Three alumni at major brands share how they weigh social values against financial goals.
More and more businesses are looking for ways they can use their influence to make a difference in the world. But this means much more than hashtags and platitudes. Three Booth alumni who lead these efforts at major brands say walking the talk in a world that is hurting demands clear purpose, deep strategy work, and a willingness to take risks.
Gatorade’s Carolyn Braff, ’13, Citi’s Murli Buluswar, ’01, and Pfizer’s Andy Schmeltz, ’97, returned to Booth to share their expert insights at an event hosted by the Kilts Center for Marketing. Explore key takeaways from their Purpose and Profit panel discussion, moderated by Abigail Sussman, professor of marketing and the Beatrice Foods Co. Faculty Scholar.
Do good, do well
Purpose and profit needn’t be opposing goals, said Braff, head of brand strategy for the $6 billion Gatorade business.
When Gatorade shifted its focus from fueling performance to fueling potential three years ago, it knew its target market—male athletes with a win-at-all-costs ethos—wasn’t capturing the wide spectrum of athletes today. The brand wanted to broaden its appeal to girls and to communities that face barriers to playing sports. While these are potential growth areas for the brand, it wasn’t just a profit-boosting move, Braff said: it was part of a larger brand purpose to create access to sports for all.
This year, Gatorade launched the Fuel Tomorrow initiative to break down those barriers and demonstrate that sports don’t have to be pressure-filled—they can be fun. The company is investing in six nonprofit partners to bring access and resources to kids who otherwise wouldn’t have those opportunities, committing $10 million for community programs, facilities, equipment, and more. To boost visibility of relatable role models, Gatorade will increase media investment in women’s sports tenfold over the next five years. And it’s creating resources to help educate coaches, athletic trainers, and other practitioners to improve on cultural competency.
“We know sports are amazing for kids—not just because they learn to throw or kick a ball, but because they learn teamwork, perseverance, and how to work with people who are different from them,” Braff said. “So for us, if we don’t have kids playing sports, yeah, nobody’s drinking Gatorade, but it’s bad for society, and we really believe that.”
Citi uses customer data to gauge how well it’s creating access to financial resources, said fellow panelist Buluswar, who leads a team of 400 as head of analytics, US Consumer Bank at the company. Opportunities to market for good occur at the microlevel—leveraging data to offer services relevant to individual customer needs—as well as the macrolevel—using data to expand access to financially underserved communities, and eliminating most hidden or overdraft fees.
“For us, it’s really a juggle, this notion of marketing for good about macro, large-scale societal issues—such as creating transparency and widespread access—juxtaposed with micro issues of how you develop more customer empathy and engagement and build more relevance in service of their needs,” said Buluswar.
“A big part of my team’s remit is to be able to say, ‘Could we actually predict when a customer will have issues, and could we proactively engage with that customer to mitigate the likelihood of that customer going into overdraft?’”
Buluswar said organizations need deep analytics to track customers’ preferences and their responses to different campaigns and the extent to which each campaign is actually working. “Even if the sole focus is doing good…you still want to have the ability to measure whether that is having an impact,” he said.
Create a crystal-clear mission
It’s important to have a clear company mission that marries values and financial goals, said Schmeltz, global president and general manager of Pfizer Oncology.
“Our purpose as a company is very, very clear…and that’s to bring breakthroughs that change patients’ lives,” he said.
During the pandemic, many cancer patients canceled doctor appointments and stopped taking their medicine, and drug sales fell. While this may be bad for Pfizer’s business, Schmeltz said, more importantly, it leads to bad outcomes for patients. Pfizer Oncology teamed up with cancer advocacy organizations on Get It Done, a multimedia campaign in which cancer survivors encourage fellow patients to continue their screenings. They emphasize the COVID-19 safety protocols in place at health-care institutions—pointing out that a skipped screening could lead to a worse outcome than the incremental risk of COVID exposure.
“We couldn’t have done that ourselves,” Schmeltz said. “While trust in us is growing, we recognize that partnering with others often is the better path.”
Similar to Pfizer’s approach, Braff explained the importance of collaborating with outside partners. In Gatorade’s case, they work with outside organizations to achieve their mission of supporting women in sports. She and her team have candid quarterly meetings with a women’s advisory board to discuss what the company is doing right as well as what it could be doing better. When it comes to equity in pay and representation among Gatorade’s male and female athlete endorsers, the advisors don’t mince words. Their input has changed how Gatorade manages its roster.
“There’s a lot of trying to avoid the performative,” Braff said, “trying to really create something that will have impact with our consumers, and then trying to get the right people in the room who will tell us the truth.”
Have courage and conviction
Companies thinking about weighing in on controversial issues need to carefully consider which causes to support, Buluswar said, and to tread carefully, knowing there could be backlash.
Schmeltz said Pfizer created a framework to help decide when to act on social issues. That framework includes questions like: Does the issue advance or challenge our purpose? Does it directly impact our stakeholders? And, what are the implications of either responding or not responding?
A few years ago, a science advocacy organization approached Pfizer about participating in a political march in Washington, DC. Schmeltz said the company went through its framework, and although it ultimately passed on attending the march, the process led to the production of a great multimedia video called “Imagine a World Without Science.” The company timed the video’s release with the day of the march.
At Citi, Buluswar said the company enacted a policy to restrict commercial gun sales after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in 2018. That meant “having the courage to walk away from business as a consequence and being OK with the implications of that,” he said. “You have to have the courage of conviction to say that it might hurt your company in the short term, but it feels right.”
Courtesy Chicago Booth Review. By Sally Parker
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