Launching a new business is never easy; in the post-pandemic era, it could be considered unwise. Still, it is exactly what marketing and communications veteran Claire Benson decided to do.
"2020 was a difficult, challenging and defining year for many people," says Claire. "But it was an opportunity to reflect too. For my partner and I, it was a time to think about how we want to live our lives and for me to focus on the things I am passionate about."
As 2020 progressed, Claire could see that the business landscape was changing as were employee and customer needs. Combine those trends with using Zoom or Teams for national and international collaborations; it seemed the right time to explore combining her passion for entrepreneurialism with her desire to see the third sector's ethos embedded authentically into the business environment. The result, The Marketing Power Hour, a collaborative, purpose-led branding, marketing and communications partner for businesses.
"2020 was a watershed year for so many reasons, and it was a driver for change. Increasingly consumers are looking beyond expensive advertising campaigns, and cute messaging and want to purchase from B2B and B2C brands who have values which resonate with them and who are brave enough to put social and environmental purpose at the core of their business," says Claire.
"The impact of COVID-19 and the issues which came to the fore such as #BlackLivesMatter, food poverty, domestic violence and a focus on gender economic inequality, have pushed forward a real step change to see a better, more caring world emerge."
"And it's not just the Millennials and GenZ demanding change; it is coming from all age groups, all ethnicities and gender groups."
In October last year, the Ipsos MORI Issues Index illustrated that while 73% of the British public saw coronavirus as one of the most significant issues facing Britain, one in five mention poverty and inequality as major concerns (up 8 points to 18%). The 2021 trend report from Deloitte positions 'purpose' as number one.
Starting her career in New Zealand and working for The Body Shop when Anita Roderick was still at the helm, Claire says the experience cemented her drive to encourage businesses to be a force for good, to advocate for gender equality and to empower women and girls. At the time The Body Shop had adopted triple-bottom-line accounting too, people, planet and profit.
"Empowering women and girls has so many positive ramifications for our economy and sustainable development generally. Research shows investing in women and girls can lead to organisational effectiveness, increases in productivity, return on investment and higher consumer satisfaction."
Positioning The Marketing Power Hour as a strategic partner for good brands to grow with purpose, to use ethical marketing practices and purpose-led communications is bold, but Claire knows the concept already resonates with savvy businesses who want to thrive not just survive.
"Amongst the human tragedy, COVID-19 has shown us how interconnected we all are and that we need to look after our planet and our people. Forward-thinking businesses realise that if they consider environmental impacts and social issues within their business planning, then the risk to their long-term economic sustainability is reduced. As a knock-on effect, we all prosper too."
For Claire, encouraging businesses to connect their objectives
to help, for example, address water consumption, support skill development, support domestic technology development, promote gender equality, health and wellbeing and so on, is essential not only for the company but also to help the world deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and associated targets.
"Globally, countries are steadily increasing regulations regarding corporate Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) data reporting to assess the long-term viability of investments. To tie ESG reporting to the SDGs seems to make sense. The UK Govt has embedded the SDGs into each Government department's planned activity, and this year inclusion of social value into central government procurement is now mandatory.
The UN has done the hard work and provides a framework of 17 goals underpinned by 169 targets. These targets include addressing water consumption, scientific research, technology and so on - key questions many businesses are grappling with. We are in the Decade of Action; we don't really have time to waste, so why not use them."
"Consumers know businesses have to be part of the solution to create a more sustainable world. They are watching closely and switching their loyalty to brands who are paying fair wages, reducing plastic use, decreasing emissions and so on," says Claire. "The SDGs and underlying targets are the perfect place to start."
For her own business model, Claire likes to collaborate on projects with talented professionals who have similar values and are committed to CPD. Claire is a Chartered PR practitioner and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
"I think for clients to get the best from strategists; it is important that we are independent and can draw on the right team at the right time. This ensures overhead costs don't inflate project fees, and the fresh, creative and innovative ideas flow as the team involved are entrepreneurs too, managing their own businesses. Managed right, this approach produces fantastic results."
Moving on to digital innovation, which also underpins a number of the SDGs, Claire says, "I have always encouraged digital transformation, regardless of where a business is on its digital journey."
In 2007 Claire was heralding digital platforms as the way for New Zealand Inc to tell their business story in South East Asia and India's emerging power markets.
"Last year," continues Claire, "the pace of adopting digital strategies accelerated. I'm a firm believer that all businesses need to carry on and adopt digital processes where they can, get the specialist help they need if necessary and be prepared to find new markets and new customers in this post-Brexit world."
Digital transformation for Claire is much more than how it applies to the field of communications and marketing. As a strategist, Claire's approach is always to understand the entire business model, working environment and future direction. Key reasons why Claire is also working with Digital Tech Cumbria.
"Digital is playing a huge part in sustainable development and economic growth for all sized businesses. The Digital Tech Cumbria business support initiative is fantastic as it offers SMEs the chance to engage with experts in different aspects of the digital sector and map out a plan for success. Combined with all the other support in the county, I think Cumbrian businesses are in a favourable position to emerge from the pandemic in a very strong position."
Having spent the last eleven years back in Cumbria, Claire says she is excited by the future.
"When I resigned from my previous role, my boss said I was brave! Ultimately though, I see opportunities all around us, we have a chance to influence social change and make a stronger, more resilient global economy. I believe we can do it if we adapt the way we approach and conduct business."