Brands have the power to lead movements and spur change, but it takes top-down bravery.

Purpose Up - Ken Beaulieu Interview - Rectangle

A Q+A with Association of National Advertisers Ken Beaulieu.

The role of the marketing department is changing, which the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) recognized by establishing two new centers of excellence in the past three years: The Center for Brand Purpose and the Society and Sustainability Collective in collaboration with partners such as Sustainable Brands.

Through this work, the ANA and its partners are providing content, frameworks, and resources to allow brands to be forces for good and growth.

What role should purpose and sustainability play in the marketing function today?

As the marketing industry embraces a “brands for humans’’ ethos, global sustainability has become a priority issue for chief marketers seeking to drive brand growth for the betterment of society and the planet. This is reflected by the growing number of brands aligning their stated purpose to one or more of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. While the scope of sustainability is broad and complex, the marketing community is paying particular attention to supporting mental health and well-being; diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging; and driving environmentally sustainable business practices.

As it becomes clear that these impact areas also drive business growth, marketers should build best practices into their work streams to change stakeholder behavior, build a more sustainable and equitable marketing supply chain, and communicate how their brands are positively impacting culture and the planet. This lends importance and urgency to developing purpose strategies that deliver what the world needs. Brands have incredible power to lead movements and spur societal change, but it takes bravery, top-down commitment, and, at times, some risk.

How well-equipped do you think today’s marketers are to meet the challenge?

There are great examples of marketers stepping up to meet the moment across industry sectors, but the challenges of implementing purpose and sustainability initiatives do not rest squarely on their shoulders. For businesses to make any meaningful difference in the world, there must be alignment and support up and down the enterprise, with complete buy-in from the C-suite. Too often, initiatives for the greater good are perceived as a marketing exercise or the responsibility of CSR and HR departments, when in fact, it’s the obligation of the entire business. In other words, marketing is the least of a company’s worries if purpose is not deeply embedded in organizational culture.

Additionally, many companies are tackling issues so big (think climate change and plastic pollution) that they cannot take them on themselves. That’s why marketers are collaborating with charitable partners and other like-minded coalitions to drive success. But make no mistake, marketing’s function is critical to making purpose real (internally and externally), to scaling activities and executing them well for impact, and to building trust in society.

What are some things to keep in mind as you integrate purpose and sustainability in your brand positioning and activation?

It’s critically important to remember that consumers, particularly generations Y and Z, want to work for and buy from brands that are contributing to solutions to make the world more sustainable and purposeful. But they are not naive. If a brand’s actions are half-hearted or do not align with its values, value proposition, and the expectations of all stakeholders, they will quickly see through the facade and label you a purpose-washer.

Purpose is not something you turn on and off like a light switch, nor does it come with an end date. Purpose is why you are in business, and it must be foundational to all brand activities, business functions, strategies, goals, and outcomes.

Moreover, purpose and sustainability must be rooted in authenticity, integrated into organizational culture, and consistently measured. Ultimately, the choices a brand makes to demonstrate its purpose must be visible, intentional, consistent, and meaningful to stakeholders.

This conversation originally appeared in the 2022 Purpose Up report. To read more about how and why to double down in tough times click on the report download link below.


Up next: