The World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, has become a must-attend occasion for C-level business people beyond the CEO, according to one senior executive.
Chief marketing officers (CMOs) ought to be attending the event, according to Salesforce executive VP and CMO Stephanie Buscemi, because they can help tackle societal issues that affect consumers.
"It's so clear there's a steel thread throughout every day here, you're starting to really be able to see and surface what are the issues and then, from the business community, everyone's getting aligned around … what's our point of view, what do we need to do," Buscemi told CNBC's Nancy Hungerford, speaking on a panel at WEF on Wednesday.
"I think that's really why CMOs need to be here now. I mean if you look at consumers, 90 percent of consumers want their businesses, the products and services they engage with to have a point of view on these issues," she added.
One issue that Salesforce has a point of view on, Buscemi said, is equality, something that the company's chief executive Marc Benioff has been outspoken on, telling CNBC at WEF on Tuesday: "San Francisco is kind of a train wreck, we have a real inequality problem. "
Buscemi warned against communicating messages without backing them up. "You see a lot of people who will 'wash' a brand with equality messages or something, but then you don't see them walking the walk, following suit. And I think it's really critical that … for every single message you're putting out there tied to a social issue, an environmental issue, you better be able to back that up," she said.
Gillette made headlines with a marketing campaign earlier this month that asked: "Is this the best a man can get " and challenged "toxic masculinity." Asked for his view of the commercial by CNBC's Hungerford, Unilever's outgoing chief marketing and communications officer Keith Weed said it was a "good example" of a brand having a broader purpose.
"The bigger point that we are all engaging, is brands with purpose, and I think this is a good example, I think you could equally talk about Dove and the work that Dove's done on real beauty or even stuff that Axe has been doing on bullying and of course the latest one is the one everyone focuses on," he said. Dove and Axe are made by Unilever, while Gillette is owned by rival Procter & Gamble.
"I think brands need to have a bigger role in society than just being, 'I wash whiter.' … If you are a male brand, I don't think you can ignore what's going on right now, I don't think Dove can ignore the challenges that are put on young girls because of the beauty industry … It's not just having ads, you've got to do stuff as well," Weed added. Dove works with the non-profit Girlguiding to help improve young women's self-esteem, for example.
Beatriz Perez, Coca-Cola's senior VP and chief communications, public affairs, sustainability and marketing assets officer, said the company has a philosophy of "be, do, say."
"The reality is, if you start talking about (issues) but you're not actually doing the work, people will find out and then your brand loses all credibility and trust," she told CNBC. At WEF, Perez has been part of discussions about ocean plastic, she said, to understand how Coca-Cola can do further work with governments to reduce it. "We also know we can't solve that problem alone, we need businesses but we also need governments to have the infrastructure and to play their role."