There's been a bit of a cynical backlash against purpose driven marketing. A lot of the backlash has been earned by insincere cash grabs by organizations wrapping themselves in a cause for relevance or just to have something to say. Nothing new there.
The shame of it is, this is a time when there are so many worthy causes, so much tumult that people are receptive to–actually wanting–companies helping. All people want is some clarity, and skeptics are vocal. Unanswered questions become big problems when people start pulling at them. An individual working for a purpose understands why they chose to. It's not the same for companies, and that comes through in the brand communication, causing confusion to customers and observers.
Purpose isn't always as pure as people wish it were, but the closer it is to pure the more effective for the brand. Replace the idea of purpose as it has been converted in our minds—cause-based marketing—with any other business initiative. If it didn't make sense for the business, if you couldn't explain it, you wouldn't do it. It's especially tempting to grab hold of a purpose today, as environmental, social, political and health causes are all increasingly visible and urgent. But the punishment for claiming a purpose to get some of its attention and failing to support the cause across your organization is serious.
I had the opportunity to speak with Simon Mainwaring, who has been helping businesses make sense of their purpose for a long time. He and his strategic consultancy, We First have been developing the type of organizations that integrate purpose most effectively, and some of the challenges faced by those that don't quite get it.
Find Simon at We First