Purpose House is a collective that exists to help brands define and activate purpose. Their role is to ensure the companies they work with are living and breathing their values. It’s not just about ‘talking the talk’ but also ‘walking the walk’, and Purpose House has helped companies like Twinings, AB InBev and Unilever to find a sustainable purpose for their brand.
The collective sees purpose across three key dimensions: doing, living and saying. If brands want to activate a sustainable purpose that doesn’t just fit the needs of consumers today but will also apply to consumers over a lifetime, they need to be investing in all of these areas.
In this exclusive interview, ProQuo’s Content Writer, Ruby Arenson sits down with Vittorio Cerulli, Founder & Director of Purpose House to find out how brands should approach the elusive concept of ‘purpose’.
ProQuo: What initially drew you to the world of purpose?
Vitto: For me, it was my upbringing. My father ran a small bakery in Rome, where the business played a pivotal role in the community. They employed people that were marginalized, gave leftovers to those in need and offered the shop as a place of shelter for people that didn’t have anywhere to go. These behaviors were small acts of kindness that meant so much to those in the community. I believe every business should strive towards this goal.
Later in my career, I joined bigger organizations that had the potential to scale purpose to a much larger extent. Yet, I also noticed a great disconnect between these businesses and their initial founding story or value. I wanted to use purpose to remind these businesses of where they came from. I did so by creating a division within my company, which helped brands to define and activate their own purpose. It was surreal to see the huge transformation you can generate once you’ve got bigger teams and budgets.
ProQuo: And is there a paradox of bigger companies with bigger budgets that are able to do more but actually end up doing less?
Vitto: When I was working at Unilever, I saw first-hand how not having a dedicated team is a huge barrier in big companies. I realised there was an opportunity to open up a team on purpose, so I could empower other marketing managers and brand managers to feel how I felt, and to inspire them to create real change. I wanted to broaden their perspectives, encouraging them to think bigger with their brands and to see how they could use their powers for good.
ProQuo: And what challenges do you think brands face when they first decide to invest in purpose?
Vitto: Every purpose should address a key societal tension (something that is wrong in society or the local community where the brand operates). But the language needed to communicate these tensions is not the bread and butter of a marketing team. It involves concepts like social inclusivity and wealth gaps, which can seem like foreign topics and not the most comfortable jargon for a marketing team to use. That’s why we always begin our process with an emphasis on learning, educating brands on the best ways to understand these complex topics. We try to make this exercise as relevant and simple as possible to the group we’re working with.
ProQuo: Are there any common pitfalls you find Brand Managers fall into when first engaging with purpose?
Vitto: Brands that don’t work on ‘do, live and say’ at the same time. If you start with ‘do’, without thinking about how you’ll ‘say’ later, the risk is you might diverge from your brand positioning – or get very excited about pursuits that won’t bring your business into prosperity. Sometimes people have an inner desire to do good. But if you don’t always balance the business side of things with your actions, then you can go awry. For consistency, it’s important to consider the ‘do, live and say’ mantra from the beginning, before you start acting.
ProQuo: And what benefits do brands have when aligning with purpose?
Vitto: Purpose brings you into the conversation of today, giving your brand relevance. Instead of sitting on the sidelines and looking at what happens, purpose brings you onto the court. Either you can just keep doing your marketing role every day and hope you’ll be relevant at some point or you can get off the stand and make yourself relevant, now.
It’s also an exciting motivator for people that work in your team. They’ll feel engaged with what’s happening and this is sure to inspire creativity, as the best innovations happen when you’re trying to solve issues or problems.
ProQuo: What are key considerations for brands to keep in mind when trying to activate a purpose?
Vitto: It’s hard to find a single-minded issue that isn’t connected to other problems. You might find environmental and social issues are intertwined. We know the golden rule of advertising or design is to ‘pick your single message and stick with it’. But in purpose, this is killer. Be ready to be broad. You will need to unravel a pretty complex problem. So, don’t be married to any specific purpose. Be flexible and see where it takes you.
ProQuo: Are there any specific brands you’ve seen really living the ‘do, live and say’ mantra?
Vitto: Levi’s is doing interesting work. They’ve launched a new campaign called, ‘Buy better live longer.’ They’re working with activists and influencers and have launched a second-hand market. They’ve even created a ‘care’ tag to add onto products, so people know you don’t need to wash jeans every time you wear them. It’s fascinating to see how they’re addressing this issue from all different perspectives.
ProQuo: With the ‘silence is deafening’ era, and more pressure on brands to speak up on issues of the day, is it harder for brands to pull off socially responsible marketing that’s believable?
Vitto: Marketing is now a conversation. It’s not just ‘we launched a campaign are we authentic or not?’ It’s all the smaller interactions around a subject. That’s what makes it authentic.
To be as authentic as possible, you have to know your shit. Be prepared to take the stand and talk about it. Be prepared to engage in conversations as a team. You might be challenged for what you post or do, so be ready to tease and be teased about it.
To be able to do that, you need to know more about a subject. Talk with people that are working on it. Partner with organizations that are tackling it. For me, that’s where authenticity comes in - when you’re ready to engage in a conversation on a subject and potentially expose yourself to criticism, as well as praise.
Want to build a purposeful brand that people fall in love with? Check out our latest guide.