Why purpose only matters when you mean it.

Finding your true purpose, requires a deep dive into
your organization.
Image Credit: Shifaaz Shamoon

Purpose. Some call it the holy grail of corporate manage­ment – others view purpose as an integral part of their marketing strategy. But what is purpose really for? And why does it only become relevant when attitude and accountability go hand in hand?

In 2020, the year of social unrest and un­certainty, we did not only experience how COVID-19 chang­ed the way we live and work – and got a taste how the effects of climate change could be threaten­ing our future – we could also watch the fast rise of brands finding their voice and taking a stance. 

While Unilever owned ice cream brand Ben and Jerry‘s campaigned for the rights of refugees with their “Justice for Moria” campaign, Nike took a stand against racism in the aftermath of the brutal murder of African American George Floyd by a white police officer. With “for once, don't do it” the company positions itself with a simple and direct message against systemic racism and police violence. 

But purpose campaigns don't always get standing ovations and raving applause. In Nike’s case, the company did indeed receive a lot of praise for speaking out against racist behavior and the abuse of power and rally a wide support for backing the BLM-Movement – but just a few years before, angry right-wing customers deleted their apps, set sneakers and socks on fire and called for a company boycott.

Polarisation pays off. Being brave and acting by your purpose and values is exactly what makes these campaigns so credible, authentic and successful.

— moir

The outrage was a reaction to Nike’s “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” campaign with Colin Kaepernick, a former San Francisco 49ers quarterback. Colins NFL career ended after no-one would sign him in the wake of his protest racial injustice and police brutality. The protest involved taking the knee during the national anthem before an NFL game. 

Today, burning sneakers are a thing of the past and purpose has grown into a broad topic. Whether in the super­market, on the train or shortly before you can hit play on your favorite tune on You Tube – there is hardly any escape – purpose is simply everywhere. Brands have now become political actors; they show a certain attitude and take a stand against social injustice or climate change. Sometimes more, sometimes less credible. 

“Great!” one could think. Companies have finally understood that taking action and showing a certain attitude towards current affairs is not only something consumers expect and demand, but is also well received by employees, talents, and the public. But what motivates companies to change their ways? And can purpose really be the driver of a true transformation towards more social, ecological, and economic sustainability? Or is it just another method to effectively polish ones brand image and ultimately accelerate the growth of the business?

We believe, if you want to be successful in the future, purpose simply can’t be ignored. But only when attitude turns into action and meets accountability, does a real purpose show its magical effect. Heres 3 reasons why. 

1. Purpose means changing the root of how business operates.

Defining your brands purpose does not mean you have to suddenly support political grass roots movements to give your advertising a more purposeful meaning. You also shouldn’t try building your communication strategy on social or ecological injustices to attract more attention, improve your brands image or increase profits. True purpose is too complex for advertising ­–­ and too important to degenerate into a sole marketing tool.

Businesses seriously interested in a purpose-driven approach quickly notice what it is about. Namely, to determine the positive contributions the company can make in an ethical, social and ecological context. But above all, it is about recognizing individual, negative, social and environmental impacts, take responsibility and come up with counteractions to encourage positive change. 

For this to happen, it is first necessary to closely inspect and analyze your own business models, conduct, leadership behavior and organizational structures. After gaining a systemic view of your brands and businesses impact and potentials, these insights can be used to determine which corporate purpose will be the perfect fit and an effective leaver to steer your organization and work as a roadmap for strategic action as well as business model innovations.

True purpose-driven companies become part of the solution by acting FIRST – and talking about it later. By doing so, they become important drivers of change while scoring extra credibility points with audiences that view corporate responsibility as an essential component to create a socially fair, ecological safe and livable future.

2. People demand it.

Whereas a while back, most buying- or employment decisions were largely driven by the question "What does the product/brand/service do for me?" there’s this one other crucial question occupying people’s minds today: "What does the company do to produce their products/services under ethical, social and ecological aspects?"

Currently two of the worldwide largest consumer groups, Millennials and Gen Z are increasingly shifting their focus towards social and ecological issues. They are concerned about ethical consumption and behaviour, quickly see-through marketing clichés and scrutinize messages very carefully. For younger generations, sustainability is not just a trendy topic to strengthen one's self-image or satisfy their own ego – it is simply one of the key aspects to securing their own future. 

In May 2021, the Germany Constitutional Court ruled the German climate change law as insufficient and violating fundamental freedoms by putting the burden of curbing CO2 emissions on the young. It states that the law fails to explain in enough detail how CO2 emissions will be cut after the current targets end
in 2030, and found that the current provisions irreversibly offload major emission reduction burdens on to periods after 2030. 

With this groundbreaking ruling, Germany’s highest court responds to what moves and drives young people today: the fear for an environmentally safe future and the loss of personal Freedom and rights. Putting this motivation in connection with individual purchase decisions, employment choices or political orientation, it quickly becomes clear that the young generations actions are characterized and shaped by one of the strongest emotional drivers – thus beating hedonistic motivated purchase or life decisions by far.

3. Let’s us be a part of the solution – not the problem. 

Whether consumers, talents, or investors demand purpose or not – the fact is: if we fail to act now, we inevitably expose our livelihood, our businesses and organizations to ever-increasing risks. Those ignoring ecological and social factors today will have to deal with the effects of climate change, global warming, biodiversity loss and Co. eventually – and do not only live with the environmental but also with the economic and social consequences of an ever-increasing socio-economic gap.

The significant impact and cost of failing to act against serious, global challenges has been starkly illuminated by the pandemic. Currently, many individuals and businesses are experiencing the social and economic effects and pressure this lack of foresight and neglected risk management can have. In the long term, it will be those companies emerging as winners, who have dealt with real purpose-driven, life-centered sustainability strategies at an early stage and were therefore able to create strong, resilient and innovative new business models to protect their business, our living planet and the life prospects of generations to come.

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moir collective

We are many but together we are one. When we come together, we share our know-how and skills and our passion to create a world that works for us and generations to come. Here's what inspires and drives us.