An object of derision, celebration, debate, and analysis, the word “purpose” is as over-used and mis-used a word as any in the marketing lexicon. It’s as if the purpose of “purpose” was something other than the word it serves as prefix to—marketing, and, equally, as if the purpose of marketing was something other than growth.
With negative consequences for both business and the world, which neither can afford, too many marketers are confusing cause and effect, and thinking about “purpose” as something other than a strategic and financial engine. Indeed, one of marketing’s most influential voices, Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer of Procter & Gamble, has said “what I think has happened in the industry, in general, is that it’s gone a bit too far into the good but potentially not (been) paying enough attention to growth. So that’s why we flipped it around…to focus on growth that leads to good.” Pritchard isn’t alone in thinking this.
The flaw in the perspective he and others offer is it confuses strategy with objectives. Discussing whether we should be “doing good” or “driving growth,” suggesting that brands need to decide between the two, is as false a choice and unnecessary a binary as the “brand v. performance” debate. It misses the point that in a world of commoditized alternatives across product and service categories, “good” is and will increasingly be what contributes to growth. It is a means to the ends, and another ingredient in the mix of marketing ingredients that gets someone to buy—or fails to.
It’s been almost 250 years since “doing well by doing good” was offered as a social and strategic imperative by one of America’s founding capitalists, Benjamin Franklin. Yet we’re still debating its efficacy, and holding its use to a standard that suggests every other part of the marketing mix works every time. To my knowledge they do not.
More recently then America’s founding, in 2011, Harvard Business School Professors Michael Porter and Mark Kramer wrote “Creating Shared Value, How to reinvent capitalism—and unleash a wave of innovation and growth.” In the article, they make the connection between social progress and business success clear, as they do the difference between means and ends, that’s so often getting lost today. From their original article:
“The purpose of the corporation must be redefined as creating shared value, not just profit per se. This will drive the next wave of innovation and productivity growth in the global economy. It will also reshape capitalism and its relationship to society. Perhaps most important of all, learning how to create shared value is out best chance to legitimize business again.”
At a time when businesses are increasingly expected to do and create good, purchase consideration and decisions are driven by whether brand and buyer’s values align or don’t. Of course, not always, not in every category, and not for everyone, but increasingly, as more of us vote with our dollars and thumbs. It is exactly this values and passions-based alignment—or mis-alignment—that can drive value accretion, and regardless of whether you’re Hobby Lobby or Patagonia.
In the evolution of capitalism and the essential shift from a singular focus on shareholders to a more inclusive consideration of stakeholders, Nobel Memorial Prize winning economist Milton Friedman’s premise that “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits” has been much derided. But he was—and remains—right. But what’s evolved is that “profit” is no longer and cannot be proxy for exploitative, damaging, greedy, evil, unfair, unkind, inhumane, nor irresponsible. Any more than “purpose” can be proxy for philanthropy, charity, CSR, or giving without getting.
Our world is in a world of hurt. The evolution to a more responsible, accountable, and transparent form of business is as necessary and overdue as it is still incomplete. If there’s some good news to be found for people and marketers both it’s that we no longer have to choose between “growth” and “good.”
Good is an engine of growth, and with growth, as Pritchard suggests, you have more resources with which to do good. It’s a virtuous cycle in a world filled with vicious ones, if only we’d see it this way.