If you were to name the highest ideal for any company, aside from profit, there’s a groundswell of interest in another word: purpose.
But what, exactly, is a company’s purpose? Surprisingly few leaders, in my experience, deeply understand their brand’s existential purpose. Even fewer actively work to connect purpose statements with tangible, sustained activity in the marketplace.
Why? Among many reasons, it’s hard. It’s hard to orient an entire organisation around a single vision, purpose and achieve social impact while also making a profit.
However, there is another way of looking at this dilemma. It is possible to have your proverbial cake and eat it. Or to borrow from the T2 Tea playbook, drink tea and change the world.
A creative, poetic video produced by T2 in March - just as the pandemic gripped the world - is cleverly called Verse of Tea. As an expression of T2’s customer community, Tea Society, it captured my imagination. If you’re a leader in any capacity, it’s worth studying as an example of what happens when you bring purpose to life.
It’s all Amy’s fault
As the conversation unfolded, I wanted to know what made T2, a division of Unilever, unique. Sure, it’s a BCorp and is doing wonderful work in sustainability with its supply chains, recyclable packaging and environmental commitment. Yep, it’s a good premium brand and the product itself is great. But is that enough?
Amy’s response was to point at what brand strategists and marketers call the emotional high ground. Put aside any reflexive cynicism for a moment and think of it this way: every brand has a purpose, a reason for being. Customers, meanwhile, typically enjoy the outcomes or result of your products or services.
Sure, you drink tea (or coffee) and enjoy the experience, but isn’t there more to the story? How much do you value the time out, a conversation with someone over a cuppa? That’s where the emotional high ground exists.
For T2, its driving purpose isn’t to get more people drinking tea. It’s about understanding each other, building relationships and breaking down relational barriers to make the world a better place by embracing “diversi-tea,” as Amy calls it.
Seem too lofty? To say it out loud, maybe. But that doesn’t make it any less real.
Here’s Amy connecting the dots between the pursuit of the emotional high ground, a brand’s purpose, and its belief system:
"Our brand believes the world is more beautiful because of the things that are different. Whether it's flavour, taste, geography, colour. That the world is more beautiful because of its diversity and in fact, there's unity in that, and that is something to be celebrated and a bit like a chef celebrates different cuisine and creates fusions.
We're kind of obsessed with at a human level saying that diversity is something that we are very, very passionate about because at a product level and at a human level, it's really important to us. Different is beautiful."
The counter narrative
Think about this through the lens of storytelling. Amy’s talking about counter narrative, a vision for relationships and community that stands in defiance of the popular ways of thinking.
That is, we’ve become accustomed to political division, binary arguments, short attention spans and endless scrolling through social media feeds.
T2’s vision, as brought alive through this video, dives deep into a different approach with a powerful message. We need to take time to slow down, listen to each other, be slow to judge and celebrate diversity.
“We made a short film that was three minutes, which is the time that it takes to brew a decent cup of tea,” Amy explained on the podcast. “And in that three minutes, we were able to listen to four different poets tackle how it's felt to be on the end of unconscious bias, and we looked at transgender or sexual identity, ageism and race.
“The poets themselves wrote the words. They're remarkable humans and I love the fact that poetry is coming back into culture again. Spoken word poetry is such a powerful force at the moment, but what was interesting is in that three minutes and the people that I'm showing it to, not one person has said they didn't get something out of it.”
Confronting your identity
Aside from the issues discussed, and great creative execution, Verse for Tea resonates with me because it’s a powerful lesson for all leaders, regardless of industry sector.
Just how well do you understand your customers? What issues are they wrestling with? How well do you understand their Belief Journey, as I call it in Beliefonomics. That is, if you have a vision for and a belief in a just and fair society, how many of your customers have taken time to contemplate their role in making that happen?
It’s worth asking the question, then putting your insights into action.
If, like T2, you can foster conversations that matter to both your brand and its customers, growth will follow (T2’s online sales are up 30 percent during the pandemic, according to the AFR).
This is the power of embracing the emotional high ground as a key expression of purpose. It’s an approach that looks beyond the limitations of traditional competition. Any brand can tell the world it’s the best, fastest, most worthy producer of beverages, widgets or services.
But few can confidently claim they’re making the world a better place and telling stories that invite us to become believers.
Perhaps Verse of Tea is a clever teacher. A universe-i-tea, as it were, for those of us aspiring to brew purpose and profit together in ever tastier ways.
P.S. Share this blog on LinkedIn and I'll send you a gift-wrapped and signed copy of my book AND a special T2 surprise gift as a thank you. Tag me, and a friend or colleague, and I'll gladly send a book and gift to the person you tag as well! Find me on LinkedIn.
MARK JONES is a brand strategist, author and keynote speaker. His purpose is to inspire more people to use the power of storytelling to change their world. Find out more at markhjones.net and subscribe to receive his weekly blog direct to your inbox.