Content+ 2021 Day 5: The Why and How of Brand Purpose

Content+ Day 5, showing the event speakers.
By Britta Waller Melton |

The closing day of Content+ delivered two presentations tied to the how and the why of brand purpose—how to bring brand purpose to life in palpable ways and why rooting entire organizations in their own intrinsic purpose is imperative in today’s business world and social climate.

To address the how, we began the day with our very own Polly Brewster, creative director; and PepsiCo’s Anita Roggendorf, director of Talent Attraction and Engagement. Whereas Gordon Locke, president and chief marketing officer at Pace; alongside Alicia Tillman, Forbes’ 11th Most Influential Chief Marketing Officer in the World; and Yogini Biswas, chief brand officer at Brighthouse Financial, discussed the why in the second part of the day.

And although Content+ Day 5 started off with the how, I’m going to switch things up and first start with the why for the purposes of this summary blog post.

The Why: “The Ultimate Is at Stake”

The why discussion began with guest speakers Tillman and Biswas explaining why brand purpose was important to them, and both gave similar answers. They emphasized how purpose, in general, comes from within and permeates into purpose in many different aspects of life. For Tillman and Biswas, holding onto their own personal values drove them each to seek out leadership roles with brands dedicated to improving the lives of others, and to maintain the belief that organizations can do business that is both good for people and for profits—and that the two are not mutually exclusive.

This is also representative of today’s consumers—including employees. Much like these two inspiring women leaders, consumers are actively seeking out purpose-driven brands. And although brand purpose is not new, per se, as Biswas noted, referencing Jim Stengel’s groundbreaking book Grow from 10 years ago, 2020 marked a “louder call” from customers and investors. “We’re in one of those inflection points in history,” Biswas said, highlighting how both the pandemic and the outpouring of social justice support “has really accelerated the demand for companies to start adopting more purposeful initiatives.”

This louder call has reframed the way purpose is and should be perceived within business strategy. It is now a central part of a business’s strategy and no longer solely an “action item” for brands. Locke nicely summarized the evolution of purpose in the business world over the years in a single slide:

The Evolution of Brand Purpose

Key in this reframing of purpose is understanding that it varies by organization just as it varies from person to person. Consequently, pinpointing the value that each organization brings to its customers and the world—or what is their “reason for being,” as Tillman put it—is crucial to infusing strong and authentic purpose to a brand’s strategy and, she added, “Everything else feeds from that.”

Biswas also seconded Tillman’s point of view that brand purpose is central to why an organization exists and that it has to fall within an organization’s competencies.

As the session began to come to a close, Locke posed perhaps one of the most poignant questions asked during this year’s Content+: “What’s at stake?” Both speakers agreed that everything is at stake.

For Tillman, brand purpose ties to brand existence. Not just success, but existence. “It will only become more apparent that companies that do not have a well-defined purpose do not have a voice on issues that matter in society, in our environment and in our economies [and] do not offer value that allows their customers to achieve their aspirations,” she said, and “These companies will not be around much longer.” Emphasizing that we live in a world filled with choice and that not just consumers, but also employees can easily find other brands that they more closely align and identify with.

Biswas highlighted how brand purpose can be to a company’s competitive advantage when done well and that in the end, when consumers are making decisions about which companies to engage with, an organization’s brand purpose will likely help them select those companies they really want to associate with.

Hold that thought as we now transition into the how of purpose.

The How: PepsiCo’s Recipe for Recruitment Starts With Plantains

For the how, Brewster from Pace spoke with PepsiCo’s Roggendorf on the topic “Strategic Employee Storytelling for Talent Engagement and Brand Building.”

Roggendorf shared with the audience the story behind their PepsiCo Stories site, shining a light on how PepsiCo has recently been able to successfully infuse brand purpose in their talent attraction and engagement efforts.

But first, let me provide some context.

The PepsiCo Talent Attraction and Engagement team was looking to “pull back the curtain” and better showcase why the company is such a great place to work. The PepsiCo Jobs site at the time was too focused on job listings, and the goal was to transform it in a way that would help candidates better understand the roles they’re interested in along with the vibrant culture at the massive CPG company. And so, with the help of Pace, the PepsiCo Stories site was launched in October 2020.

So back to the how.

The PepsiCo Stories site embodies a solid content strategy centered around the brand’s purpose and its central pillars or anchors—social impact, innovation and culture—being brought to life by the layered stories of real employees. It very selectively addresses the subjects their audience—both passive and active talent—cares about with real-life examples from within the company becoming a sort of content anchor for all things talent attraction and engagement.

My favorite example that Roggendorf and Brewster shared during their presentation was their discussion of the NatuChips story from their “Seed to Shelf” series, which seeks to show products from inception to when they hit the shelf and “all the hands that touch [them] along the way.”

Sustainability being one of PepsiCo’s key promises globally and among the most prominent questions asked by talent, the NatuChips story dives deep and tells the story of this popular Latin American snack brand while showing how that promise is fulfilled and so much more.

Through the NatuChips story, we learn how fresh plantains are sourced locally from small hillside farms in the West Andes, continuing an agricultural tradition in the area reaching back 130 years. We also learn how, since 2008, PepsiCo has partnered with nonprofit Asplabel to staff their processing plant with 50 mothers, indigenous women and female heads-of-household, most of whom came from far away to escape armed conflict and violence between government military and guerrilla groups.

For recruiters, not just in Latin America, but everywhere, the NatuChips story is a powerful example they can use to clearly show top candidates across the globe the success PepsiCo can bring to a community or to an individual employee. It provides an authentic and human view of the brand, leaning into different aspects that are important to the company and that fit in within those content strategy anchors—a global perspective as well as social impact, represented here through PepsiCo’s work in empowering women and its sustainability initiatives.

“We know that’s what talent asks … They want to know those stories … They want to understand the purpose agenda of the companies they’re interviewing with,” Roggendorf explained. She added that different content series like “Seed to Shelf” help bring the purpose that already exists at PepsiCo to life for talent. The site also serves as a great opportunity to showcase how PepsiCo not only talks the talk but walks the walk when it comes to the issues that matter the most to prospect talent.

Although predominantly centered on long-form content, the PepsiCo Stories site also includes powerful visuals, including animations, to further bring these stories to life. And the success of the site led to other conversations between Pace and the PepsiCo Talent Attraction and Engagement team around exploring additional mediums and channels to amplify employee stories, including social media. They’ve been able to keep producing videos during COVID-19 using techniques that put the power to film in the hands of the employees and while keeping everyone safe from the virus. That willingness to keep content creation going isn’t surprising to me, given the Talent Attraction and Engagement team’s firm belief that they must get out of the way of the employees so they can tell their own stories. Content “[Is] not created by corporate communications. It’s created by my [PepsiCo] colleagues. It’s not this top-down approach. You really do get a more authentic view of the brand,” she said. “This is really where the authenticity comes in.”

For me, this echoed the previous day’s session in Content+ with filmmaker Katherine Fairfax Wright, who talked about how much more effective documentary-style brand storytelling is when it’s unscripted, unrehearsed and unstructured. While it’s tempting for brands to want to put words in their advocates’ mouths, the customer or employee experience is much more compelling when it comes directly from a person being their real self on camera, or in any medium for that matter.

I think that’s truly the magic behind the success of the PepsiCo Stories site and our work with the PepsiCo Talent Attraction and Engagement team. That’s the secret sauce and the reason why this is such a great example of the how, of how to actually put brand purpose in action.

PepsiCo's See Yourself Inside Content Series for their PepsiCo Stories site

When Everything Is at Stake, Look Inside

This year’s Content+ conference was centered on the theme “A New Era in Storytelling” and how technology and creative helps us marketers deliver impactful stories—stories of “Relevancy, Emotion and Purpose.” The last day of the conference embodied this perfectly.

Day 5 of Content+ reinforced the importance of authenticity in our line of work, in all aspects, from staying true to one’s own purpose as an individual and an organization to the stories we tell—because that’s a big responsibility in itself.

If anything, that may be the greatest teaching we can all take away from this year’s speakers—that more often than not, the answers to the business challenges we face are right there in front of us, coming from within ourselves and our teams.

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