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February, 16, 2023  |    |  

5 Ways To Get Your Social Purpose Right

More and more companies are embracing purpose, setting grand aspirations and crafting elegant statements, but implementation varies greatly. Here’s a helpful guide to getting the most out of purpose. 

Charlie Southwood
is Junxion's Marketing Manager. He's passionate about the role brands play in creating a better future.

We cannot rely on governments and non-profits alone to solve the biggest challenges of our time. Businesses across all sectors are realising that they have a role to play and need to do their part. Customers are starting to push companies harder with their purchase choices. And employees are looking for more meaningful work. If companies want to win customers and retain staff, they need to imbue more meaning into their operations.

This is where social purpose excels. An organisation’s social purpose is the reason it exists, beyond making a profit. How does your organisation contribute to a better world? Defining a purpose and embedding it into an organisation helps align leadership to a greater cause and drives higher satisfaction and less turnover among employees. In short, it will be imperative to companies’ success in the next decade. But where should you start?

Start With Your Motor, Not Your Paintwork 

Arguably the most common pitfall, and the most damaging, is when purpose is reduced to a marketing exercise. Some companies see the commercial appeal of purpose and with some surface-level sustainability in place, the marketing department starts heavily communicating the company’s ethics. This approach can easily lead to purpose washing

If purpose has not been embedded into the company’s operations, its interactions, customer and employee experiences, and management priorities aren’t guided by that purpose. As a result, the company’s activities can quickly drift from its stated purpose. 

Have you noticed the number of ads that now centre on social issues?

H&M has been communicating its commitment to sustainability, yet has repeatedly been found to be involved in supply chain malpractices. Brewdog recently positioned itself as the anti-sponsor of the Qatar world cup, but at the same time signed a distribution deal with Qatar and showed all of the matches in their pubs. (Also, the CEO has been accused of inappropriate behaviour and creating a toxic work environment.) And recall Pepsi’s now infamous ad featuring Kendall Jenner that was accused of trivializing Black Lives Matter.

For purpose to succeed in your company, it must be developed internally first. This starts with the board and c-suite embracing purpose, recognizing that it calls them to a fundamentally different set of success criteria, and making sure it informs all areas of the business. 

And it’s not just a top-down command; employees must be involved during the formation of your purpose. Without consulting employees, you risk ending up with an irrelevant purpose that won’t motivate the people most responsible for bringing it to life. 

Only once your people and culture are aligned with your purpose can you really become a purpose-driven organisation.

Only once your people and culture are aligned with your purpose can you really become a purpose-driven organisation. And only then should you think about how and when you will communicate your purpose in marketing and public relations. 

A Purpose Statement That’s Just Right

Like Goldilocks’s porridge, purpose statements need to get the right balance. Your statement should be aspirational, yes, but it should also be actionable and relevant to your organisation. A vague purpose statement such as “our purpose is to make the world better and solve important problems” isn’t precise enough to be useful; any company could say this. So what’s specific about you? The more specific you can be, the more your employees will relate to your purpose, as they can relate their day-to-day roles with something big, grand, valuable, and ambitious—something bigger than finances.  

These are some of our favourite purpose statements:  

Lego — inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow

PayPal — democratize financial services

Expedia Group — bring the world within reach

Junxion — accelerate the shift to the purpose economy

Don’t Play The Hero 

Another thing to consider is your organisation’s role in change and whether you invite your audience to be active changemakers. Author Jon Alexander posits in his book Citizens that the current ‘consumer story,’ whereby companies see their audience as consumers and themselves as the hero and act accordingly, has led us to many of the significant challenges we face today: over-consumption, societal inequalities, and failures of accountability, not to mention the climate emergency. We need a new approach.

Consider Lego’s purpose to ‘inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow.’ This is a great example of the citizen approach applied to a purpose statement. It is all about seeing your audience as active participants in change, and ensuring your role is to help them make that change. 

When companies see their audience as consumers and themselves as the hero, we run into problems

It turns out that the citizen approach not only has benefits for society but it also performs better in advertising. Advertising professional Thomas Kolster tested ‘transformational’ ads (which empower the individual) vs. traditional purpose ads (that position the brand as the hero) and discovered that the former performed better

Measuring, Evaluating and Reporting

Measuring your progress towards your purpose is imperative but difficult. It complements and builds upon established frameworks for impact measurement, carbon and other ‘footprint’ accounting, and more. When it comes to evaluating your purpose and ensuring consistency with strategy, are you measuring progress towards your big, societal goals? Are you including relevant metrics in your employees’ yearly targets? Are you tying compensation to achieving purpose milestones? 

Transparency breeds accountability; by publishing an annual report on your progress towards your purpose, you prove to stakeholders you are serious about purpose and want to take them along the journey with you. We’ll be publishing a dedicated post on purpose measurement, evaluating and reporting soon.

You must combine purpose with good governance and reporting

Should You Use Your Purpose In Marketing?

Heavily communicating your purpose without committing to it internally is one of the most common forms of purpose-washing. Assuming it is embedded in your operations, when should it be used in marketing? A good place to start is to understand your customers and their purchase drivers. Your sustainability and social impact credentials are one purchase driver among other factors like pricing, quality and ease of purchase. Understanding how much a role purpose has in your customers’ reasons for buying can help you determine how much of your communications should be devoted to it. Just make sure you back up your claims with data and be honest and humble about your journey. 

Purpose, Leadership and Society 

Every company needs to consider its role in society. Unfettered capitalism has allowed the climate crisis to unfold and driven huge economic and social inequalities. The view that companies are somehow separate from society and the environment is wrong, dangerous, and fraught with fiduciary risk. Purpose helps shape leaders’ roles in society and is a powerful way to engage staff and attract talent, provided it’s done the right way. 

Are you ready to define and embed your social purpose? Benefit from Junxion’s many years of experience supporting organizations like yours. Contact us now.