The Purpose Of Purpose19th March, 2020 by Rob Metcalfe
Much was made at last week’s Grocer Conference – How to have a purpose: The role of ethics for your business and your brands – of the new dynamic in business: that making profits for shareholders is no longer sufficient as a corporate purpose and that there is a whole heap of societal benefits that companies should be striving to achieve too. Of course, the room was full of believers, and out in the real world I am sure there are still many businesses that rarely look beyond the bottom line.
If that’s the case now, it is set to change. Regardless of the impact of coronavirus, people are increasingly looking to business to show social leadership, to contribute to the greater good beyond the nuts and bolts of day-to-day commerce.
Some brands have lofty ambitions, though none less worthy for that. We heard from Tony’s Chocalonely on its remarkable mission to abolish slavery in chocolate production – that’s all chocolate production, not just for its own brand. Others are more modest, but all share the qualities of empowerment and enablement, using business success to achieve a greater benefit for all.
I made a brief appearance onstage to comment on good and bad purpose-led marketing (and was gratuitously rude about one of the earlier speaker’s campaigns; apologies Pot Noodle) and the difference between the two is usually pretty clear. Good purpose is embedded throughout a company, and if it emerges as part of a marketing campaign, it’s because it’s integral and not an add on. Ineffectual, or even damaging purpose marketing usually comes when a current social theme is grafted on to a marketing campaign without any apparent reason.
Over the next few weeks and months, purpose for some companies and brands will be tested as never before. When it’s a fight for survival in a chaotic market it must be easy for all those touchy-feely principles to seem like a nice-to-have rather than a must-have. My bet is that companies with genuine purpose will fare better than the profit-at-all-costs merchants. They will treat their employees with respect and dignity – even in the most difficult of circumstances – and as they emerge from the other side of this crisis, they will retain, and even build on, the loyalty of their customers and suppliers.