Hannah Heather, Account Director

Source: Mike Mozart, Flickr

‘Purpose’ much like ‘innovation’ has become a trend that every brand wants the world to know they’re about, yet the problem is that most brands admit they don’t have a strong sense of what their purpose actually is.

Our recent Brands In Motion research further highlighted this executive sentiment, revealing that most Australian consumers are as concerned with a brand’s purpose as they are with its functionality. A 2017 CSR study confirmed this, revealing that 89 percent of Gen Z consumers would buy from a company supporting social and environmental issues over one that doesn’t. When these younger consumers enter the economy in full, purpose-driven CSR won’t just be good business sense, it will be a survival imperative. This in turn suggests that purpose is more than marketing buzz, and a real cause for focus for marketer’s cross-industry.

In a world where brands are connected to their consumers on multiple levels – online and off, they can no longer assume they’re talking to one specific target audience; but are being seen and judged by multiple generations of people. Therefore reflecting a sense of ‘why’ they do what they do enables people to connect more emotionally to a brand; and in some instances become part of individual personal narratives (for me, it’s Thank You – yes, cliché I suppose, and the experience of using their nappies on my first born child).

One company whose brand purpose is often more apparent than their product range is Lush Cosmetics. Known for their ostracising campaigns and thought-provoking messaging they were in the Australian media spotlight last week for something other than their marketing efforts – they openly and honestly admitted to underpaying their staff by $2 million dollars over a five year period. Despite the scale of underpayments, LUSH has sailed through the initial media storm relatively unscathed, and this comes down to a few key elements.

Firstly, they identified the error themselves.

Without waiting until the Ombudsman came knocking, the company recognised that a transition from an old platform to a new one was unsustainable for a company of their size. As the Australian director for Lush acknowledged, it was the result from “a very serious failure on our part to upgrade our internal systems… We should have had far more respect for our people’s pay and upgraded our payroll infrastructure to keep up with the growth of our business.”

Secondly, they owned their error in a SMART way.

There was no external investigation required, unnecessary leaking of information or stories of hard-done by employees. The situation was contained from the outset, with LUSH acknowledging their own actions, how they’ll fix it, and how long it will take. Their proactive approach ensured they were able to take ownership of the situation, and their common sense solution helped to alleviate any further scrutiny.

Finally, and most interestingly, they know, and continue to know what their sense of purpose is; and it’s a drumbeat for them consistently, and unwaveringly. It’s this brand narrative and strong sense of purpose that meant that they had only one choice; to come clean and repay the money they owed.

LUSH has done this by continuously waving the flag for treating suppliers and employees sustainably and ethically through their vocal position on worker rights, diversity and sustainability. This defining piece of CSR also saw them take the lead during the recent penalty rate cuts by the Australian Government, with the CEO of Lush promising to maintain penalty rates for its staff even when Fair Work Commission announced it was no longer legally required.

It’s this heritage in purpose combined with their accountability of the situation which has minimised the immediate impact and prevented a negative social frenzy. Now we just need to wait and see whether they continue to handle the issue with grace to prevent their reputation being tarnished.

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