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Why B Corps (Should) Kick Butt on Purposeful Brand Alignment

A magical thing happens when customers experience a company’s brand promise of Purpose: they start to think of the company as one they can trust. One that cares about them. One they can rely on. And then, not only do they start to tell the story of their experience to anyone who will listen, they begin excluding other brands and adopting the one that followed through as the standard.

What company wouldn’t want their customers to feel this way, especially when increasing customer retention rates by 5% has been shown to increase profits by 25-95%?

Despite the huge potential in retention, many companies focus solely on acquisition. They neglect retention and lose customers because what was promised in the sales process never translated to the customer experience. Companies make this mistake even though new customer acquisition can cost 6-7 times more than retaining existing customers.

Why is this? Certainly, a focus on short-term revenue generation leads to the mindset that sales = new customer acquisition. Many companies – especially start-ups and smaller businesses – don’t feel they can wait for a payoff from longer-term strategies. Still, it’s clear that lasting success for any business requires mastery of customer acquisition and retention.

A more troubling reason for the reliance on acquisition could be that brand alignment is hard work that demands introspection and focus.

Brand alignment requires building a company – its operations, culture, products and customer experience – around the ideas, promises and values of the brand. That’s tough to do, so many companies avoid trying, or try and fail miserably. Case in point: according to a Gallup study, less than half of managers (46%) and just over one-third of non-management employees (37%) strongly agree with the statement “I know what my company stands for and what makes our brand(s) different from our competitors.”

That’s a problem. Another Gallup study found that “Customers want to walk into a store, go online, or contact a customer care center and have the experience they were promised. They want companies to back up their taglines and follow through on their guarantees.” It’s only after companies achieve this alignment between brand promise and customer experience that they earn customers’ trust. It’s only after they trust a brand that customers will align themselves with it.

If you aren’t exactly sure what your Purpose is, check out our resource Purpose First: A Guide to Discovering + Defining Your Company’s Differentiator. It will help you go through the process of defining your Purpose so you can start using it to amplify your positive impact and galvanize your customer community.

B Corps Are Built for Brand Alignment

In my experience, most companies craft their brand and brand promise based on what they think the market wants, what they think their customers want or, worse yet, whatever the C-suite demands. Often, this ill-formed promise never gets shared internally in any meaningful way and sometimes doesn’t even make it beyond the marketing department.

It’s hardly surprising that in these cases, the brand promise falls flat. When those within an organization don’t understand it, there’s no hope of it translating to customer experience. For these companies, purpose and brand promise are little more than decorative flourishes and customers (and the company’s bottom line) face the consequences when their expectations are not realized. This disappointment erodes trust and prevents the development of customer loyalty.

While challenging, earning trust is a worthwhile investment. When customers are aligned with a brand, they give it twice as much share of wallet as those that are not.

B Corps and other for-benefit businesses are a visible segment of companies that are activating strong, authentic brand promises within their organizations. After all, B Corps wouldn’t be certified if they hadn’t done much of the internal work already by:

  1. Solidifying leadership commitment
  2. Recruiting Purpose-motivated employees
  3. Creating organizational structures to reflect their values
  4. Implementing policies to support their Purpose and strengthen their culture

However, it seems that fewer B Corps have activated their commitment to Purpose externally to deliver on their brand promise to customers. That’s a shame because achieving brand alignment isn’t just a way to gain share of wallet – it’s also a way to energize your customer base and create loyal customers who can act as an extension of your sales team.

Through brand alignment, you can align your internal brand culture with your external customer experiences. When you do this, you turn loyal customers into powerful allies who recruit new customers.

So, what does brand alignment even look like for a Purpose-driven organization? Though they aren’t a B Corp, the (DC native!) salad chain sweetgreen has done an exemplary job of achieving and demonstrating brand alignment. They have a strong promise – sweetgreen is “the destination for fast and delicious food that’s healthy for you. Made with organic ingredients sourced from local farmers we know” – and they make that brand promise real for their customers in a number of ways:

  1. They organize a festival every year – sweetlife – so that people can enjoy music and local food and develop community around shared values and interests
  2. They donate 1% of each purchase to the nonprofit Food Corps when a customer pays with the sweetgreen app
  3. They offer a program to help customers access free fitness classes
  4. They provide bins for trash, recycling and compost and educate users about what goes where
  5. They hire staff that is passionate about their Purpose and trained to be knowledgeable about their ingredients 
  6. They preserve the natural structure of existing buildings when setting up shop and finish their locations with recycled/reclaimed materials
  7. They use 100% plant-based and compostable packaging

At every turn, the customer experiences and takes part in sweetgreen’s realization of its values and Purpose. Sweetgreen’s successful brand alignment shows in its impressive growth and ability to attract $22 million in funding from Stephen Case, co-founder and former CEO of AOL.

31 - Brand Alignment Sweet Green Impact

Since many for-benefit companies don’t have budgets for large-scale marketing campaigns (over 90% of B Corps qualify as small businesses), it makes sense for them to invest in impactful customer experiences.

You might think I’m exaggerating about the power of brand alignment, so I’ll share a quick story about how impactful it can be. My business partner Polina has become a very loyal customer of fellow B Corp Warby Parker. Last time she needed sunglasses, her desire to buy them from Warby Parker inspired a weekend getaway to Philadelphia because she values the customer experience and Purpose so much. Every time someone compliments Polina’s sunglasses, she talks about Warby Parker and sings the company’s praises.

If brand alignment can convince a very busy business owner to travel to another city, it’s definitely worth your consideration.

Why Are B Corps Dropping the Ball?

Unfortunately it seems that few B Corps translate their Purpose to create a distinctive experience for their customers with the same success as Warby Parker. Why is that? There could be several reasons they’re holding back.

Perhaps they’re afraid that infusing their values throughout the customer experience will make it unappealing to mainstream customers? If that’s the reason it’s a weak one — the goal of the B Corp movement is to make businesses that do good the norm. We’re not going to get there by letting the Purpose part of our brand promises play second fiddle in our marketing and customer engagement.

Maybe they’ve done market research showing that customers don’t care about their values? I’d be interested to see a study suggesting this because the reports I see all show that consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about sustainability, ethical sourcing and the social impact that companies have. 

Could it be that B Corps don’t know how to translate their Purpose and brand promise to customer experiences?

Maybe they feel that leading with Purpose comes off as a shameless marketing ploy?

I don’t really know the reason for the hold up, but we must get past it. B Corps and other for-benefit businesses are using business as a force for change. Take advantage of the hard work you’ve already done internally to help customers further your Purpose.

How you engage your customers with your Purpose-based brand promise will vary depending on what stage your business is, the market for what you’re selling and who you’re trying to reach. Whatever your circumstance, start asking yourself: Do my customers’ experiences jive with our company Purpose? Do those experiences deliver on what our brand promises?

When you let your values guide you to deliver on your brand promise, you’ll solidify your customers’ trust in your brand. Doing so is the best way to create loyal, repeat customers and the only way to achieve brand alignment.

**It’s also important to make sure the people within your organization feel connected to your Purpose. For help activating Purpose internally and externally, schedule a FREE consultation on Purpose Activation

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Anne is a strategic partner to RoundPeg, offering consulting on select projects to figure out how to use marketing to help people make good choices. In her free time, she enjoys sampling obscure teas, spending as much time at the beach as possible and spoiling her darling rescue dogs, Molly and Phoebe. An impassioned communicator and people person, Anne enjoys bringing people together and offering advice to anyone who wants it [or doesn’t]. See more posts by Anne.
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