Japanese companies must further enhance their brand power to compete within the global market. Being a company that is accepted not only by customers, but also by society will be critical in the coming era. Needing a good reason to engage with a brand will become the norm as we live with/after COVID-19.
In 2019, Gramco untangled the history of Japanese companies and researched “what governs corporate activities” and how these changed over time. It began from the era of family creeds, followed by the era of aquaculture industries, postwar reconstruction, high economic growth, and has advanced to the maximization of shareholder value and sustainability era in recent years. The world currently faces a pandemic, deep anxiety, and an uncertainty of what’s to come. Looking at how we move forward with/after COVID-19, this pursuit of sustainability will continue to be an important guideline for companies. Corporate involvement in SDGs will surely be a part of that process.
During this time of pursuing sustainability, the foundation for corporate management is none other than Purpose itself.
1974-99 were years of severe trials for Japanese companies, including the oil crisis. Peter F. Drucker--management consultant, educator, and author--advocated for Mission Vision Value (MVV) as the center of management and proclaimed that “Everything else except MVV can be outsourced.” Drucker had a strong influence on Japanese management; the company policy, company creed, and business plan that companies used to rely on during the period of rapid economic growth were suddenly replaced by missions. However, as time passed missions had languished.
The word “mission” comes from Latin--missio, which means the instruction Jesus Christ gave his disciples to spread the gospel worldwide. There is also an interpretation that the word is closely related to the Chinese thought of destiny, in which we were sent by heaven to serve in this world. None of these missions were actually heaven-sent, and in reality, many companies constructed vague missions that were rather unrelated to their own activities and similar to other companies.
As a famous and major company of Japan once claimed, “We want to be an invaluable existence to the people of the world.” And yet, that company has disappeared.
An excerpt from the mission statement of Enron Corporation of the United States is as follows: “We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly and sincerely.” Moreover, they declared their four Values as “Respect, Integrity, Communication, [and] Excellence.”
Companies that sincerely create original and meaningful missions very much exist, but in this age of seeking sustainability, consumers question “the essential reason for existence” of a company and its business.
In Japan, Sony states the following as their Purpose on their homepage: "Fill the world with emotion, through the power of creativity and technology." In addition, the following statement became the purpose for Toshiba, a client of ours: “We turn on the promise of a new day.” This led them to state, “We have an unwavering drive to make and do things that lead to a better world.”
GE, IBM, P&G, Nestlé, SAP, Apple, and other companies with strong support of customers and society alike also reveal their Purpose globally.
It is time to think about Purpose--one that reflects what only this company can accomplish; symbolizes its delivered promises to those who would be sad if it disappeared tomorrow; and resonates within each and every employee as they think, “This is why I work here.”
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said in a speech at Harvard University, “Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for. Purpose is what creates true happiness.” He explained that it was important to have a sense of purpose and to be involved in a business that needed said purpose.
Author of Start With Why, Simon Sinek, describes Purpose in this way:
WHY: Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. When I say WHY, I don’t mean to make money—that’s a result. By WHY I mean what is your purpose, cause or belief? WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning?
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Lastly, there is a major group of consumers who are interested in the purpose a company has and how it carries out said purpose. Known as "Generation Z/Gen Z," these people who were born between 1997 and 2001 are the generation that will play a central role in society. They are the smartphone and social media-heavy generation, and 2 out of 3 (66%) hold a "positive influence" from the brand's impression by knowing its involvement with society. Therefore, they are a generation that are highly interested in companies that possess a clear purpose. Moreover, the Millennials--born in 1981-96, known as Generation Y--are also a social media generation. They have a high level of social awareness, and are said to have the same tendencies as Gen Z (Cannes Lions 2019 Year report).
For the internal branding that encourages employees to positively engage in their business, the external branding for future and current members of the workforce, and the changing values of all affected by this devastating pandemic--Purpose is critical.