Join us for VISIONS Summit NYC  - June 11
Season 2 Episode 10
November 16, 2022


There has never been a time like now where customers expect such a relationship and purpose from brands. How are brands to think about this and handle this well while staying true to who they are? And how many consumers are actually driven to purpose-focused brands?

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There has never been a time like now where customers expect such a relationship and purpose from brands. How are brands to think about this and handle this well while staying true to who they are? And how many consumers are actually driven to purpose-focused brands?

Like a Downton Abbey Valet

  • We each have a reason and a purpose we are striving for, and it’s part of what drives us as humans
  • Purpose should be high priority for brands, and that includes their purpose in the world and consumers and also their purpose internally 
  • After being in the beauty and fashion industries for so long where building connections and relationships with customers is so vital, Ingrid finds that her experience there adds to her work now in the health and wellness space
  • Even though a lot of people understand that unsustainable practices aren’t good for the planet, do they also feel badly enough to make a change in behavior to do something about it?
  • Companies like PepsiCo have changed their messaging to relate to the more prevalent conversation of health and wellness in the marketplace and also have added healthier products to their offering
  • Having a sense of understanding that what you’re doing matters, that your company matters, that your manager/leaders care about you, and that you are making an impact, is very important in getting the most of our a person in a workplace
  • Every level in a company needs to be treated as just as important to the purpose as any other level
  • “Everyone wants to matter. Everyone wants to have a job to do and contribute to something.” - Kiri

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Ingrid: [00:00:10] Hello and welcome to Infinite Shelf, the human-centric retail podcast. I'm your host, Ingrid Milman Cordy, and I am joined by our guest host for the second half of Season 2. Kiri Masters. Hey, Kiri.

Kiri: [00:01:22] Hello, Ingrid. How are you?

Ingrid: [00:01:24] I'm great. I'm great. How's everything been?

Kiri: [00:01:27] Yeah, it's another week, done and dusted. We usually record these on a Friday afternoon, so it's a good chance to sort of ease out of the day-to-day and get into the weekend with reflections.

Ingrid: [00:01:43] Totally. It's a good bookend. I feel like we're fresh off of the week and we just have all of our mind set. Well, so today's episode is talking about purpose, and it is the continuation of our series into human elements, things that make us human by nature. In previous episodes, we've talked about belonging, community, creativity, curiosity, and how all of those ultimately very, very human behaviors lead into and bleed into our lives as both people who run brands and also people who consume brands and products and services. And it's been such an incredible journey with you so far, Kiri. Thank you so much for joining and also just for making this conversation so much more robust.

Kiri: [00:02:37] Right back at ya.

Ingrid: [00:02:38] I'm very excited to talk about purpose and the human perspective and how that all works within our lives professionally, personally, and the intermingling. What's top of mind for you when it comes to purpose as it relates to consumer behavior?

Kiri: [00:02:51] Yes. Where we started with this was sort of a description of purpose that each of us has here for a reason, and our mission is to find out what that is and then do it as best we can. And I don't know about you, Ingrid, but this is something that I have been sort of not struggling with, but sort of searching for, especially in the last few years. I've had a lot of my sort of personal identity tied up with being an entrepreneur and a business owner. And I'm not a business owner anymore. I sold my company in February, and it was a great experience. I'm very happy where I am, but my identity really shifted because I'm not on my own responsible for 60 people's livelihoods anymore. Things have changed a little bit and it really has got me thinking more about purpose and what am I here for, and finding that out and then trying to do that as best as I can. So just personally, I'm going through a little bit of a sort of search for that purpose as an individual. And it does make me think about, as you mentioned, how does commerce interplay with that. How does my role as a leader and as a mother and as a family member and a community member, where does that come from?

Ingrid: [00:04:21] Yeah, I'm actually I'm so glad that you brought that up, because thinking about our lives at work, especially people who work as much as we do {laughter} and have so many things going on with work and it's hard to dismantle the people that we are and the identities that we create at work from who we are as people. And so when I've been in similar situations, not selling my company. Congratulations, by the way. That's quite an accomplishment. But I have been in situations where at one point I worked so long in beauty and fashion eCommerce and digital, that that was so much part of my identity. And then moving to Nuun and starting to work in the health and wellness space, I didn't actually realize how much of that category or industry was part of who I was and then had to retrain my brain and also just think about who I am as a person separately from those industries has been interesting. And I think a lot of what [00:05:26] I have found in that self-awareness journey or continuing to be on that self-awareness journey is just the elements that I feel are the common thread that maybe I don't work in beauty and fashion anymore, but I think that the lessons from the beauty and fashion industry are so much about brand building and so much about creating a connection, like an emotional connection with your consumers, that actually having that awareness and being able to then build that into the way that I approach health and wellness and CPG has been so helpful. [00:06:09] And so I think  [00:06:11]it starts with understanding how closely we are tied to those identities and then piecing out maybe not the top level, the title of what that person is, like an entrepreneur or a person that works in fashion and beauty, but doubling down into or clicking down into what those characteristics are. [00:06:32] So you are someone who has a vision and is able to make a lot of people or a considerable amount of people align to that vision and execute on that vision, which to me is very much an entrepreneur but is also someone who is a director or someone within a larger organization that has direct reports. So I think that if we step back from like these titles and we peel back into what are the characteristics, and again, I do still think that all aligns with your higher purpose. So you aren't going to be a person who people follow or execute on their vision if you aren't someone who is purpose-driven and isn't tapping into their internal motivations and things like that. So I think it is all within this larger purpose conversation and just figuring out which pieces and which characteristics really are fueling these identities. Yeah, So that's how it relates to where we sit with our people and with our teams and with ourselves. And so on the other side of it though, so the purpose that brands bring and I think if there is one characteristic of brands that has become more important in this century, the 21st century and certainly starting in the 2010s and 2020s, that brands have needed to embody that they haven't before, I would absolutely say purpose is number one. There has never been, at least from my understanding, there's never been a period where consumers expect a relationship with purpose with their brands. And I think that that is both fascinating and important, but also sometimes really confusing. How do you see brands going through that journey in a meaningful way?

Kiri: [00:08:57] Yes, it's so interesting because this is an area where I feel a little bit skeptical both about some brands having a real intention around purpose or if it is a marketing tactic at the end of the day. I'm a marketer and I'm sort of a little skeptical of some of those companies that have this overly flowery kind of purpose.

Ingrid: [00:09:24] Right. And there's even a name for that, right? There's like greenwashing or cause washing.

Kiri: [00:09:29] Yeah, exactly. And then I'm also skeptical, in some instances at least, about what people say they care about with a brand around nonproduct dimensions or price that things like sustainability. But then also like young people, let's say, care about the sustainability of where things come from and the carbon miles of a product. But then they're also the ones buying fast fashion from Shein.

Ingrid: [00:10:06] Oh my gosh. I know.

Kiri: [00:10:07] I'm a little confused about how much purpose people really take into account when they're actually making buying decisions and aligning with brands, or if it is one of those things where people say that they care about something or that they're going to act a certain way, that you really didn't follow what they're actually doing and what the paper trail actually says that they've done.

Ingrid: [00:10:35] I think that's a very valid observation and I think similar to a lot of things that are maybe extra polarizing in our current environment, it's almost like there's always going to be the 10% of people who will not, simply will not, buy from a brand that isn't doing something, like isn't B Corp certified or isn't doing something for the environment or wherever their cause or purpose markers lie. I think that 10% are just completely committed to that. And then there's the other 10% that not only couldn't care less but are frustrated or roll their eyes at any company that thinks it's important to do something to give back. "Because we live in a capitalist society and who cares about that?" And then I think there's the 80% that's remaining that falls somewhere in the middle. I don't know if for the 80%, the cause marketing, even if it's incredibly powerful and really making a difference, is going to be the differentiator between them adding to cart with that brand versus another brand. Do you feel similarly? What are your thoughts on that?

Kiri: [00:11:56] Yeah, I agree with that. I think when I think about my buying habits, I try and buy as responsibly as I can when I'm shopping. And then I also make a lot of decisions that are very convenience-oriented as well. So I sort of understand and reluctantly accept that I am a walking hypocrite. {laughter} I've tried to use the bar soap shampoo, so I have to buy a bottle of shampoo. I use the stuff that comes in a bar and it just doesn't work quite as well. And I get a little upset when I have all my Amazon purchases arriving in different boxes, but what am I really going to do about that? I think this is an area where [00:12:53] it's almost the curse of knowledge that we are understanding that we're killing the planet. Most of us feel pretty bad about it, but to the extent that we're willing to change our lifestyles and accept way more inconvenience to actually sort of start turning the clock back, I think that a lot of people are sort of in that catch 22 of feeling guilty enough, but not really accepting a change of behavior significant enough to alleviate their guilt. [00:13:31]

Ingrid: [00:13:32] I have a lot of those thought patterns and experiences in my own life. I will say that having watched in the past, say, ten years, consumers become much more aware of, let's say, plastic, for example. What we're doing to our oceans, what we're doing to our environments and landfills and things like that. And they have incrementally changed their behavior so as to have the for-profit corporations sit up and take notice, like Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper, and Sprite, I think, are the three brands that came together and have aligned on a recycling mechanism. So they work together to make sure that all of their plastic bottles get reused and it's not truly single-use. And then the same thing with like plastic bottle makers like Poland Spring and all of those individually plastic bottles. They changed their caps and they changed the composure of their single-use plastic bottles. Are we still using single-use plastic bottles? Yes. Unfortunately, the level of convenience that those bring to people's lives is very big. Are there people who will never talk to you again if they see you holding a single-use plastic bottle? Yes. And they have reusable water bottles. And I'm very, very proud of people like that and I'm impressed by them. Have I tried to minimize substantially my use of single-use plastic? Absolutely. And have the corporations sat up and noticed these consumer trends toward being aware of the impacts that plastic has on the environment? Yes. So I think it's kind of this evolving, everyone in their own part of the supply chain and the consumer experience having some form of awareness and then taking some action, I think really has made a difference, actually.

Kiri: [00:16:29] Yeah. And I think that those are great points. And I think that we've also sort of gone out a very specific area of purpose which is around sustainability and saving the planet. But there are also a lot of other things that people would align on in terms of a purpose. So being a present and active parent. And I was just mentioning that I signed up to be the den leader of my son's Cub Scouts. And so that is now part of my identity and part of my purpose. I'm going to be the camping mom. I'm going to be sort of changing my buying habits around that. And so that's the purpose. Mostly I mentioned health and wellness, and that's a huge societal shift that we've seen over the last 30 years or so is really, really focusing on health and longevity. Those are things that I care about as well and what I'm putting into my body and how I'm using it. Those are all things that people have a very strong affinity and purpose around as well. So not necessarily just talking about cutting down fewer trees or whatever, but these affinities and very strong identities that we have that give us a sense of purpose and a mission and a sense of what we're here to do. 

Ingrid: [00:18:08] Humanity. Yeah, I agree with that. And I think that there is a lot of negativity or skepticism around the industry, the industrial complex around health and wellness. And I do understand there being a healthy level of skepticism around the profit motive, around health and wellness. I mean, certainly, as it relates to our health care system. So I won't even go into that. But as it relates to consumer products and things that are available for purchase, we've seen an explosion of health and wellness products become available to the average consumer, and those industries have all been growing exponentially. And so the natural question that we have to ask ourselves is, "Okay, well, what is the purpose of having these industries take on what they have taken on? Are they actually setting out to make everything better or are they setting out to just make a profit off of people's emotional connections to purpose and wanting to feel good? And I think it's just another one of those examples where it's the answer is yes on both sides.

Kiri: [00:19:27] Yeah. 

Ingrid: [00:19:29] And so here we are ten or 15 years into this wellness products and services revolution. And I think that it's one of those things where people who maybe weren't thinking about their health and wellness to the degree that they are today a few years ago before all of these products came to life and the marketing associated with them comes into their homes and into their lives and to their phones, I have to have to think that people are actually behaving in more healthful ways because of all of these products and at least the awareness and at least when people are now eating junk food they're at least aware, "Oh, this is junk food," versus, "Oh, this is just a juice that I bought at the supermarket." And they realize that there's a lot of sugar in it now. And maybe that's okay. Even just the awareness of if I have just a little bit less of that, that is healthier. Whereas before, I don't think that that was really part of the conversation.

Kiri: [00:20:39] Definitely. Yeah. I know when Indra Nooyi joined as CEO of PepsiCo. That was a big campaign that she had, a big platform that she had of taking PepsiCo, it's high-calorie kind of products in a lot of cases and repositioning that as sometimes a treat, but then also introducing a lot of lower sugar products that are healthier and sort of realigning the company around items that are going to be healthier for people or repositioning it as like, "Yeah, we're not expecting you to have three Pepsis a day. It's a sometimes food."

Ingrid: [00:21:34] I think even with that purpose in mind when she came in as the CEO, her infusing that, I don't know it also kind of coincided with PepsiCo doing exceptionally better in the stock market and that purpose that she infused into the company. Obviously, I'm sure there's a ton of continued work to do with respect to PepsiCo becoming a partner in your health and wellness journey. But I do think that that focus for the company that she directed actually also helped the company achieve fantastic results.

Kiri: [00:23:49] Definitely.

Ingrid: [00:23:50] Yeah. Yeah. I think we've talked about purpose at the individual level, purpose at the brand level, and how it can really put your brand on the mark as long as you're actually doing what you set out to do. What do you think about purpose as it relates to the workforce and how much purpose employees expect to have in their day to day?

Kiri: [00:24:18] Yeah. This is so important to me. And I think about people being engaged at work, and I don't want to get into the whole make this a huge part of this discussion today. But the concept of quiet quitting is something that people are having a reaction to. Some people think it's a reversion to the mean, a reaction to hustle culture, and maybe this is healthy and we all need a bit more balanced. And then there is also a genuine fear of people being checked out and not really contributing to the organizations that they work at. But I guess what I want to just say is [00:25:04] having a sense of purpose and an understanding of how your job fits into the larger organization, whether there is a really nice feeling company mission or not, just knowing that your job matters and that the context of what you're working on matters, that what you're working on really has an impact, that your manager really does care about you is a very, very important driver of people feeling engaged at work and getting the most out of people. So I think this is one of the most important things that you can give to your people is that sense of purpose and mission, whether they're an entry-level coordinator or someone leading a big division or an entire company, this is absolutely essential. [00:25:56]

Ingrid: [00:25:57] I really agree. And I actually think there are a lot of different versions of this conversation as it relates to purpose and mission for employees. And I love that you brought it to the purpose at every level. And it's not just having purpose as this visionary leader in this mission-driven company that's going to solve all of the world's problems. But it's each individual contributor at every single level, whether they're delivering packages or being a teller at a bank. You're part of the system and when you think about your contribution, as large or as small as it can be, is a part of that vision, I think is so important and such a good framework. What it makes me think of is I loved and was the biggest Downton Abbey fan back in the day when it came out, the first few seasons.

Kiri: [00:27:02] I wouldn't have picked that. That's so funny.

Ingrid: [00:27:04] I know everyone thinks it's like the strangest little tidbit about me. It is not on brand for me at all. I got to keep you all guessing, but yeah, big, big, big Downton Abbey fan. And I think it was like definitely in the first season or something like that where there was someone who was moving. And so just a quick primer for those of you who weren't alive during 2012 when Downton Abbey ruled the world. It's basically the story of a very, very old moneyed English family who lives on this mansion property and has a very large staff of servants and butlers and valets, valets as they call them in English. All of these people who service them. And it's the story of how their lives are run and a little bit of soap opera drama. Anyway. And so within there, there was a character that was introduced that was part of that upper class and part of the class that was being served by the servants in the home. And they were so appalled by having to be served and had very modern, frankly, views of servitude and what that means. And in a scene, they were asking the valet who was dressing them, "Please don't do that. I can dress myself." Kind of offended that they would even try to dress them. And the valet actually turned around and said, "Sir, this is my job. This is my purpose. If I am not dressing you, I don't have a place. And so please allow me to dress you because this is my place." And obviously, there's like a lot of layers in that. And we can go into an entirely another episode about that. But it does refocus it where it made the person who is asking someone not to do their job... It's like, "Well, then what am I supposed to do? I don't have a purpose outside of that." And I thought that was so enlightening.

Kiri: [00:29:22] Yes. Yeah, I love that. That's a really good example. With all the narrative about quiet quitting and especially managers can be a little bit skeptical about why people are there and what their motivations can be. But at the end of the day, [00:29:44] everyone wants to matter. Everyone wants to have a job to do and contribute to something. [00:29:50] So great point.

Ingrid: [00:29:52] When you think about the people that are at the checkout counter at Trader Joe's, there are some of the happiest people in the world. They are just thrilled to be there or at least doing a fantastic job in pretending they are thrilled to be there. But I think it's one of those things where if you give people dignity to what they do and pay them fairly and give them the health benefits that they deserve and make them feel and show them that they're a valued part of the team, I think that's where purpose at every single level comes to life for organizations. 

Kiri: [00:30:36] Love it.

Ingrid: [00:30:37] Yeah, well, this was I mean, I loved talking purpose. I feel like I can have so many more conversations with you about this. Is there anything that we missed in our little Google doc?

Kiri: [00:30:50] No. I think this is a great place to leave it.

Ingrid: [00:30:52] Awesome. So thank you all for joining us on the purpose discussion. And I would really, really love it if we can continue having the conversation either through socials or in your reviews. Please, please contribute. It's a really, really fascinating one for me. And I loved having you here, Kiri, as always, thank you so much. 

Kiri: [00:31:14] Thank you, Ingrid.

Ingrid: [00:31:15] See you next time.

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