Five Key Takeaways for Purpose-Driven Practitioners from the Stage at SXSW

This week, the Cone and Porter Novelli team was on the ground at SXSW – partaking in the sights, sounds and sessions all focused on driving the conversation in problem-solving around tech, entertainment and culture. From engaging activations such as the Red Cross’ partnership with HBO to “Bleed for the Throne,” to riveting keynotes including coffee-guru turned presidential-hopeful Howard Schultz, the week was jam-packed with experiences and learnings. Didn’t make it to Austin this year? We’ve recapped the five key takeaways for Purpose-driven practitioners from SXSW:

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  • Leading with Purpose Results in Big ROI: The panel “Business and Social Justice in the Trump Era” While Chris Miller, Activism Manager at Ben & Jerry’s* stressed that standing for issues needs to be more than a marketing exercise, he did reveal how when brands do it right, it can lead to positive social and business benefits. In fact, the fan-loved ice cream brand shared that the conversion media phase of their Save Our Swirled campaign to enlist people into the movement for climate action resulted in a 32-point lift in ad recall, a 9-point lift in brand awareness – and a striking three-to-one ROI on media spend. Beyond brand benefits, the campaign had real impact, with total number of global consumer actions (e.g., signing a petition) reaching 300,000.

  • Share Your Values, but Start Story-First: Cheryl Houser, Founder and CEO of Creative Breed, stressed the importance of authenticity in storytelling during the session, “Storytelling and Empathy in Purpose-Driven Economy.” Houser shared how Microsoft’s newest Super Bowl ad – the first from the brand in four years – led with the story of the children positively impacted by the Xbox Adaptive Controller – instead of the product attributes. Through this story arc, the ad reflected the brand’s values of innovation and inclusion without “selling” – and resulted in one of the most effective ads of the Super Bowl in terms of emotion and purchase.

  • Encourage Executive Allies for ERGs: A panel entitled “Employees as Catalysts for Corporate Change” shared the importance of employee resource groups (ERGs) for creating change in and outside of organizations. And to shed away misconceptions – the panel emphatically agreed that anyone can be an ally to an ERG, even if they are not part of that identity. In fact, allies are a critical component of ERG work. Ben Delk, Equality Program Manager for Salesforce, shared that for his organization, this meant educating and empowering executive sponsors – this helped create powerful allies for ERG work at the very highest levels of the company. It also helped those executives have valuable conversations so they could develop authentic narratives for the company.

  • The Power of Private-Private Partnerships: In a session entitled, “Can the Private Sector Solve for Inequality,” Parag Mehta, Executive Director of the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, touched on the importance of partnerships of all types – even private-private partnerships. Mehta spoke to the powerful result that came when Unilever and MasterCard came together to solve microfinance challenges in Africa. Because business owners in many underdeveloped regions rely solely on cash, they have never had the opportunity to build credit. However, Unilever stepped in to show steady purchase histories from these small shop owners, and the two companies worked together to provide credit options to an otherwise cash constrained market.

  • Purpose-Driven Brands are Like Friends: On the panel “Women are Building the Brands We’ve Always Wanted,” panelists explored how consumers today are making purchasing decisions when exposed to so many products, services and messages a day. “When the functional needs are the same, we have to make a choice on something else” said, Jamie Gilpin of Sprout Social Inc. AJ Hassan of R/GA built on this, and how consumers are now choosing brands that align with their values, introducing the concept of Purpose-driven brands as ‘friends.’ “Who do you make friends with? You make friends with someone who gets you. Brands need to think of themselves that way.”

Although the conversations at SXSW are as diverse as the activations – one theme rang true: Purpose-driven brands are on the leading edge of not only what consumers want – but what they expect from the brands they associate with. And in an era where brand messages are as crowded as Sixth Street during “Southby,” brands that lead with Purpose will stand to win.

Still have SXSW FOMO? Check out a recording of the “Business and Social Justice in the Trump Era” session here.