April 25, 2014

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What Purpose Will Look Like in 2014

Successful purpose-driven initiatives will not only aim to solve a societal challenge, but they will have to engage consumers, employees and other stakeholders to make them part of their purpose journey.

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By Carol Cone, Global Practice Chair, Edelman Business + Social Purpose and the B + SP Leadership Team

Business must now lead the debate for change and act.

This development, as identified in Edelman’s 2014 Trust Barometer, directly influences brand strategists and corporate decision makers as they strive to build and maintain trust among stakeholders. Corporate leaders are realizing that social purpose and business strategies must be linked. It is no longer enough to support a nonprofit organization, rather the expectation for businesses is that public and private will partner to move the needle on society’s challenges while gaining commercial success.

Overall, we are witnessing a global shift in consumer preferences to increased engagement. Consumers everywhere are looking to be involved in both demand and supply side of the market; they want a sharing economy. As organizations and brands align with these expectations, shape business strategies and models and provide sharing opportunities, we face constant stimulations from diverse channels and diminishing attention spans. As a result, gaining recognition and successfully engagingEdelman-Trust-Barometer stakeholders are possible only through delivering messages in a visually compelling, experiential and creative fashion.

What does this mean for purpose? Successful purpose-driven initiatives will not only aim to solve a societal challenge, but they will have to engage consumers, employees and other stakeholders to make them part of their purpose journey.

With that in mind, no matter where you are in the world, whether in the public or private sector, the following three trends should be considered to develop strategy to support and implement purpose-driven initiatives in 2014.

1: A spotlight on supply chain led by increased global transparency and technological advancements, making production information easily accessible.

While supply chain issues are already on people’s radars, we expect these to become core considerations in business strategy in 2014, as people try and wade into the Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) G4 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines and see if they can make it work.

Of course, one cannot speak of supply chain without referring to Asia. Yes, we have heard about sweatshops and labor issues for nearly two decades now, but today’s combination of social media & mobile technology, NGO mobilization, and social-political instability makes for a particularly potent supply chain risk cocktail. We can expect plenty more multinational corporations to be called to account for the practices of their suppliersGRI in Asia. Keep an eye on Bangladesh, of course, and Cambodia in particular, which is currently embroiled in acute social and political conflict.

2: Companies are looking to demonstrate purpose in new, creative ways.

While the launch of GRI’s G4 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines in 2013 was met with great fanfare, it was followed by a lot of confusion and criticism. Still, GRI remains the go-to standard with 82 percent of the top 250 companies reporting worldwide choosing their standard disclosures. Thus, it is unlikely that CSR reports will be completely eliminated.

That said, we are seeing a global movement from traditional CSR reports to great CSR content. This is a real opportunity for authentic brands to bring their purpose strategies to life through social media platforms, and share their content regularly over the course of the year, using a variety of engaging channels. Focusing on dynamic content, brands will be able to build credibility and resonate with consumers, rather than fire-and-forget, as many have done in the past. Expect to see an increase in creativity around CSR reporting in 2014, rather than more reports.

3: The shift to a sharing business model will increasingly challenge conventional businesses and start having a material impact on their success in 2014.

For instance, car sharing is already having an impact on the taxi industry in cities like San Francisco, as calls to regulate these businesses get louder. Sharing business models are more personal and the rise of businesses like Uber, Divvy, Sidecar, AirBnB Uber-cabmakes consumers feel as if they are part of the solution to consumerism. This year, tensions will increase between traditional and sharing businesses trying to invest or enter the market as competition rises.

Beyond these major, global trends in the purpose field, regions – U.S., Asia, Europe and Latin America – are characterized by localized developments that should be considered while developing purpose-driven strategies. Stay tuned for those, next on Talkback!

Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below or connecting with us on Twitter.

This post is produced by Edelman Business + Social Purpose leaders, a team of global idealists, creative communicators and constant challengers to the status quo.

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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