Video Quick Take: Accenture Interactive’s Brian Whipple on Why Purpose Is Good Business – SPONSOR CONTENT FROM ACCENTURE

Julie Devoll, HBR
Welcome to the HBR quick take I’m Julie Devoll, editor for special projects and webinars. And today, I’m joined by Brian Whipple, CEO of Accenture Interactive. Brian, thank you so much for joining us today.

Brian Whipple, Accenture Interactive
Thank you for having me.

Julie Devoll, HBR
Accenture Interactive focuses on changing business through experience. In your own words, define experience and tell us why it matters.

Brian Whipple, Accenture Interactive
Sure, I’m happy to. And it is a change that we’ve seen in the industry in the last really maybe five years. It used to be that brands were essentially built from advertising, that if you tell someone how to feel about a particular product or service or how to think of it, that over time if you do that consistently and interestingly enough that they would perhaps do that.

That’s not really the case anymore, and the brands are fundamentally now built from a holistic experience. Now, to render that experience, to actually create the experience, you need creative without a doubt, but you also need technology and business prowess. And so Accenture Interactive was built as kind of one part agency, one part consultancy, and one part tech powerhouse in order to help clients render these meaningful experiences in order to build brands and relationships.

Julie Devoll, HBR
Tell us, how has the pandemic changed experience for consumers?

Brian Whipple, Accenture Interactive
It’s been interesting. What I would say is that there’s this concept of liquid expectations that was there pre-pandemic. Now, what does that mean? So liquid expectations essentially refers to the notion that you and I and our family members and pretty much everyone we know has seamless experiences with digitally native companies like Uber or Amazon, and as a result of those experiences, you then expect those types of experiences from a retailer or maybe your bank. And sometimes you get that, and sometimes you don’t.

So that set of liquid expectations was there before Covid. Now, if you look at Covid, what are the things that have been accelerated? What are the things we’ve seen? We’ve seen things like e-learning, like curbside delivery, like telemedicine—things that were there some but they weren’t mainstream. And they’re in line with the expectations of seamless experiences that some of these digitally native companies have brought forward.

And so what really Covid has done is it has sort of accelerated the adaptation of a lot of what these digitally native companies have been doing all along, which is providing seamless experiences. That has been the meal ticket for success for the past decade or so for a lot of these digitally native companies. And we’re seeing that being true for a much broader range of companies, kind of as a silver lining from Covid.

Julie Devoll, HBR
How does that impact business?

Brian Whipple, Accenture Interactive
First of all, the lesson is that businesses must start with human needs. It’s not what product you can create, but it’s how can you actually help people and make their lives a little bit better. An example would be typically customer satisfaction is measured through surveys and a lot of traditional methods, when sometimes what’s really going to satisfy you is to get in and out of the store quickly, maybe to find a thermometer when you have a sick child.

It’s the efficiency of the transaction. It’s not things like basket size or frequency or loyalty. It is those things, but it’s those things in concert with all the other things. And so companies have to kind of redirect how they look at customers and look at a much broader picture and focus on actual host experiences that make the consumers’ lives maybe a little bit better, maybe a little bit more efficient, and perhaps even a little bit more meaningful.

Julie Devoll, HBR
I’ve heard you talk about the notion that purpose is good business. Tell us more about that.

Brian Whipple, Accenture Interactive
It’s interesting. 2020 was largely a blank slate. It was just somewhat of a do-over for many companies. I mean, some companies thrived. Many companies suffered. But their shareholders in the end have some level of understanding. And I wouldn’t say they get a pass, but it was widely regarded that business was difficult.

But 2021 is different. We’ve had almost a year in the business climate to adjust to the pandemic, and expectations are going to be different. So the blank slate that they had in 2020 to draw something going forward is critically important. And part of that blank slate, a major part of it, is around really innovating not for the sake of innovation itself, but for the sake of making people’s lives better and maybe more efficient, perhaps a little bit more meaningful.

There’s this notion of, are we making people want things? Are we creating things and then trying to generate a market for it, or are we starting with unmet human needs and then making things that people want? And I think a lot of companies are shifting more to the latter, and that’s a really good thing for all of us and over the long run for business.

Julie Devoll, HBR
Let’s look at purpose as a core driver of a company’s business strategies. Is that idea here to stay?

Brian Whipple, Accenture Interactive
It used to be that purpose and profit were maybe not mutually exclusive, but certainly not brothers or sisters. And that’s not really the case anymore, and there’s some interesting dynamics as to why that is not the case.

The path to profit is now through purpose, and the reason is really maybe threefold. First of all, some 80% of millennials, as an example, want their employers to also share their values in things like social responsibility. The second thing is that the younger consumers demand seamless experiences.

If you have teenagers and you ask them to go ask someone to find a particular product in the store, they’re going to be like, I don’t understand. Why can’t something on my phone just tell me that it’s on aisle seven, two-thirds of the way down, second shelf?

And that’s kind of a hard question to answer given that we put a man on the moon 50 years ago and can do all these other things now and have diapers delivered in two hours. So there’s this notion of the demand for seamless experiences from the younger generation.

And the last is that these consumers want their brands to include them in things like, how do I feel like I’m participating in something bigger, whether it be helping the environment or sustainable labor practices, but supporting some level of cost?

Now, of course, younger generations have always disagreed or maybe had different views than older generations, but this particular one is about buying behavior. It’s not just about philosophy. So there’s about $68 trillion in baby boomer wealth that’s going to be transferred to millennials, older Gen Z, et cetera, in the next few years.

And leaders better get ready, because these new consumers, these new wealth owners care very much about how their products are made and sustainable practices and stuff like that—purpose. And so purpose will be the future path to profit and a significant part.

Julie Devoll, HBR
Let’s move to employee experience. As the CEO of Interactive, how have you seen employee experience change? And do you think that change is here to stay?

Brian Whipple, Accenture Interactive
Like many companies, ours has clearly had different behaviors. I used to travel lots of places, including international, and that was a difficult but also rewarding part of the job. That’s changed a great deal. I think it will go back eventually, but not right away. It will be a while. And I share the prognostication of some of the main airlines as to when that will be.

But day to day in our employee base, there’s been an interesting change that I think is worth noting. And that is that we’ve all had really no choice but to see each other’s kids, dogs, messes, whatever the case may be. And maybe some of us were more comfortable than others with that before, but we’re all needing to be reasonably comfortable with that now as the pandemic is approaching a year in terms of its effects on the business world.

I’ve always had this notion that you should really be yourself at work. And if you can’t be yourself at work, if there’s some different personality you have to take on when you go to work versus when you’re home with your family, then maybe that’s not the right job for you and maybe you should look for another job. And this pandemic and the way people are working seamlessly now between home and work has really kind of accelerated this notion of being yourself at work. And I think that’s actually a really good thing for most people.

Julie Devoll, HBR
Brian, do you have any advice for our listeners or readers for the upcoming year?

Brian Whipple, Accenture Interactive
Your reader and listener base is largely very successful and important business executives. And what I focus on is really the fact that the future consumers will want seamless experiences. Those who will have the buying power will demand Amazon-like, Airbnb-like, Uber-like experiences in many parts of the world that don’t have those today.

I mean, have you tried on clothes in a dressing room in the past few years? If you have, you might observe that it’s just like trying on clothes when you were a child or 50 years ago. Why is that? It’s interesting. And I’m just picking on that one dynamic, but until recently, how you saw a doctor really hadn’t changed.

I think a lot of these experiences that we need to focus on, the business community is going to have to focus on them and really start making services and products that people want rather than trying to make them want the things that they can make. And I think that perspective will really win going forward.

Julie Devoll, HBR
Brian, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been a great discussion.

Brian Whipple, Accenture Interactive
Thank you for having me.

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