Leadership lessons: Microsoft, BlackRock and Lime on building conscious brands

“Conscious brands need to be consistent with their actions and their messages internally and externally”

That was one of the resounding messages emanating from our Conscious Brands 100 launch event, held in partnership with Hall & Partners, to mark the launch of our inaugural report which examines the world’s leading brands through a conscious lens. 

We’ve been examining the rise of conscious brands since the decade began and the events of the past year have shaped how consumers responded to this inaugural survey, resulting in a top ten global list that acknowledges the role that many brands played during the pandemic months. 

At our virtual launch event, which brought together an audience of more than 1,000 from around the world, Microsoft’s General Manager – Brand Lori Gross, BlackRock’s Global Chief Marketing Officer Frank Cooper, and Wayne Ting, the Chief Executive Officer of Lime, shared their insights on how to lead and build conscious, purpose-led brands.

Microsoft ranked number 1 by consumers in the global Top 100 Conscious Brands list, yet Lori said that the brand’s top ranking in the report does not mean that it is ‘mission accomplished’ for the tech giant when it comes to being a conscious company. 

“At Microsoft we really believe we’re on a journey,” she said in her keynote speech at the event. “I joked with the Wolff Olins team that it’s lovely to be number 1, but for us we’d be much happier a few places down, because we think this is a journey we’re on. We’re not done.”

Microsoft’s mission statement, which is ‘to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more’, is at the company’s core, she said. “Our mission is what we talk about all the time,” she said. “Our mission is also really personal to employees.”

BlackRock’s Frank Cooper noted that brands are now at the stage in their evolution where they need a clear point of view about how they contribute to society. “The purpose of business is to improve life, and if you’re going to improve life as a business you have to get really clear on on how what you do ultimately serves that goal,” he explained in his speech.

All three leaders agreed that being consistent with your message across your entire business is a critical part of being a conscious brand. During a panel discussion as part of the event, Wayne Ting said that Lime’s products, such as its e-scooters and bikes, are integral to the brand’s message on working towards a cleaner, healthier planet, adding: “The product you sell should reflect the mission and the purpose you espouse, and those things cannot be separated.” 

Wayne warned that conscious brands need to be consistent with their actions and their messages internally and externally, adding that people will not buy into brands that are “two-faced” or show inconsistency or hypocrisy.

Lori agreed that a conscious brand’s purpose must be authentic. “You have to live it and breathe it,” she said. She added that brands need to show up in the moments that matter, saying: “It’s not about ‘hey, this is the right way to do it’, it’s about ‘what do you need, and how can I help support it?’”.

Frank advised that brands avoid what he called “common denominator polling” or diluting your message in order to please everyone. “We’re in a world now where you have to embrace and connect more deeply with those who love you,” he said. “You can persuade some people who are undecided, but to try to water down your message and your impact to please those who are against you is a fool’s errand.”

Measuring your purpose is key, and making those results public is a good way to keep improving, Wayne advised. “One of the things that gets companies to move is, frankly, public shaming,” he said. “[At Lime] we care a lot about the climate and one of the things we measure is our actual climate footprint and we publish it publicly. You can’t improve something you don’t measure.”

He also warned that measuring diversity and inclusion is about more than just numbers. “Diversity is numbers, inclusion is a feeling that I can come and bring my full self to work. You’ve got to ask those questions to make sure you have the right metric that can reflect that.”

To see how we can help you take the first step on your conscious journey, get in touch via consciousbrands@wolffolins.com