There has never been a better time for marketers to engage with the C-suite as purpose-driven brands, according to Holly Humphrey, Founder and CEO of HH Communications & Consulting. I dug into the why and how with Holly on Episode 16 of our C-Suite Marketing podcast, and our conversation ranged widely across the impact of 2020, the role of marketing in connecting the often-disparate, purpose-related initiatives across the company, and some immediate opportunities to engage with CEOs and other top executives from our clients and prospects.
Holly spent 13 years in marketing and communications leadership roles at Ernst & Young, and she launched her firm last year to help companies activate and accelerate their strategies as purpose-driven brands. The “golden thread” through her time at EY, Holly noted, was a focus on engaging with clients, EY people, recruits, and stakeholders around the firm’s purpose, culture, and values. As such, she spent quite a bit of time thinking through how to connect purpose and culture to the market and how to engage at the C-suite level around these topics.
While being purpose-driven can be abstract and theoretical, Holly and I talked about some great, real-world examples of companies that are living their values. Right now, CEOs are hungry to engage around talent, culture, and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. CEOs always focus on leadership and legacy; company culture, purpose, and talent strategy are a huge part of that.
When it comes to C-suite engagement, Holly recommends focusing on the power of values alignment with C-suite leaders. She cites participation in CEO coalitions such as CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, The World Economic Forum racial justice initiative, Catalyst, and others as rich opportunities for building relationships in unique ways through dialogue, knowledge sharing, and potentially collaboration.
Because these opportunities are often generated from the marketing team, marketing needs to switch its focus from traditional marketing to measurable engagement and find the sweet spot where the organization’s values align with those of the client. Find the areas of common interest. This is hard work and requires a different kind of market analysis and a deeper understanding of the opportunities and challenges that your clients are facing, but it can be very rewarding.
Sponsoring industry events is another way to put forward purpose-focused topics: Consider, for example, initiatives around diversity recruiting strategies in your particular field, inclusive technology design, or other specific topics that are especially relevant to the audience and align with your brand. These types of sessions can be great opportunities for organizations to share perspectives and lessons learned—which are no longer just seen as the ‘soft’ topics. They can be rich discussions and can help you to stand out in the midst of an agenda focused on more technical topics. Invite your C-suite clients to join you as a speaker on the panel or as an invited guest and then use the discussions to inspire follow-on meetings and deeper discussions on more specific opportunities for service and collaboration.
Consider how purpose-driven topics—workplace culture, diversity and inclusion, anti-racism, sustainability, long term value—fit into your broader thought leadership content strategy. There are so many nuanced issues to explore. If you make it authentic to your company and include new data or research, you will create tremendous opportunities to engage with your C-suite clients because everyone is struggling with the same issues.
Listen to the full podcast to hear more practical advice on this purpose-driven engagement as well as Holly’s thoughts on:
- What it means to be purpose-driven
- The role Covid played in accelerating the importance of purpose-driven brands
- The broader role of marketing in enabling or strengthening a purpose-driven strategy
- The potential, longer-term implications for marketing