Why is Purpose a dirty word?

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There seems to be a continuing divide in the industry, which we, in our agency, fail to understand.

Many other senior commentators in the marketing and communications industry seem to treat the word Purpose with a disdain.

At best, they treat it as an unnecessary distraction from the business of selling stuff: A pursuit of finding a higher-order emotional benefit that gets too far from what the product is really about.  And, hey, they say, why do you even need a purpose? Highly respected industry commentators such as the likes of Mark Ritson have written: “Marketing is about profit, not purpose.”  All too often, the view is companies that try and communicate their position on the important social and environmental issues of the day are merely ‘virtue signaling’ or ‘green washing.’ 

To us, for an industry that prides itself on being future-facing and culture-shaping, this seems surprisingly at odds with the wider world and where it is heading.

This year, Larry Fink, CEO of Blackrock, the world’s largest asset management company said: “Purpose is not the sole pursuit of profits but the animating force for achieving them. Profits are in no way inconsistent with purpose – in fact, profits and purpose are inextricably linked… Stakeholders are pushing companies to wade into sensitive social and political issues – especially as they see governments failing to do so effectively.”

This is borne out by Paul Polman, who has just stepped down as CEO of Unilever, the world’s second largest advertiser. Their sustainable growth development model has just delivered a 300% shareholder return over the past decade. Polman says: brands with a “strong purpose” are growing faster and are more profitable – “so it’s a damn good business plan”. 

Brands are expected by consumers to have a purpose as well as communicate their values and beliefs.  According to Edelman, what your brand really stands for, and the impact is has on society is increasingly important if you want loyal customers. Nearly two thirds (64%) of all consumers now ‘buy based upon beliefs.’  Failure to have a purpose is a failure to have a meaningful brand.  And who wants that?

It’s also not just about consumers or investors. Purpose guides company culture, which ultimately attracts, retains and motivates the best talent. 

So, as authorities such as Fink and Polman declare, the very nature and role of business within society is clearly in transformation.  And the need for a meaningful purpose, a cultural north star, sits at the centre of this.   In parallel, within our industry, as a whole we have been on the back foot.  There is a consumer crisis of trust in advertising, not helped by firms such as Cambridge Analytical.  This is coupled with commercial commoditisation of many services agencies historically performed. 

As agencies themselves deal with these issues and the role that they play within clients’ businesses, as they question why they are being challenged at the top table, they should think about how they can help their clients with this business and social transformation.

Perfect Storm is a brand and cultural transformation company.  We help our clients do good things in the world that are good for business.

To have a Purpose or not to have a purpose, how is this ever a question?


BBD Perfect Storm

Founded in 2013, Perfect Storm is the Brand and Cultural Transformation Company. Perfect Storm was founded to help organisations grow by transforming themselves and their category through creating a culture rooted in a greater purpose that creates the brand's North Star. We believe the only way to build brands is authentically, from the inside out. We design, create and help build world-class purposeful brands. Through a Brand and Cultural Transformation Framework, we help organisations unlock discretionary effort from their staff and irrational loyalty from their customers. We are Perfect Storm, the brand and cultural transformation company.

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