Greater Purpose

Dove soars clear of Nivea

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Many if not most of the brands with strong VIBE have a halo that radiates well beyond their immediate business. Their purposes tend to include some form of social good that favorably impacts individuals, communities and/or the planet.  They inspire by taking on important issues and making you proud to be associated with their efforts, fostering such a strong connection people would follow them into a totally different category.

Few brands have done a better job of this than has Dove, Unilever’s flagship hygiene and beauty brand. Dove is out-vibing key competitor, Nivea, and is the only package goods company to receive outstanding scores for being “Inspiring” worldwide.  In the US, the brand leads the pack on ‘committed to making the world a better place’ earning higher scores than any of the 60 brands in that market, with the exception of TOMS Shoes. It is truly exceptional to see ‘a soap brand’ appropriate this kind of territory.

Dove’s decade-long campaign to build self-esteem is a lesson in the art and science of seamless integration of a social good story into a brand’s equity.  Dove taps into a fundamental insight about their target: only 4% of women consider themselves beautiful. Almost all the others just feel huge pressure to live up to a fictional and unachievable definition of beauty. The brand works in partnership with organizations like the Girl Scouts, and through award-winning social media campaigns, reaches millions of girls in an effort to help them feel better about being who they are.

This “movement” is inextricably linked to Dove’s Real Beauty brand positioning. One feeds off the other and together they invite girls and women to feel beautiful while taking part in a vision that is changing the world for the better. Dove’s “Nurturer” brand character is clear, consistent and authentic in its dialogue with girls across all touch-points. Women love this brand because it understands them and is investing earnestly to redefine beauty, instilling confidence in them rather than anxiety. Despite the fact that their campaign is almost 10 years old, their message remains fresh and their VIBE scores keep soaring.

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But it’s no longer just women who find Dove “Inspiring.”  In the USA, where we measured Dove’s VIBE two years ago, we see substantial movement among men in their perception of Dove as both “Inspiring” and “Visionary.” And, why not?  Dove has made a huge investment in the Dove Men + Care line, and is wisely leveraging the changing role of men in society – particularly the evolving role of fatherhood — in its marketing activities. To wit, while expanding its base of social advocates from mommy bloggers to daddy bloggers, Dove served as main sponsor at a recent “Dad 2.0” conference. The Dove Men + Care line also promotes the idea of being “comfortable in your own skin,” a corollary to the women’s campaign, which undoubtedly is supporting the perception that Dove is leading the way.

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Investment in social good initiatives is necessary for today’s leading brands to engender trust with consumers and stakeholders. But it is not sufficient. In order for that investment to pay out, it needs to resonate and be coherent with brand values. Starbucks is an example of a brand that is not optimizing this investment.

Starbucks has emerged from a few difficult years with outstanding business results in 2012.  But its lofty mission ‘to inspire the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time,’ if brought properly to life, should generate strong scores for “Inspiring.”  Yet its rank on this dimension is lower than Coca Cola, Nescafé or even Lipton, highlighting a real problem.

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In his speeches, Chairman and Founder Howard Schultz speaks passionately about authenticity and humanity.  However, the brand’s mission hasn’t come through with the same kind of robustness as its growth.  Once known for ethically sourcing the finest coffee beans and improving the lives of people who grow them, the bulk of the brand’s CR budget today is allocated to empowering the Baristas in local stores to positively impact their communities. The intention is certainly noble, but given the ubiquity of a brand for being on every street corner in the USA and in 58 different countries, the challenge of imbuing that same brand with a local community feel is ambitious, to say the least.  If that’s truly the intention, the community impacts need to be more manifest. For example, the community revitalization programs need to be showcased in-store.  And perhaps the Create Jobs for USA initiative should not have been named as such, since it connotes bigness whereas in reality, the collected monies from the program go to underserved local community businesses. Only someone who reads the fine print would see the link. Even the name “Global Month of Service” defeats the purpose of conveying localness as does the image of the planet at the core of its communication. Ultimately, the disparate parts of Starbucks social responsibility strategy feel disconnected to each other and to the brand. It is hard to know what they stand for. To build the Inspirational component of their VIBE, Starbucks will need either to tap into a social good project that is more closely aligned with their brand image or to find a way of making their thriving communities commitment more tangible and credible.

Is it even possible to convey that sense of smallness when a business is so big?