Purpose-driven marketing – the new-age business mantra

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Why stakeholders today are concerned about business values, and not just profits

This article was originally published in ET Brand Equity and has been reproduced here with permission.

At an Apple shareholder meeting some years back, CEO Tim Cook was challenged over whether the company’s business was driven by a humanitarian purpose. His response summed up the new-age purpose of business branding: “Many a time, I don’t consider the bloody ROI. We only want to leave the world better than we found it.”

Today, all stakeholders – clients, the workforce, business partners – expect organisations to respect their concerns and values, not just boost profits. And a digital workforce is accelerating this norm as technologies have blurred the boundaries between home and work; individual and institution; shareholder and stakeholder. Also, COVID-19 has intensified this shift.

In a global survey of more than 4,000 top executives by MIT Sloan Management Review, 72% said they want to be in an organization that is driven by a purpose they believe in. But only 36% believed in their organization’s ability to advance its purpose. I believe this “purpose gap” exists because we aren’t aligning our organizations around a shared vision of diversity, inclusion, or sustainability.

In the current times, where world events and digital transformation dominate the discourse, companies should define what are the right choices for them. By defining your roadmap for a sustainable and inclusive future, now is the time to get the future you want. Everything about today’s marketing must start with the right culture, and the right avenues, to showcase yourself as a brand with purpose.

  • Businesses should focus on inclusive marketing to reflect genuine and authentic brand voice. While empathy may be the first step, COVID has made this a season to Humanize. Despite your own upheavals, showing people you care instead of trying to make a kill during adversity will change people’s outlook towards your organisation forever.
  • The difference between crisis and disaster is readiness and communication. Today, every organisation is undergoing some form of change – creating new services or developing new strategies. This is a chance to showcase your new business proposition and the value you create for all your stakeholders.
  • Transparency: Being transparent is the new default. But it may be both an imperative and a constraint: What’s said to investors will be heard by employees, and vice versa. But why care? As digital drives today’s marketing, there’s nothing better than to be seen as proactive and to channelize your purpose and values via a transparent approach.

Replacing profit with purpose

In 2019, the Business Roundtable declared that a corporation’s purpose is to create value for all its stakeholders, not just shareholders. Market valuation or profit making cannot be the default business priority – contributing to the common good should be! In the new normal, only purpose-driven businesses are uniquely positioned to face unprecedented crises like COVID better.

In fact, more companies are moving away from the primacy of profit. Google, Amazon, and Microsoft had to defend contracts with oil and gas industries following criticism from environmental activists – and their own employees; Google eventually stated that it will not build custom AI tools for the use extracting fossil fuels.

COVID-19 has also brought companies’ employee engagement programs center stage. As the focus on employee wellbeing, productivity, and resilience increases, business stakeholders want to ensure we are doing our best in employee engagement or community connect. And this isn’t for business reasons – we’re seeing a genuinely altruistic motive among them in their business practices.

Digital as a business purpose enabler

Having a compelling mission statement isn’t enough. Leaders must appear as genuinely passionate about enterprise purpose as they are about strategy, agility, and customer centricity. The key is to embed and enable new-age digital technologies as a means to fulfil organisational vision, to fulfil a purpose that has an operational as well as an aspirational rationale.

Several years into the transformation of marketing, I have learnt that new technology and new individual skills can only get the digital transformation so far. In the current scenario, purpose-driven business cuts across how best we leverage technology to enable business practices whose objective is overall societal benefit, like fulfilling our commitment to causes that address the larger good.

We all believe in a future where digital transformation should benefit humanity. Therefore, a business purpose, built on unleashing human energy through technology for an inclusive and sustainable future, should form the benchmark to build an inclusive future overall, enabled by technology.

Purpose as a reorganizing principle

Brands with strong purpose resonate better; in the long run, they do better from a revenue and share perspective when they have a stronger purpose. It’s time to ask: What’s the purpose of business? What is our calling? How do we go beyond metrics like productivity and efficiency? How do we drive ‘business driven by choice’ instead of ‘business built on necessity?’

In a data-driven world, you won’t attract people if you don’t have a brand that people believe in. Your brand is your greatest asset – you may have the best technology in the world, but without the people and processes to activate it, any transformation will fail. Knowing this alone will help master the next generation of marketing … aka purpose-driven marketing.

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