Interview with Anna Jaegy – The new imperatives of communication in a raison d’être perspective
Anna Jaegy, a consultant specialising in institutional communication and previously Communications Director at Carrefour, has observed the evolution of marketing in an environment increasingly marked by the notion of responsibility. She does not believe that the current health crisis will change this trend.
In your opinion, what has been the main evolution of marketing in recent years?
Anna Jaegy: “Of course, first of all there is digitalization, that is obvious. Data marketing, based on quantities of information analysed by new artificial intelligence technologies and processed in an automated way, is gradually becoming the norm. And the phenomenon has accelerated even further with the pandemic, by strengthening the link between the brand and the customers, with the objective that the customer becomes active, a prescriber, and committed.
At the same time, marketing has had to adapt to the new expectations of consumers, who are increasingly concerned about issues such as the environment or inclusion. And since they now have direct access to information, it is easier for them than before to assess the efforts of companies in these areas. How do they produce, are they mindful of the impact of their activity on the environment? What care do they take for the well-being of their employees, are they respectful of their suppliers? Hence the growing need for the brand to make commitments loud and clear. In the past, we used to talk mainly about sustainable development, and the expression most often covered a list of actions that were unrelated to the strategy. We then spoke of CSR, to encompass a wider range of concerns. And now we speak of raison d’être, and for some, of a company with a mission. The more precise the terminology, the closer it is to the company’s strategy and the more sincere the approach must be. But today, it must be recognised that this approach is not yet widespread.
This is one of the subjects you work on with clients of all sizes and in all sectors. What percentage of companies have integrated a notion of purpose into their strategy?
AJ: “You have to differentiate between companies that have a holistic approach, including co-construction with stakeholders, and companies that are content with an announcement effect. I would say that the second category still represents half of the companies that have integrated a raison d’être. This is often reflected quite well in their marketing, by the way. Do the following exercise: take companies that have communicated their raison d’être, write their name on one page, and the message of their raison d’être on the other, then mix it all up and try to find out which message corresponds to which brand. You’ll see that you won’t get it 100% right. The raison d’être must be clear, coherent and differentiating, followed by understandable, quantified commitments, with indicators and regular monitoring that allows for “accountability”. Companies that have inscribed their mission on the front of their corporate strategy are literally imbued with it on a daily basis, and the raison d’être acts as a compass in their decision-making. This is the case of Carrefour, whose commitment was initiated by its CEO, Alexandre Bompard. The values and commitments defended by the company can be found very clearly in all their actions. Each commitment is objectified, the actions have been established in a coherent plan. The progress made is carefully measured and monitored at the highest level.
Is this issue of societal commitment a trend or a fad?
AJ: “I don’t think it’s a fad, but Covid-19 will probably change the priorities of companies. Will the raison d’être take a back seat? That would be a pity, because the raison d’être should be seen as a lever for meaning, performance and growth. It has been shown that financial and non-financial performance are no longer in conflict. Moreover, in the troubled times we are living in today, with a loss of reference points for many employees, the raison d’être is a wonderful opportunity to transform the culture and thus reconnect employees to the company.
Which means that while this is a sound approach, it is not available to all companies?
AJ: “Creating a raison d’être is a completely voluntary and proactive process that must be initiated and carried out at the highest level of the company. This approach implies an ambition, a method, an organisation and a long-term vision. This is the case for the vast majority of managers, but what impact will the health crisis have on their priorities? Is there not a risk that they will give priority to the short term, simply as a safeguard, as a survival measure? What I believe, however, is that having a mission gives meaning to our actions. This is true for individuals as well as for companies.
How does this change the role of marketing?
AJ: “Because the commitments that the company will make will reflect on all the stakeholders of the company, the role of marketing becomes more central and transverse at the same time. It is more open to other departments, such as HR, CSR or financial communication, because it is necessary to manage and coordinate actions.
What is also changing is that the marketing horizon is becoming more long-term. Traditionally, marketing works in three time horizons: seizing quick win opportunities, working on the brand in the medium term and on the vision in the long term. With digitalisation, the time frame has narrowed considerably but, due to the rise in importance of the raison d’être, I feel that a rebalancing is taking place. Marketers are more concerned with the vision than they used to be.”
How is this changing the rules of communication?
AJ: It is becoming more transparent because it is easily verifiable. Engagement communication is concerned with putting forward honest, sincere and authentic evidence. The marketer is internally the one who waves the red flag of purpose washing. What is being done to reduce carbon impact? What about diversity? And if everything is not perfect, say so, don’t hide and be willing to make progress.
Is the debate on responsibility only about marketing or is it a business issue?
AJ: “The raison d’être is driven by the leader, he shares his vision of the world, his struggle and marketing is there to guide, to anticipate, to grasp the trends and to ensure the implementation. But this transformation cannot succeed if it is not carried to the top of the company.”
Do you think communication has a more important place in the company today?
AJ: “Yes, of course, not in all companies. I invite you to look at the proportion of listed companies that have a Dir Com on the Comex. Ten years ago, communication was an entity alongside strategy. Things have changed a lot, mainly thanks to digital. The reputation issue is such that a company can no longer act (launch a product, buy a company, separate itself from an activity, etc.) without worrying about the impact on public opinion. The communicator is there to alert and anticipate at the highest level.
In what areas can marketing still make progress?
AJ: “I see two main areas for attention. One is to continue to ensure that we do not confuse means and objectives. This may seem obvious, but I very often see requests expressed as ‘tools’ with no prior reflection on the objective sought, the click or the like are not objectives! The second point of warning is to avoid that the all-digital approach becomes disconnected from other parts of the company such as “classic” marketing, communication, CSR or the employer brand. More than ever, we need to have a holistic vision.”