In this time of unprecedented crisis, when the commercial environment has been thrown into flux and the need to support the general wellbeing of society has been brought starkly to the fore, maximizing profits and shareholder returns is no longer sufficient. The traditional commercial imperative to simply grow – ever larger and richer – is no longer the sole, supreme mandate to be followed by companies operating in capitalist societies. For enterprises to truly flourish and succeed within the current sociopolitical context, their growth must be imbued with a purpose – a broader or deeper reason for being, beyond making money, that guides a company’s growth, along with its broader impacts on society1. This is the message that lies at the heart of the new growth imperative, increasingly embraced by leading enterprises around the world, called the Brand Purpose paradigm.
What is “brand purpose?” It is an organization’s reason for being, beyond profits, that guides its internal operations and strategies, as well as its broader impacts on society. This novel concept, which has long served as the foundation of civil society and non-governmental organizations, first migrated to the B2C segments of the private sector. Its rise in popularity over the past few decades is highly correlated with the rapid ascendance of a wave of disruptive, Silicon Valley technology start-ups. In fact, one of the oldest and most well-known examples of brand purpose is Google’s classic motto: “Don’t Be Evil.” As Google’s founders wrote in the prospectus accompanying the firm’s 2004 IPO:
Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served—as shareholders and in all other ways—by a company that does good things for the world, even if we forgo some short-term gains. This is an important aspect of our culture and is broadly shared within the company.
This is a classic example of a company stating a brand purpose – making a public commitment to an overarching value, goal or principle that its employees, customers and society at large can hold it accountable to as it operates and impacts the world around it.
But stating a brand purpose is merely a first step; to reap the various and sundry benefits of being a purpose-led organization, a company must then make good on activating that brand purpose. Activated brand purpose can take many forms, but in general it means the organization must take concrete initiatives, make investments, and direct its every day operations and long-term strategies in ways that align with and support its stated purpose.
For example, GAF, one of the largest roofing manufacturers in North America, espouses the brand purpose of “protecting what matters most.” The company activates this purpose via its Community Matters initiative, in which it formed strategic partnerships with several nonprofits to jointly pursue three goals in the local communities that support the company’s 30 different plant locations across the U.S: helping neighbors in need, creating disaster resilience and building community. GAF regularly contributes, along with its nonprofit partners, by investing time, expertise and cash grants into local initiatives that help these surrounding communities “protect what matters most.”
At first glance, embracing and activating brand purpose may seem a purely altruistic endeavor. But there is growing evidence that purpose-led companies not only create positive impacts beyond their walls but reap significant commercial benefits, as well. Compared to non-purpose driven firms, for instance, purpose-led companies may enjoy boosts in their public relations, advantages in employee recruitment and retention, deeper customer relationships, and higher levels of motivation and morale among their employees. As one article in the Harvard Business Review summarized, “Purpose-driven companies make more money, have more engaged employees, more loyal customers, and are better at innovation and transformational change.”
Given the current state of affairs, now seems like a perfect time for organizational leaders who are pondering brand purpose to take a step back, consult with their stakeholders and communities, and set forth the sort of aspirational, value-driven reason for being that will set their enterprises on an elevated strategic trajectory in the future. Just as the true character and values of individuals shine through during times of crisis, so too will each company’s commitment to and ability to activate against its brand purpose. Just imagine the positive impacts society can reap if the efforts of purpose-driven, heroic individuals, like front-line healthcare professionals, can be replicated at enterprise scale! Now is the time for business professionals and leaders worldwide to ask themselves and their organizations one critical, soul-searching question: What is our brand purpose, and how are we activating it?
1(2020). The B2B Purpose Paradox: How Purpose Powers Business-to-Business Growth. In The B2B Purpose Paradox. Harris, The ANA, Carol Cone ON PURPOSE. https://www.ana.net/content/show?id=b2b-purpose-paradox