Claudia Willvonseder is the CMO at IKEA Group and is the chair of the Effective Use of Brand Purpose category at the 2018 WARC Awards. Here, she talks about IKEA’s purpose, the importance of employee engagement and why brands are like glass boxes.

What does brand purpose done well look like?

When it shines through each and every action of a company. Brand purpose is not about what a company or brand says, but what it does. A well-executed brand purpose is about showing, not telling.

What are your favourite non-IKEA examples of brand purpose?

One is Patagonia which lives its brand purpose uncompromisingly. They have a super strong ‘why’ at the core of their business and they express it confidently. It’s a shining example of brand purpose done well.

Another is Nike. Using a different approach to Patagonia, Nike’s brand purpose comes to life particularly strongly via corporate social activities. And it’s admirable that Nike has executed the purpose of the brand consistently over many years.

Do you think that brand purpose sometimes gets confused with more CSR-led initiatives?

Currently, I see a lot of brands using purpose as another marketing tool. But it's really a business position from which to run a purpose-driven company and brand. Some managers may have heard that millennials and younger people are attracted by purposeful brands. So they bring purpose into the CSR or marketing on a superficial level. I don't believe that this is enough. Purpose should be at the core of what the company's doing, how it’s running its business and what it provides to customers and society at large. Purpose should be a commitment from senior management in this whole value chain, through each and every action, to each and every co-worker. Purpose cannot be divided up into design, product, people and communications. It unites the company with one common cause.

Explain IKEA’s purpose about creating a better life for the many people.

Ingvar Kamprad, our founder, had a vision for IKEA, which he formulated as: creating a better everyday life for the many people. It's at the core of why IKEA exists. Ingvar believed that everyone, regardless of what they earn or where they live, deserves to have a good life at home because our life starts at home. If you have a harmonious, smooth-running home life, it has an impact on your life generally. And that has an impact on society.

Of course, society is changing. A family does not necessarily mean a man, a woman and one or two children. Family is how you define it, and we draw on insight into how people all over the world live their lives at home. We build an emotional connection to the IKEA brand, coming together with an understanding of life at home, and its importance, and what that means to people. This resonates regardless of whether you grew up in the countryside or in a big city like Shanghai, or whether you’re a programmer in Palo Alto, or work in a bakery in a small city.

IKEA has very ambitious sustainability goals. How do you communicate that to consumers?

It is all about taking our customers with us on the journey. We share our commitments, and then celebrate every milestone together. We try to avoid one-off sustainability campaigns in favour of building a more consistent long-term approach to create awareness.

How important is employee engagement to a brand purpose strategy?

It all starts with strong employee engagement. If every co-worker knows what we do and why, and what's behind our product and our company, they will share this with customers in-store, through the call centre – or wherever they meet them. In today’s transparent world, a company or brand has become like a glass box. In the old days, you could paint a picture of a brand or a company. Now, with social media and today’s hi-tech digital world, anyone can look in. And what they see are your co-workers: all of them. So if societal impact becomes part of the corporate culture, this shines out from the glass box to the world outside, to all the stakeholders. Co-worker engagement needs to be at the core of any purpose-driven company.

For this particular category, we've asked for evidence of both commercial success and societal impact. What advice would you give to people who are trying to prove the effectiveness of their brand purpose strategy?

If you really want to make a commitment to purpose in your business, it is important to define and then track both quantitative and qualitative objectives. At IKEA, we have evidence that every time we launch a product where we have managed to communicate societal impact, it sells better than our other products, whether it’s a light bulb or a chair.

Commercial success is a very clear indicator that purpose works. From a more qualitative perspective, we see purpose in terms of societal meaningfulness reflected in the brand perception and awareness. It also drives retention with co-workers, and that’s a good indicator.

The other dimension is loyalty. Purpose builds strongly loyal customers, as well as creating brand ambassadors. Brand ambassadorship and brand loyalty are ways to prove that societal impact is supporting the business long-term. When NGOs and the media share positive content around the brand and the company that demonstrates the societal impact, too.

What advice would you like to give to people who are considering entering this category?

My advice would be not to consider this as a communication case but to look from a company case perspective where communication is one element. Share examples about how the case shows short-term, mid-term and long-term business and brand impact.

Do you have an Effective Use of Brand Purpose campaign that you’d like to enter into the 2018 WARC Awards? It’s free to enter and the deadline is 12 February. Other categories include Effective Content Strategy, Effective Use of Brand Purpose and Effective Innovation. Find all you need to enter here.