Telum Talks To... Simon Hearn, Director, Head of APAC, distillery

Telum Talks To... Simon Hearn, Director, Head of APAC, distillery

Simon Hearn shares more about the distillery’s latest survey on brand and social purpose in SEA, what makes it important and tips to avoid being labelled as greenwashing.

Based on the distillery's survey: The Importance of Brand and Social Purpose in Southeast Asia, consumers in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are now more aware of brand purpose. What is a brand purpose and why does it matter? 
A brand's purpose is what drives them beyond making money. While your product or service connects with your consumer on a functional level, your purpose should connect on a deeper, more emotional level, something you’re passionate about. A strong brand purpose gives greater meaning, it makes your brand relatable, separating you from your competitors.

Brands have the power and ability to change the world and consumers can see (and feel) that! With everything that has happened over the past 18 months due to COVID-19, and the prevalence of other societal challenges like racial injustice and climate change, most consumers have taken this year as an opportunity for reflection. A pattern we’ve seen is people searching for more purpose and meaning in every aspect of their lives, including the brands they support. So brands who focus on their purpose, and make positive changes, will be recognised and rewarded by their consumers with brand loyalty. 

Any tips for brands in SEA to build the perfect purpose for their businesses? 
For the region, finding a purpose that is long term, and has full commitment across the business can be challenging, especially for larger more established companies where it needs institutional change and requires input from a lot of stakeholders. 

For it to be the right ‘why’, it needs careful consideration and be rooted in your business. It’s important to get this right in how you think and act internally, before expressing it externally to your consumers. If you try to preach about support for a societal issue, but your company isn’t pulling in the same direction, then our research shows consumers will be very quick to call it out. And social media gives them a greater reach to be heard and impact a brand negatively. 

But this should not put anyone off, as most brands will know their reason for being, or at least have a good idea. It’s then just about channelling it in the right way, consistently over time, so consumers believe in you. 

What do you think has the biggest impact in changing consumer behaviour, to be more aware of the brand and its social purpose?
Social media has given everyone a platform to voice an opinion or share a video, and for it to reach all corners of the globe. The Black Lives Matter movement, climate change marches, anti-vax demonstrations and #stopasianhate were amplified because of social media, which means we are more aware of what's going wrong in the world. As a result, people are starting to care more. 
Brands that invest in acting on their brand purposes - such as Nike, Unilever, The Body Shop and Danone - get referenced multiple times by respondents in our surveys as brands that are recognised for doing positive things in the world. Their recurrent actions and outward support set a bar for other brands, and consumers see how they do it, so they’ve come to expect it from other brands they support.
Our research also showed that Indonesians and Malaysians are seeking more positive social impact and purpose from brands, and their consumption habits will more likely favour those that are actively doing good.

What should brands do around sustainability to avoid being labelled or seen as greenwashing?
Always remember that hollow promises, a lack of action, or contradictions in what you do and say can have negative impacts if your customer finds out.
The simplified action plan can be broken down into 5 steps: 
  • Find your purpose: Ask yourself, what does your company do, how does it help your customers, and what can it do to make the world a better place?  Most importantly, beyond making money through a product or service, WHY does it exist?
  • Get aligned: Form your culture and ensure everything - from operations to internal processes - works towards this purpose.
  • Be active: Make a positive impact outside your organisation and create proof points that reinforce your commitment
  • Make some noise: Celebrate and talk about it in your marketing and communications. It will empower others to join you.   
  • Continue to build on this: Maintain consistency in what you say and do, and think about it for the long term, not a flash in the pan. 
Do you think it is important for brands to have sustainability leads in their comms teams and how has sustainability affected the relevance of CSR?
CSR is quite an old school approach and has a heritage of being something brands invest in to offset the bad in what they do. Put simply, CSR is a reactive approach to what you do, whereas Social Purpose is about being proactive. And to make a positive impact on the world, we need brands to be proactive. 

Whether it needs a dedicated resource is dependent on the company, their size and where they are in their growth journey. For larger, more established enterprises that have complex structures, legacy processes and more stakeholders, shifting the whole business to think and act differently is going to take time. Having a person or team whose role it is to drive that change is a straightforward approach to ensuring everyone is kept on track. They can be the ambassadors for change and best practices, and ensure continuity. 

With newer businesses or startups, many of them have already considered their purpose and it’s embedded across the business from the roots. That means as they grow, everyone who comes into the company buys into the purpose from day one, and it grows organically. You don’t need someone driving it if every employee is on the same journey and striving for the same goal. 

At distillery, we strongly believe in diversity, not just in terms of hiring but in creative ideas and the work that we do. We built a new font called “Diversity” to carry this through, where we invited 300+ designers across 50+ countries to contribute to its creation. Our team members are all advocates of D&I, and we champion this and our Diversity type project every chance we get.

Because it’s part of the distillery DNA, the brand purpose report seemed like a natural progression. We’re eager to share the findings and work with anyone who feels the same way or would like a little help to learn how.

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