Caring is the New Currency

By Cher Mereweather

We are looking out for each other more. We are prioritizing the people we truly care about more. We are prioritizing the activities we truly care about more. And companies are figuring this out.


Welcome to the Caring Economy!


It’s one of the big and slightly unexpected takeaways from COVID-19. We now actually care more than we did a few months ago. 


More time with our families and loved ones has made us recognize that while they can drive us nuts, we would rather be with them than stuck in a rush hour commute.


More time and more shared unease has brought communities together and made us more likely to shop for and look out for our neighbours.


More time and fewer cars on the roads has seen neighbourhoods come alive and brought families and kids out to reclaim the streets.


We are looking out for each other more. We are prioritizing the activities we truly care about more. We are prioritizing the people we truly care about more.


And companies are figuring this out.


Back in the 90s, when sustainability first became mainstream, the corporate world started asserting its green credentials.


The first firms to do this were the ones who were already environmentally aware, who already had the issue baked into their DNA. Firms like Patagonia. They simply started telling the stories of the things they were doing anyway. And people resonated and bought more of their products.


Then the marketing agencies got hold of the idea and a second, third and nth wave of campaigns started emerging with companies from pharma to petroleum all racing to tout how green they were.


The vast majority of this was marketing fluff and it didn’t take long for consumers to start to see through it.


The term “Greenwashing” emerged and it became clear that bandwagon jumping without actually doing the work could be damaging to your brand.


But fads and bandwagons are notoriously difficult to resist.


And as we move into the Caring Economy we are about to see a whole new version of Greenwashing.


Instead of environmental credentials though, the focus is now on purpose.


Firms are lining up to show how they’ve “got meaning”, how they stand for something that is more than just making money and how their brand promise is now squarely focused on social impact.


Watch carefully - over the next few months, “Purposewashing” will become the new Greenwashing.


And as it was back in the 90s, the opportunities that are missed will be the unwritten headline.


What could have been achieved if just 5% of the firms who claimed they were environmental champions actually took the systemic measures within their organizations to really deliver on that promise? And likewise today - what can we achieve in terms of impact on people and planet if the firms lining up to jump on the purpose bandwagon actually embrace the principles of purpose rather than just talking about it?


Steve Jobs, apart from being one of the most purpose-focused individuals to ever lead a company, is the author of one of my favourite quotes. “It takes a lot of hard work to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions”.


For me, this is at the heart of the opportunity and risk of the Caring Economy and its associated rush for purpose.


Purpose is not marketing. It is not superficial. Quite the opposite, in fact. It takes a lot of hard work to really get clear on your purpose. It takes commitment to understand the fundamental reasons why your company exists beyond profit. But once you do, it becomes possible to create the elegant solutions that Jobs refers to.


In his case, the elegance was the marketing, the design and the award-winning campaigns. “Think Different”, was voted the best ad of the last century. These solutions were only possible because of the work done by Jobs and his team to get clear on – and adhere rigorously to – Apple’s purpose, namely to challenge the status quo in whatever they did. The marketing wouldn’t have existed without this clarity and commitment.


In a similar fashion, Nike’s Just Do It has become probably the most memorable corporate tagline ever, emblazoned across clothing and psyches worldwide. Nike’s purpose is “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world (and if you have a body, you are an athlete)”.


Yes, it’s the bit in brackets that is the differentiator. And “Just Do It” is a very smart way of translating that differentiation, their purpose into a marketing campaign. One that has enabled it to leave its competitors behind.


In both cases, the purpose is the foundation of the success. The power and authenticity of the marketing relied entirely on the alignment to purpose.

As we move into an era where more and more firms in the food and beverage industry are looking to differentiate themselves by touting their Purpose Credentials, I want to encourage everyone reading this to really take this moment, this shift into the Caring Economy (with all that it implies) to take a step back and focus not on the how, but on the why.


I don’t want us to collectively miss this opportunity to make a real difference to how we make our food and drink. I don’t want us to collectively focus on the sizzle rather than the steak. I do want us to do the work, to answer the difficult questions, and to understand the challenges. Because then, and only then, can we come up with the elegant solutions.


And in this spirit, I offer you five questions that I encourage you to work through with your colleagues, teams and leadership to answer.


1. Why do we exist as a company, beyond making money?

Otherwise put, what is our purpose? What is the legacy we, as a company, want to leave? What is the change we, as a company, want to see in the world? What gets us up in the morning and why should anyone else care?


2. What are we really good at and what problem are we solving?

We have borrowed Arlene Dickenson’s terminology here and we call this your “currency”. When we work with food and beverage companies, it is one of the areas we look at. What we find is that most firms know what they do, as do their customers. But when we ask the firms what problem they solve, they tend to give us radically different answers to the problems that their clients think they solve! In one recent example, one of our clients believed that the problem they solved was “providing an ingredient in beverage manufacturing”. It turned out that their customers thought it was “an absence of creativity in beverage manufacturing”. As a result, the firm in question is now exploring a completely new revenue stream based around consulting and knowledge services, which (as it turns out) their customers are willing to pay a whole lot more for than the ingredient they currently provide.


3. What are you going to do (vision)?

So, who do you want to be in 5 years time? What geographical sandbox do you want to play in? Who do you want to be and who do you need to be for your customers, and for your stakeholders? How big do you want to be?


It perplexes me that because the world moves so fast today, it has somehow become unfashionable to have big visions. I hear again and again from companies that they don’t know what the world will look like in six months’ time, let alone in three years’ time, so there’s really no point having a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal”. I disagree. Your teams, your suppliers, your partners, your investors or funders, they are all looking for a big vision, for something to inspire them - to know what the destination is and to be able to get excited about it. The idea that if you shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you will still land among the stars is an old cliché, but I think there’s a lot to it.


4. How are you going to do it (OKR) (inspirational, numerical)?

This is where we get granular. How are you going to get to that place you’ve described in your vision? What does each area of your business have to do to make that a reality?


Set objectives. Make them inspirational. Then identify the key results that will need to be accomplished in order to know you were successful in meeting those objectives. Make those key results numerical, so you can easily track and measure performance against them.


5. How are you going to talk about it (storytelling/marketing)?

Finally, once you are clear on what you stand for, what you are going to do, the problem you solve, and how you are going to do it…then you can begin to think about how to tell the story in a way that people will listen. Spoiler alert, good storytelling will touch on all aspects of the problem you solve: People, Planet and Profit. And it will need data to back up your promise. Because without it, your promises, your brand claims are just that - promises.


In the words of Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, “when it comes to making your branding promise more purposeful, remember that stakeholders are getting quicker to question….and it’s not so easy to recover from a broken promise”.


So as we enter the era of Purposewashing, which will sadly be one of the by-products of the new Caring Economy, let’s work together to make sure that we don’t look back in 20 years’ time at the missed opportunities. Let’s take action now and invest the time and energy into asking and answering the difficult questions – starting with the ones I’ve posed here. Let’s make sure that the food and beverage industry in Canada leads the way in showing what can be done when we truly understand the problems – and how elegant our solutions can be.


Cher Mereweather

President & CEO

P 519.822.2042 x1

C 519.803.6395

Tags: Sustainability, Strategy, Purpose, Food and Beverage, Covid-19

Subscribe to Provision Coalition

Enjoy access to industry news, articles, events, trends and more!