LEADING EXPERT ON PURPOSE BRANDING, CORPORATE CITIZENSHIP, SUSTAINABILITY AND CSR
Carol Cone was always driven straight into the future by a purpose, a passionate dedication for achieving both commercial and social good. Maybe that’s why now, 35 years after starting her first consulting firm, Cone & Company, the “mother of cause marketing” has just launched a new consultancy, appropriately named “Carol Cone ON PURPOSE” (CCOP).
This headlong determination may be the result of many different factors, but perhaps it was her vocation as an equestrienne, someone who in college earned the nickname “Crash” because of a few really bad falls. But she learned to get back up on that horse–in her case, more than proverbial–and cantor ahead to that next big jump. In 2006, she earned the title of National Adult Hunter Jumping Champion. Whatever the source of her inspiration, she has long been impelled toward the singular idea of pursuing social issues through the medium of business–aligning companies, brands and causes by asking organizations to answer one simple question: “What do you stand for?”
Carol always knew that an emotional bond with the people inside and outside companies was essential for an organization’s success. She recognized the need for something deep, authentic, sustained and relevant to both the company’s values and to the people it serves. Her natural intuition told her it was no longer enough to make a quality product and sell it at a fair price. To grow, she believed that companies needed to invest in a more equitable and healthier world. She became enthralled with business leaders like Anita Roddick of The Body Shop, Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s–corporate pioneers who blended their businesses with their values and social justice.
Companies now have gone a step further in searching for “purpose”–an organization’s aspirational reason for being beyond profits. That’s because this power of purpose
has now become more than a “nice-to-have” for do-good organizations; in our transparent business world, it has become essential for just about everyone. This has been proven across every metric–including revenues, productivity, innovation, employee retention, consumer loyalty and community support. Some of Carol’s favorite purpose examples: Chipotle stands for Food with Integrity, Unilever for Making Sustainable Living Commonplace, IBM for Building A Smarter Planet, REI Coop for Living Outside, Starbucks To Inspire and Nurture the Human Spirit. These companies keep their values at the front and center. Their purpose has quickly become a north star and focus for everything they pursue. She insists that finding this purpose within your company is as easy as identifying your goals of purpose and then setting out on the journey to achieve them.
In Carol’s Words: “Intuitively I started linking companies and social issues in 1983–Rockport and walking, Reebok and human rights, Avon and breast cancer, ConAgra Foods and childhood hunger, PNC Financial Services and early childhood education. I am so proud today to be called the “mother of cause marketing” and to know that the public- private partnerships I helped birth have raised more than $2 billion for social issues.
But this work won’t become a movement if we just do it with a few visionary companies. We have to share the information to ignite everyone’s passion. So early on, I funded research to validate the potential of linking companies and causes. In 1993, I launched the Cone/Roper report, the world’s first cause marketing research. I shared it with anyone interested. (‘Open source’ would be the term today.)”
The responses that Carol received to this research compelled her to develop more of it. She continued to fund studies, author blogs and newsletters to prove the power of purpose. She also employed more than 100 interns over the years and joined the board of Net Impact, so she could share her experience and passion with future generations.
Her newest venture, CCOP, is an umbrella organization that houses two purpose engines–The Purpose Collaborative (to help companies) and The Idea Accelerator (to help social entrepreneurs).
Within The Purpose Collaborative, there are approximately two dozen agencies and experts, which includes some of the smartest purpose-centric talent in the world eager to do exceptional work that matters. Teams are hand-picked to complete assignments large and small, which Cone likens to the “Hollywood model,” where a producer hand-picks talent to create a movie. Everyone involved is passionate about solving client purpose challenges in smart, nimble and efficient ways. Because of the Collaborative’s remarkable diversity of talent, Cone says it can solve many types of challenge–from uncovering an organization or a brand’s core purpose, to building it into their culture, to inspiring new sustainable product and service innovations, to developing societal programs, to engaging employees and people in real and memorable ways.
The second engine, The Idea Accelerator, showcases breakthrough concepts and programs from established entities and emerging social entrepreneurs to help them scale. This is the “idea” matchmaker portion of CCOP, which helps these entities and entrepreneurs–often in the early stages–get to the next level by gaining exposure, partners and funding.
All of this leads to the resounding message that there needs to be a new type of capitalism; the relationship between producers and consumers has now been broken. The famous economist Milton Friedman once said, “There is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits.” This outdated concept of business is finally dead, for in a world of instant communications and nearly complete transparency, not to mention pressing global social needs, the equation for a successful business has changed.
With this updated definition of success in business, Cone says it’s important for people to use their personal passion to influence whatever social or environmental issues that touch their hearts. “Everyone should now be using their voices, work and wallets towards something good. Basically, do something you will be proud of in 30 years!” She offers two simple ways to get involved quickly: (1) Join Net Impact, the nonprofit that helps young people leverage their net impact and power to influence business to do well and do good; (2) Share her new website, www.PurposeCollaborative.com, with companies who need help along their purpose journey. “Everyone has the power to make a difference in the world,” says Cone. Few people have proven that point more dramatically and consistently than Carol Cone.
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