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What Is Purpose-Driven Marketing?

Purpose-driven marketing is a strategy used by an organization to center its external communications efforts around a social cause that aligns with its core values. The goal of purpose-driven marketing is for an organization to develop a deeper rapport with their consumer base by creating authentic connections based on shared values.

The Emergence of Purpose-Driven Marketing

As recently as a few years ago, social good initiatives were often seen as a form of community service rather than efforts that would bolster financial performance.

In 2019, Business Roundtable–a group comprised of 181 CEOs of America’s largest companies–revised a 22-year-old policy statement defining a corporation’s principal purpose. In place of the former statement almost entirely centered around maximizing shareholder return, the amended statement declares that in addition to serving shareholders, organizations should deliver value to their customers, invest in employees, deal fairly with suppliers, and support the communities in which they operate.

This statement reflected the changing culture in the days before the COVID-19 pandemic. People were spending—and boycotting—in line with their values. And in 2020, the pandemic and racial justice reckoning only accelerated this. Today, American consumers are more vocal than ever about their demands.

The Importance of Organizational Purpose

Before we further unpack the integral role of purpose-driven marketing, we must first understand the importance of organizational purpose.

A staggering 2020 global study from Zeno stated consumers are four to six times more likely to purchase from, protect, trust and champion purpose-driven companies. The study also states that while 94 percent of global consumers say they value companies with a strong sense of purpose, and are willing to reciprocate through brand loyalty, only 37 percent believe today’s companies are reaching their potential on this front.

What this means: today, a lack of clearly conveyed purpose can negatively impact the bottom line and longevity of your organization.

This also means that purpose-driven marketing can’t be cosmetic. It must be reflected in every aspect of a brand’s business model and culture, or that brand or organization can expect to be called out for hypocrisy—more on that later.

Purpose-Driven Marketing in Action

Outdoor apparel brand Patagonia is an exemplary model of a purpose-driven company. As a brand for people who care about spending time in the great outdoors, they understand the value its consumers place on environmental sustainability. The company also serves as a powerful example of how well-executed purpose-driven initiatives can influence tangible real-world change.

Crude Awakening

For instance, let’s remember Patagonia’s #CrudeAwakening campaign to protect coastlines from oil spills, which they launched after a spill that resulted in 140,000 gallons of crude washing onto beaches just miles from the company’s Southern California headquarters. The campaign featured an activation where surfers, kayakers and paddleboarders traveled to an oil platform five miles off the California coast to take a stand against offshore drilling. Due to the advocacy of the brand and other members of the community, three new bills were signed into law.

From programs designed to limit ecological impacts to pledging one percent of sales to the preservation and restoration of nature, the company has crafted its identity around a set of values that feel authentic and relevant to its products—the products feel inseparable from the purpose, which feels inseparable from the brand itself. Patagonia’s customers aren’t simply purchasing a product, they’re supporting what it stands for.

The Impact of Gen Z

Gen Z is at the forefront of shaping this new purpose-driven culture. As of 2020, people under the age of 25 make up 41 percent of the world’s population. This shrewd, digitally native group is passionate about transparency, social care, mental health, climate change and so forth. Furthermore, Gen Z stands equipped with an arsenal of technological resources, such as smart phones and social media, that position them as nimble and self-educated agents of change. Organizations literally cannot afford to neglect this generation’s cause-first approach to consumption.

And the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified this generation’s call for a reimagined, globally responsible way of doing purpose-driven business. Day by day, it becomes more and more evident that long-term organizational success is not solely hinged to the traditional blueprint of financial prosperity, but contingent upon meaningful contributions to society.

The Internal Aspect of Purpose

Lastly, you don’t have to look beyond your Slack window to see the next, and arguably most important, reason for building an authentically purpose-driven operation—it’s your team.

The growing reality is that people don’t just want to purchase thoughtfully. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and they are looking to their employers to curate a fulfilling, stimulating and purpose-driven environment. Case in point, of those surveyed in Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer, 92 percent reported it was important that their employer’s CEO speak out on issues like income inequality, ethical use of tech, diversity, climate change and more.

Leveraging the power of purpose-driven marketing can play a chief role in attracting and retaining the strongest talent to your organization.

Conversely, organizations that choose to remain change-averse and fail to integrate purpose-driven marketing into their culture will find themselves obsolete.


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