations important to their target audiences.
CVS/pharmacy gained headlines earlier this year when it announced that it would move to end tobacco product sales in its stores by October 2014 in an effort to truly live up to its company’s purpose: to help people on their path to better health. CVS is looking to address the widespread public health issues stemming from tobacco smoke straight on, rather than through simply partnering or donating to health-oriented organizations and non-profits. CEO Larry Merlo stated that the decision allows the company to take another step towards changing the frame of reference for its business: “It’s the right time and the right decision to remove cigarettes and tobacco products from our store shelves, positioning us for a growing role in the health care delivery system.” The investment to support that mission equates to a loss of about $2 billion from the pharmacy chain’s tobacco shoppers.
By being the first major retail pharmacy to make such a move, CVS received widespread press and consumer engagement. On the evening of the announcement, there were over 139,000 tweets on Twitter mentioning “CVS” and more than 10,000 hash tag mentions of #CVSquits. Its actions have garnered commendation from the White House and will also likely win favor amongst its health-forward consumers, but the move also has received criticism. Some simply see it as a poor business move; others are more skeptical, surmising that the investment cost will be passed on to consumers. Still others say the move is insignificant (representing less than 2 percent of sales) in the greater context of the company’s other product offerings. Nevertheless, CVS believes that its decision will help the company solidify its commitment to guiding its consumers towards better health and lead the company toward growth.
Gap Inc. was another corporation to step into the spotlight when CEO Glenn Murphy announced to the public—in the midst of the minimum wage debate in the Capitol—that he was raising the minimum wage for its U.S. employees to at least $9 an hour beginning June this year and to $10 an hour by June of 2015. In an email Murphy sent out to the Gap community (see below), he cited a promise the company’s cofounder Don Fisher made to “do more than sell clothes,” saying that the move was strictly an investment in their store associates, the face of the company to consumers: “The people in our company who engage directly with our customers carry an incredible responsibility. Our success is a result of their hard work, love of fashion and commitment.” The move will affect about 65,000 employees across all Gap brands.
Similar to CVS, Gap is benefiting from garnering valuable press for the bold move—President Barack Obama paid a visit to the NYC Gap store soon after the announcement was made and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has since publicly endorsed raising the minimum wage, as well. At the same time, however, there are potential downfalls to the move. Despite Gap’s claim that this move would not financially impact consumers, some are skeptical. In addition, the decision could draw increased scrutiny of Gap’s labor practices. Ultimately, Gap hopes their investment will encourage loyalty among its employees and consumers.
Each of these examples show how large corporations are taking a stand and investing in significant public issues that align to their mission and values. By doing so, they are receiving invaluable consumer engagement and press—albeit both positive and negative—and are also being given the opportunity to engage with the public and consumers about their respective company’s broader purpose. In addition, with more companies choosing to make an impact on a wider variety of public issues, they are also being given the opportunity to become influencers in the broader context of consumers’ lives and connect with consumers via avenues beyond their products and services. Marketers who are looking for an opportunity to strengthen and differentiate their brand’s presence in the marketplace, as well as reinforce their brand’s purpose with consumers may want to consider investing and supporting public issues that align closely to their mission statements. However, these decisions should be made with extensive consideration to your target consumers, the pros and cons of each side, and the side effects of taking such a stance. If done successfully, championing public issues that align strongly to your company’s purpose may turn your current consumers into loyalists and at the same time grab the attention of new consumers who may view your company in a new light.