Meaningful marketing What’s the purpose of purpose? By Pamela Fiehn

Mar 24, 2017

I have a confession.

I’m starting to get tired of the word purpose.

It’s the new sustainability. The new corporate responsibility. The new everything, it seems. Marketers are throwing it around so much my head is spinning. I see case study after case study about companies supposedly baking purpose into their brands, where I think, Hmm. Is that purpose or philanthropy? (Or, is it just an emotion-grabbing campaign?)

When buzzwords take over and create confusion, I take a step back. Return to the basics. I ask myself, What am I trying to achieve with all that purpose?

It’s pretty simple. It’s all about giving your brand a chance to have conversations with your people beyond what you sell or your quarterly earnings. Meaningful conversations with the people—employees, customers, partners—who share your values.

When you do, the payoff is powerful.

Conversations create bonds

Conversations are how we share information about ourselves and our world. They are also key to creating bonds between individuals and groups. When we share the things we most care about, we build and solidify our deepest relationships. It happens one conversation at a time. Which is what we’re striving to do as marketers. We call it building loyalty, but really we are trying to bond with our customers.

Or give them a reason to bond with us.

And that bond is way more powerful than a transactional one-off sale. That bond is a reason for people to invite your brand into their lives, influencing not just the purchase of your product or service but all sorts of other decisions.

Take REI’s #OptOutside campaign, for example. When the retailer closed its stores on Black Friday two holiday seasons ago and encouraged customers and employees to spend the day outside, it gave people a reason to love the company beyond the gear it sells. The campaign immediately boosted REI’s social mentions and media coverage, but more importantly, #OptOutside has created a lasting bond with people who share its love for the outdoors. Some might call it a movement.

"Something I’ve learned over the years is, if you're not creating a conversation, why are you even talking?"

—Cory Bayers, VP of Global Brand Creative, Patagonia

Conversations require listening

At least meaningful ones do. (I mean, would you be friends with someone who wanted to do all the talking, all the time?) That means getting curious about people. What do they care about? What keeps them up at night? What inspires them to be their best?

And then listening to their answers and responding in a way that makes them feel heard.

People—your customers, your employees and other stakeholders—want to know they are important to you. That you care about what they think and what they value. And that it’s not just a one-way street; they want to influence you too.

"78% of Americans believe that companies should take action to address the important issues facing society."

The Political Consumer, J. Walter Thompson Intelligence’s Innovation Group

Conversations require honesty and authenticity

Your stakeholders are also listening—to see if your values line up with theirs. Do you care about the same things? People want to know what it says about them when they do business with you.

They want to know what you stand for and how your values drive your decisions.

To keep the conversation going, you must reveal your true self.

And they want to trust that you’ll show up the same way every time. Any sort of bond you create gets destroyed instantly if you do something out of character.

"88% of Americans agree that corporations have the power to influence social change."

The Political Consumer, J. Walter Thompson Intelligence’s Innovation Group

Conversations give you a reason to do something together

Meaningful conversations help like-minded people find each other. And when you share values, you get a clear picture of what you can do together. Whether that’s doing business or standing side-by-side to support something you both believe in.

That is the true purpose of purpose: to bring us together to do things we can all be proud of.

Pamela Fiehn

Pamela's the chief creative inspirer on our corporate responsibility work, and she’s dead set on transforming how the world thinks and talks about sustainability.

More from Pamela Fiehn:

Brand purpose: Getting buy-in beyond your tribe

#endcynicism? How?

What it takes to be BRAVE

Next up:

Brand purpose: Getting buy-in beyond your tribe

Spending time with our tribe at Sustainable Brands 2016 in San Diego this week gave us a chance to re-energize and re-connect with the essential elements of brand purpose.

Read on