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Learnings From ADWKDC 2019: DC-Based Brands Find Success is Tied to Purpose

“A good journalist friend of mine who covers the DC business sector told me ‘In Silicon Valley, the main focus is money whereas, in Washington, DC, businesses are more driven by purpose.’” 

With that introduction, moderator Beth Johnson, CEO of RP3 Agency, set the tone for the fascinating “Homegrown Brands” panel at ADWKDC 2019.

The panel featured marketing executives from successful DC area-based brands &pizza, Comfort One Shoes, Framebridge, and Gusto to discuss the unique advantages of building a brand in the nation’s capital.

A common theme that ran through the discussion was that the familiar concept of "Doing well by doing good" holds especially true in the Washington, DC area. This region tends to attract diverse populations who seek to make a difference in their communities and the world.

For brands in the DC area, it is not enough to espouse a purpose, it must be an essential part of the company's core mission.

The panelists all agreed that it starts with taking care of their employees. Vanessa Rodriguez, Head of Brand for &pizza, based in Washington, told the audience “for &pizza, one of our core beliefs was the implementation of a $15 an hour minimum wage."

Kristina Meacham, Director of Marketing at Comfort Shoes, headquartered in Manassas, credits the organization's commitment to its employees and comprehensive training program to its outstanding employee retention. "We are proud to say the average Comfort One employee stays with us over five years on average," Meacham told the audience. “That is quite an achievement in the retail space.” Comfort One Shoes is also heavily committed to ending breast cancer, contributing tens of thousands each year in resources to combat the disease.

Purpose-driven brands are also seeing their philosophies having a positive impact on their bottom lines as more consumers wish to be associated with brands that align with their core beliefs. A recent study analyzing the 50 fastest growing Brands in America (FedEx, Coca-Cola, and Starbucks for example) found that these purpose-driven companies saw 400 percent more returns on the stock market than the S&P 500

For Framebridge, based in Bethesda, looking for ways to integrate with and support the diverse community it serves is key to its success. For example, during the 50th Anniversary of Pride Month this past June, the company encouraged the area’s LGBTQ community to provide artifacts and original artwork to the company for framing and display in the stores’ galleries free of charge.

“At Framebridge, it’s not just about sales but being part of the community,” said Matt Carrington, vice president of Marketing at Framebridge. “This core philosophy has been central to our success.”

Gusto, headquartered in McLean, works with communities it serves to promote local causes through its "Food for Funds" initiative, where it partners with organizations to host fundraisers, provide free promotion, and devote a portion of the proceeds of the event to the organization.

Meg Schiffman, vice president of Brand and Marketing at Gusto, explained that customers in the DC-area are looking for great products, but they are also looking for brands that make a difference in their communities and beyond.

The main takeaway for the audience was that in the highly competitive Washington market, where many people have chosen purpose-driven careers, it is not enough to spout platitudes about purpose and mission. A successful company in this region needs to demonstrate that it lives its mission every day.

Beth summed up the panel afterwards by saying: “The great thing about running a creative communications agency in the DC-area is that we get to work with so many great purpose-driven brands that are open to exploring creative campaigns that not only improve sales, but improve the community as well.”