Should the Marketing Department Care About Purpose?

Leadership. HR. Operations. Social Impact. If you work for a Purpose-driven (or Purpose-aspirational) business, you’ve probably seen how your company’s social impact Purpose helps focus decisions, attract and retain employees, make operations more sustainable, and create lasting change.

As a marketing person, you may even be helping leadership and HR to articulate and embed Purpose internally. After all, company culture should be built around the ideas, promises and values inherent in your Purpose, right? And the culture is part of the brand, isn’t it?

Absolutely. Activating Purpose internally is a necessary first step to full Purpose alignment. But if yours is (or is trying to be) a Purpose-driven organization, activating Purpose externally through marketing should be at the top of the marketing department’s to do list.

Not sure what social impact Purpose even is?
Check out our resource, Purpose: What It Is…and Isn’t.

Some businesses have the “if we build a Purpose, the customers will come” mentality. Don’t fall into this trap. It’s the marketing department’s role to externally articulate and activate your company’s Purpose. You need to make sure that consumers know about it and understand how it relates to their values, and you need to consistently show how your company is following through on its Purpose promise.


Purpose increases trust

Brands today have bad trust issues as Americans trust only 22% of brands. Yikes.

But for 45% of people, their trust in a company increases when they believe it has contributed to the greater good.

Sure, there are plenty of purpose-washing brands. But companies that fail to meet consumer expectation suffer dips in their bottom line because disappointment erodes trust and prevents loyalty, precluding profitable long-term relationships. Perhaps the most egregious example of this is the 2015 VW Clean Diesel scandal.

Those businesses that follow through on Purpose “enable consumers to trust and connect on an emotional level.” Consumers want a good product or service, yes, but they’ll trust you if they feel your larger Purpose aligns with their values. (Read more on how Purpose can help with values alignment – and why it’s important.)

Companies with social Purpose built-in don’t have to fake it

Marketers for truly Purpose-driven companies are lucky.

As consumers demand more responsibility from brands, it’s easier for companies to purpose-wash rather than change the way they do business. But consumers are getting more savvy and will call out companies faking Purpose. That’s never a good thing for a brand, but even more risky as today’s consumers have a megaphone to highlight hypocrisy in digital conversations.

Purposeful brands can withstand scrutiny and demonstrate authenticity in ways purpose-washing brands never can. When you promote Purpose and Purpose-driven actions for a Purpose-driven brand (think Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s), accountability is never a concern.

Purpose makes our job as marketers easier – and more fun

What marketer wouldn’t prefer to create a plan and campaign that focuses on creating social change and connecting with consumers on an emotional and values-driven level? I’d take developing a campaign like Kind Bar’s random acts of kindness movement over touting the features of xyz widget any day.

Purpose helps us connect with consumers in a meaningful way. It’s increasingly tougher to get the attention and engagement of our audiences, but when they know that your brand stands for (and follows through on) something they care about, they’re more likely to pay attention.

Purpose invites a new type of consumer relationship

The marketing department’s most important role in a Purpose-driven company is activating Purpose so that it is meaningful to consumers and relates to what they want, need and care about.

Even when consumers recognize that a company has a Purpose, Purpose only correlates with increased sales or support for social impact when consumers recognize it as aligning with their own values. That’s because when Purpose is in line with your audience’s values, they’re more likely to be motivated to engage with you on an emotional level, perhaps even as partners in Purpose.

The success of Unilever’s Project Sunlight exemplifies of this new type of relationship in action. Nearly 300 million consumers have performed “Acts of Sunlight” via the campaign. The campaign boosts consumer awareness for Unilever’s Purpose-driven brand, but the inclusive approach also changes consumer behavior and makes change in the form of a better future for children. Purpose sets the stage for retention and engagement

Brands with Purpose in their DNA are able to deliver on their promises throughout the customer experience. That translates to retention and increased loyalty as consumers demand that companies back up their taglines and follow through on their guarantees.

Consumers also have high expectations for companies to make positive change, but they understand that they have a role to play as well. Inviting them to be partners in Purpose transforms relationships and amplifies positive social impact. And brands that authentically lead with Purpose can build more meaningful, long-lasting customer relationships.

Method’s People Against Dirty campaign is a great example of this type of invitation. It encourages people to write their lawmakers to support the Household Products Labeling Acts, which was created to ensure household cleansers and other products list all of their ingredients. It’s a win-win for Method as it’s championing legislation that supports its Purpose and it’s profit margin, and Method’s call to consumers to join in supporting the bill provides a simple action which informs consumers of Method’s benefits and shows that Method’s follows through on its promises to create safe products.

Some companies are hesitant to activate Purpose through their marketing, saying it feels gimmicky or cheap, like they’re exploiting their Purpose for profits.

But Purpose-driven companies have an opportunity to use Purpose in marketing not only to boost their reputation and bottom line, but also as a force for good. Truly Purpose-driven marketing helps consumers to make better purchasing decisions that create change.

While 40% of consumers want to choose brands with a clear Purpose, we have a lot of work when 50% of those same consumers can’t name one brand with a deeper sense of Purpose. Consumers aren’t even sure what it means to be a good company. Patagonia and Unilever rank 87th and 116th place, respectively, on a list of 149 “Most and Least Good for the World” companies (way behind Amazon and Kellogg’s)!

So take a cue from the HR department and start putting Purpose to work in your marketing department.

Anne is a strategic partner to RoundPeg, offering consulting on select projects to figure out how to use marketing to help people make good choices. In her free time, she enjoys sampling obscure teas, spending as much time at the beach as possible and spoiling her darling rescue dogs, Molly and Phoebe. An impassioned communicator and people person, Anne enjoys bringing people together and offering advice to anyone who wants it [or doesn’t]. See more posts by Anne.

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