Recently neuroscientist Martin de Munnik published an article on Marketingfacts about ‘the sense and nonsense of purpose marketing’. He finds it tricky; brands that use ‘purpose’ in their marketing but have not implemented their purpose deeply rooted in their organization. They are (quite rightly) condemned for that. His advice? Organisations that are actually working towards a better world are perfectly able to make this known to the world and use it as part of their marketing strategy. But marketers would be well advised not to ‘take that responsibility to the office’.
After all, according to the writer, we are only “on earth because our parents wanted a child. So if you are “a little considerate of each other” in your actions, it’s a good thing, he writes. And that is precisely the noncommittal mentality that has gotten us into deep trouble. Profit for shareholders, crises for society.
The article is full of ideas from a time when we assumed we had infinite resources on earth. From a time when marketers used sustainability, in the broad sense of the word, as a means to achieve marketing success.
We live in a different world now, where marketing is used as a means to achieve sustainability successes. In a world where talented people only want to work for brands that genuinely want to make the world a little better. Where the motivation to be sustainable does not come from financial gain, but simply because it is the only conceivable option.
Mark Ritson puts it best: “Purpose is not usually the path to greater profits and better growth. That handy, naive, entirely specious narrative needs to end. The purpose of purpose is purpose. You deliver it because you believe in it. You deliver it even when it costs you something – everything, even your whole company.”
De Munnik, on the other hand, seems to consider “optional consideration of the other” a fine status quo. He explains in the comments, “We live in a world that demands, cries out for change, sustainability and tolerance. But as long as that happens in a capitalist system, we will have to wait until the pain of the status quo is greater than the pain of change. And then it might be too late, if it isn’t already.” That you can also shape that change is not considered an option anywhere in the piece. The state of the world demands that you should actually shape that change, if you are in a position where you can. And that’s what marketers are. After all, they hold a lot of keys to guiding consumer behavior (and thus can steer toward sustainable choices).
Marketers have influence to make the world a better place – De Munnik’s analysis actually proves just how much that benefits companies, if done right. This is also why people become marketers: they have a vision of the value companies add to the world. They want to highlight that value with creativity. Why does your business matter? The greatest value marketers can add now is social value.
As many as 90% of marketers according to the WFA indicate an ambition to engage in sustainability. Some of them no doubt feel this need intrinsically, but some will also be logical pragmatism. After all, nearly 70% of employees are considering quitting their jobs and trading them in for a job at a company that does take corporate social responsibility seriously – good luck recruiting new colleagues and achieving your business goals from the status quo.
So whether or not you believe in purpose-driven work: chugging along like this and “leaving the ideas to the political parties” (that comment is fodder for another piece) is no longer an option at all. Resources are running out. Natural reserves are getting rights. New legislation is going to change a lot in terms of sustainable and responsible business. And consumers have also caught on: passing on the true price cost of a cup of coffee only to the customer is no longer accepted. In short: is purpose not an actual part of your organization? Then you would be very wise to change course. Business as usual is dying out, now because it can, soon because it must.
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