Purpose is today’s big marketing opportunity

By Jacqueline Bosselaar, 18 July 2019

The future of credible purpose marketing lies in the hands of the Chief Purpose Officer.

Do you really think that ‘making a profit’ and ‘credible purpose marketing’ go together? 

Three variations on this critical question were fired at me last week during an interview for a video series on purpose marketing. The interviewer's forcefulness almost made me doubt my own standpoint.

The sentiment that people no longer want to buy products or services from companies who have ‘egg on their faces’ (read: make a profit from products or services that don’t directly contribute to a better world) is slowly reaching boiling point.

Making a profit from products or services that don’t directly contribute to a better world and nevertheless have a purpose is apparently seen as implausible, and so effectively impossible. While I believe profitable companies with sincere intentions can, and even should, contribute to a healthier, brighter, more unified future.

In fact, if they’re not allowed to do so, or not allowed to communicate about it — and we’re talking about the majority of companies here — then it’s going to be very difficult indeed to change course quickly and get people’s support. Support that’s desperately needed if we’re to believe what we read about the current political climate.

And why, in any case, shouldn't a company do something good? As long as it doesn’t, say, hide the fact that its lorry fleet unfortunately still runs on petrol.

The wishes of the consumer

Obviously, this isn’t about my personal opinion - there are opinions enough already. It’s consumers who want companies to actually do some good. In fact, if we’re to believe Andrea Bell from the international trend watch agency, WGSN, it’s even a case of ‘Do good or go bankrupt’. While research by communication agency Edelman, amongst others, confirms that two out of three consumers think brands should have a social standpoint. And their latest research suggests that brands can even contribute to discussions on topics with which they are not directly involved! It says a lot about the extent of consumers’ wishes.

"Nice words, consumer. But are you actually going to buy things from these purpose brands?" It’s a question I often hear. The numbers say yes: brands who do purpose marketing grow twice as fast, Unilever claims. But don’t companies run the risk of losing customers if they take a stand? Undoubtedly, but they already were running that risk, because consumers simply aren’t particularly loyal. Moreover, research by advertising agency Havas found that people wouldn’t mind if 81% of brands disappeared today.

Reasons enough for companies and brands to look at relevance, which goes beyond just the product or service. It would seem they have relatively little to lose, and much to gain. 

The credibility of your actions

Purpose marketing is, in my opinion, today’s big marketing opportunity; where people, the environment, society and brands are all winners. The need for creative solutions to social problems is greater than ever. Powerless consumers recognize that governments are unable to solve all these problems at once. So increasingly the finger is pointing in the direction of brands and companies. After all, they have the power to influence the relevant parties, such as governments and suppliers, as well as the resources to contribute to real solutions. In short, consumers will embrace you when you do some good. And brands and companies can only do that if they… make a profit.

The nub lies, of course, in the credibility of those actions. For purpose marketing only becomes effective if companies act with sincere intentions. One-off campaigns or words without deeds can be positively harmful. Bad examples are ruining it for brands that can or want to do good, according to Unilever CEO, Alan Jope, speaking recently in Cannes. Consumers aren’t stupid either: 56% think that too many brands use social issues simply to increase sales (from the same new Edelman research).

We therefore need role models from commercial companies that do ‘good’ well.

Purpose management

Back to the key question: can you as a brand or company with sincere intentions do purpose marketing credibly if you also have profit targets? My answer? Yes, absolutely! Take the following examples:

Progressive gems such as Patagonia, Ben & Jerry's and Toms linked their product to purpose when they were founded. It doesn’t come more authentic or credible than that. While other companies, such as Nike and Dove, have engaged with the social debate to create purpose.

But such a position isn’t for every company. On the contrary. Because what do you do if you’re Ikea, for example, and (apparently) don’t have a core higher purpose? Well, Ikea Israel, for example, helps disabled people by manufacturing fittings with a 3D printer, so they can adapt their furniture cheaply. This initiative fits nicely with the brand because Ikea wants to "create a better daily life for everyone".

And that pizza and purpose can go well together was demonstrated by Domino's Pizza with ‘Paving for Pizza’, where the pizza chain in the US repairs holes in the road and, with its passion for its product, can make perfect pizza deliveries to its consumers. (You can read more about this in my previous column).

But in the end, purpose marketing, if all goes well, goes beyond 3D printing fittings for furniture and filling holes in roads, and stands or falls by keeping the promise at every level within a business - it is, above all, a Board decision. Does Ikea really want to create a better daily life for everyone? And does the CFO also want that, and does he or she want it for the less well-off? Essentially, purpose is the starting point, a means, and not the end.

So purpose is a part of management, and not just the domain of marketing. Just as a company’s essential core values and strategic factors are never just the domain of marketing. In which case, isn't it time, alongside the CEO, CFO and CMO, for a Chief Purpose Officer?

To ensure, once and for all, that purpose marketing is done well. And talked and written about a little less.

Jacqueline Bosselaar is CEO and co-founder of Het PR Bureau, and co-owner of Blyde.