“Hoe wil je over 20 of 50 jaar nog steeds relevant zijn? Pas als je die vraag beantwoord hebt, kan je helder over je purpose communiceren”

“How do you want to still be relevant in 20 or 50 years? Only when you have answered that question can you communicate clearly about your purpose.”

Geert Desager (Duke & Grace), Sammy Colson (Springbok) en Dimitri Barbe (Make Sense)

A strong purpose is now indispensable to attract new customers and new talent. But how do you translate that purpose into products and services? How do you bring them to life on your communication channels and in your campaigns? Springbok strongly believes in mission-driven growth, putting purpose at the heart of strategy and execution. With the recent acquisitions of the Ghent agencies Make Sense and Duke & Grace, it wants to operate more than ever at the intersection of purpose, tech and creativity. “Communication can change the world”, Sammy Colson (Springbok), Geert Desager (Duke & Grace) and Dimitri Barbe (Make Sense) all agree.

“Every company today has to be concerned with sustainability,” says Sammy Colson (CEO of Springbok). “If you still haven’t jumped on that boat by now, you’re in danger of missing it forever. Just about every company is directly or indirectly dependent on raw materials and materials. If you help the earth to the buttons, you also endanger the continuity of your own company. The general public, and therefore your own target group, is also becoming increasingly sensitive to sustainability. If you don’t do that, you’re pricing yourself out of the market.”

“Incidentally, it is not only consumers who are concerned about sustainability, but also employees,” emphasizes Dimitri Barbe (founder and managing director of Make Sense). “We see a new generation that only wants to work for companies that have a strong purpose and act accordingly. Businesses need customers, but they also need talent. As a company, you won’t last long without customers, but neither will you without employees. Purpose is therefore also indispensable in employer branding.”

Mission statement video Springbok: ‘Helping good brands grow big and big brands grow good’.

“Purpose transcends sustainability, and sustainability transcends the Amazon rainforest,” adds Geert Desager (managing director of Duke & Grace). “How do you deal with customers? How do you treat your own employees? How high do you place data and privacy on the agenda? It is our job as communication specialists to open the field of vision of companies. Where do we see credible starting points to communicate about purpose and sustainability?”

Purpose x tech x creativity

We do good for brands and for humanity, is Springbok’s mission statement. How do you put such an ambitious mission into practice? “We do that on three different levels,” explains Colson. “We, work, world. In our own company, in our work for customers and for the world around us. So it starts with setting a good example: sustainable web design, responsible advertising, no pallets of printed matter driving around Europe, things like that.”

Sammy Colson (Springbok)

“When working for clients, we always start with a sustainability scan,” explains Barbe. “Companies we work for have often been around for twenty, fifty or even a hundred years. We challenge them to think about how they will remain relevant in another twenty, fifty or a hundred years. What steps should they take for this? Where will they provide social added value? Sometimes they already have that clear themselves, sometimes we still have to tinker with them.”

Colson sees three pillars coming together in every project: “Purpose, data/tech and creativity: that’s pretty much our holy trinity. The purpose is always there, which runs like a red thread through the strategy and the execution. But data, technology and creativity are indispensable. It is not because companies communicate about their purpose that the bar should be lower than for other projects or campaigns. A creative approach and a data-driven approach to get that message through the right (digital) channels to the right target group are equally indispensable.”

“Do not underestimate the role that data and technology can play,” says Desager. “Sustainability is about a transition that companies are going through. Just like the digital transformation. They are not two separate worlds. I believe that digital platforms can be an engine for change, you can also use them for sustainable purposes. That’s the legacy of Netlash (Belgian internet pioneer and predecessor of Duke & Grace) that we still carry.”

Geert Desager (Duke & Grace)

De greenwashingparadox

At Springbok we are convinced that (digital) communication can improve the world. For Barbe, that was the reason to set up Make Sense at the time. “I am an agricultural engineer. (laughs) Like all engineers, I thought I was always right. But I’ve learned that there’s a difference between being right and being right. To be right, you need communication. You can still do fantastic things as a company, but you also have to ensure that your target group knows and believes what you do.”

Colson refers to Greenpeace: “They constantly attack large advertising agencies because they work for the fossil industry, for example. They don’t just do that at Greenpeace they know very well how much impact communication has. Fossil fuels would never have become this big without the gigantic marketing machine behind it. But the power of communication works both ways.”

“Incidentally, I think we are calling out ‘greenwashing’ a little too quickly. Companies simply have to go through a transition. If a hamburger chain comes to us to put their vegetarian alternative in the spotlight, you could refuse because those vegetarian burgers are a shame for the real hamburgers, which still bring in by far the most money.”

“But if you can sell 10 to 15 percent more vegetarian burgers with a strong campaign, don’t you have more impact than if you adamantly refuse to work for the meat industry? Beware, there are also companies and sectors that we never work for. For example, we draw the line at gambling companies.”

Dimitri Barbe (Make Sense)

“In Flanders, things are still going very well with greenwashing,” says Barbe. “If it does happen, our role is to pop that bubble before the consumer does. Because that will happen sooner or later anyway. There is also such a thing as the greenwashing paradox. Companies that greenwash are by definition companies that know what society expects of them. They don’t, but they know. That is often a better starting point for us than a company that knows its stuff and just rambles about sustainability.”

Gent of Zaffelare?

Springbok operates at the intersection of purpose, technology and creativity. According to Desager, if those three physically come together somewhere, it is without a doubt in Ghent. “Ghent mainly has a reputation as a Belgian tech mecca. That reputation is certainly justified, I see from the front row every day that creativity is at least as strong a part of Ghent’s DNA. When I think of creativity, I also think of designers, producers, … You could call it technological creativity. We at Duke & Grace make very good use of this.”

“I come from Teamleader, where I met the creative and technological people of Ghent,” says Colson. “At Springbok, we have been planning for some time to develop a Ghent hub if the opportunity arises. Ghent has a unique combo of technical and creative talent. Add purpose to that and you almost automatically end up at Make Sense.”

The message that Duke & Grace was taken over by Springbok was massively projected on various iconic buildings in Ghent, including the Schapenstal.

When the opportunity arose to take over Duke & Grace, the circle was complete. Duke & Grace and its predecessors are not only pioneers in the Ghent scene, they are also one of the flagships of that ecosystem that reconcile creativity with data and tech like no other. Our Ghent hub gives us access to a very interesting pool of talent.”

“I started Make Sense in Zaffelare”, concludes Barbe. “Next to a large forest, ideal for walking with customers and discussing sustainability. Ok, Zaffelare is not the center of the world, but the talent would get there. (laughs) I thought anyway. But that didn’t work, so we went to that talent. To Ghent. I can only confirm what Sammy says: in Ghent we immediately received many more spontaneous applications. In the full war for talent, you can’t find a better place anywhere.”

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