I want to discuss the questions many brands have been asking, especially in tough times like the past year.

  • Why does being a purpose-driven business matter?
  • Is giving money to a charitable cause enough?
  • Do you have to sacrifice profits to pursue purpose?
  • How can companies and brands step up to impact long-term positive change?
  • Does purpose matter to your employees, partners and prospects?

Purpose is not just charity, philanthropy or even CSR, ESG and DEI. What are those acronyms? Those are all branches on the tree of purpose. But the term that’s most often mistakenly used these days to encapsulate it all is CSR (corporate social responsibility). It was first used by economist Howard Bowen in 1953 and didn’t take hold until the 1970s when the Committee for Economic Development introduced the idea of a social contact between businesses and society. CSR is now taking a front seat in business today—especially this past year through ESG (environmental, social, governance) and DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion, especially in the wake of last year’s social justice issues).

I know, that’s a lot to unpack—but the headline here is that purpose matters today in an era of uncertainty. Everybody’s looking for an anchor, ballast, and a true north. When done right, purpose can be ONE of these things OR ALL of these things for your business. It has the power to unite, inspire, and ignite all your stakeholder groups. And I do mean everybody—employees, prospects, customers, regulators, your local community, etc.

Promise of Purpose

A video I saw created by the content team at UPS illustrates this perfectly. It’s called “The Power of Difference: UPS Supplier Diversity” and won a Gold Telly Award and a 2020 W3 Award for best branded public service & activism. 

But here’s a cool quote from someone involved in creating the video. “That video was one of my proudest achievements at UPS—not because what it did for my trophy shelf, but because of what it did for UPS. It was a supernova where purpose, creativity, and conviction collided together” said Janet Stovall in a keynote about being more purpose-driven when she was the senior director of social impact at UPS.

Here’s why I think that video was so powerful: It’s about PEOPLE, PARTNERSHIPS, and POSITIVITY. Those elements touch us emotionally. That’s the magic behind any successful purpose-driven initiatives. So I want you to stop for a second and think of an example you’ve seen recently of an organization giving back—something that moved you like this video moved me.

Got one? Good.

That example in your mind right now is your INSPIRATION to fuel IMPLEMENTATION. Hold onto it. We’ll get back to it later when I tell you the steps you’ll need to embrace purpose in a meaningful way. But for now, I bet you are still a little skeptical. There are probably two reasons for that—first, the question of purpose vs. profit. And secondly, where’s the proof?

First off: People often associate purpose-driven businesses with those who sacrifice profits to do this. That’s a misconception. We’ve talked previously about the importance of having a mission statement as a company. You can learn more about this on my previous podcast episode, Exploring Company Culture.” It defines who you are and the ‘why’ that drives what you do. Whether it’s committing to making the world or even just your local community a better place, doing good and giving back is never a negative thing for business. It doesn’t have to cost you—in fact, it costs you NOT TO DO IT. 

What Is The Cost Of Not Embracing Purpose In Life And Business?

Not only does being a purpose-driven business open the door to opportunities to connect in a deep, meaningful way with everyone from employees and partners to customers and regulators, but there’s a cost to NOT embracing purpose. There’s a reason IBM’s CCO Jonathan Adashek is out there speaking about citizenship and social justice these days. Not only is it the right thing to do, but…

According to a recent survey by GlobalWebIndex:

  • 68% of consumers might or would stop using a brand because of bad CSR (corporate social responsibility)
  • 84% might stop buying from a brand with a poor environmental track record
  • Nearly half of consumers would be MORE likely to buy from a socially conscious or environmentally friendly brand

And don’t forget that the social contact has grown to include and embrace new stakeholders. A Google study found that:

  • 71% of LGBTQ consumers interact with and trust brands with inclusive ads
  • 69% of black consumers seek out and purchase from brands with inclusive ads

So purpose, CSR, ESG and DEI straight up impacts the bottom line. Need more? Here’s the latest from a market research report put out by MarketingDive and Pipslay:

  • 65% of US consumers believe a brand should have and support anti-racist initiatives
  • 56% of Gen Z and millennials are more willing to buy from brands that take a public stand against racism
  • 46% of US consumers think a collective show of support for anti-racism will lead to a credible change for our future.

Purpose matters. Companies can’t afford not to engage. Not when companies are the #1 most trusted institution these days, according to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer. And beyond that, consumers will remember the companies and organizations that led in CSR and give back in 2020, 2021, and so on. So that brings us to: YOUR earlier mental picture of a brand or company that exemplifies purpose. Bring that back to mind now. And let me guess, as we fan out the cards, was it:

  • Patagonia (they’re first on my list because they’re local—just up the street)
  • Ben & Jerry’s (love that company; side note: Sean Greenwood’s job title there is The Grand Poobah of PR)
  • Dr. Bonners
  • Bombas
  • TOMS
  • Warby Parker
  • Tesla
  • Microsoft
  • Timberland
  • Amgen

Alright, I’m biased but that’s my top 10. Yours is definitely different, especially during Covid when companies like Amazon and Apple really stepped up. No matter who’s one your list, YOUR NEXT QUESTION probably is…

How Do I "Do" Purpose?

You first have to overcome barriers. They include the lack of budget, lack of results, or just a tendency to roll with the status quo. You can’t even begin to overcome obstacles and barriers until you know your WHY. Here are some simple ABCs of PURPOSE to help you get there: (another tip of the hat to Janet Stovall):

  • A is Ascertain purpose: Find your WHY by listening first. Ask those living with aversity about what they’re facing. Ask your employees, partners and customers about what’s important to them. Absorb what they have to say. Correlate what you find back to your mission and values statements. Only then should you articulate your WHY.
  • B is Be passionate: Be passionate about the challenges you’re trying to help solve and the causes you embrace. Passion will help you push through obstacles. However, you also have to know your stuff. Stovall said it best: “Compassion and passion work best when supported with knowledge,”
  • C is Connect to metrics: No one connects the dots better than communicators and marketers. So how can you begin to connect belief and business—or align your purpose with profit? It starts by pinpointing measurable goals and KPIs for your purpose initiative before you get started. For example, it’s great if your employees volunteered dozens of hours last month, but what was the impact? For example, “How many people were fed or how many masks were provided?” If that was your cause. or “How many lives were saved, jobs enabled or healthcare costs reduced?” Focus on results that impact lives. 

The 3 C'S: Purpose Hacks

The ABC’s of Purpose are a great way to kickstart your purpose planning. Here are some more. I like to call them “Purpose Hacks” because they’re shortcuts and roadblock on the path to purpose:

  • Hack #1: Compare – Don’t reinvent the wheel. Look at the CSR, ESG and DEI reports of companies you like. See what societal challenges they’re trying to help, what “purpose” stories they’re sharing and the metrics they’re using to gauge impact. 
  • Hack #2: Consult – Talk to others in your sector. Check with your industry association to see what other members are doing. Ask your business partners what KPI’s they care about then use that.
  • Hack #3: Contextualize – Don’t just share metrics and KPIs with your execs and/or public. Numbers numb, but stories inspire. So put the data into context by telling a story. Bring the numbers to life. Marketers and communicators know how to do that best.

Our Story Is How We Turn Purpose Into Practice

Speaking of stories and how best to tell them, here is a personal example of purpose in action so you can take that next step on the path to purpose. I’ll outline 3 DIFFERENT IDEAS TO TRY. 

Here at Vonazon, my team and I give back around 20% of our profits to provide our services to local businesses that may not be able to afford them. We recently deemed this the Vonazon Vital Program. We’ve built out this idea further to include aspects of education for local college students. So this is: idea 1: volunteering. Regardless of your financial capabilities, volunteering with your team is a free or a low-cost way to start giving back. This work and coming together as a team not only gives people a sense of purpose but allows your team the opportunity to bond with one another. Now, 20% might be too big of a commitment—and that’s fine. Start smaller. Even a tenth of that matters in a big way.

So how do you find local volunteer opportunities? The first, and most apparent step is to search online. Make sure to do your research to ensure that you are working with a volunteer opportunity that aligns with your mission statement and goals.

For example, in my county the Economic Development Collaborative (EDC-VC), Small Business Development Center (SBDC), SCORE, our local Chamber of Commerce and Women’s Economic Ventures (WEV) have stepped up in a big way. Again, a simple online search for “Resources for Businesses Impacted by Covid-19” brings them up—and many others.

Another way for companies to give back is through education-driven initiatives. That’s idea 2. For example, Vonazon has previously hosted college students involved with the American Marketing Association. We invited the CU Channel Islands AMA group to the office for an afternoon filled with marketing education. They were able to ask questions and further explore what a career in the field could look like.

This is an excellent example of how you can engage with your community and foster connections with upcoming grads who may look for the opportunity to work with you in the future. It also employs your team to reflect on their professional journeys and channel them into giving back.

The last idea I want to give you is the donation of products and services. This is idea 3. As mention, we do this at Vonazon by using 20% of our profits to fund digital marketing projects for local companies that may not be able to afford our services. I have always strived for Vonazon to be a purpose-driven business.

I hope that maps out some practical steps for you—so you can do the same. In that spirit, let’s explore more examples of how big household brands have recently given back. You might get some more ideas to borrow:

  • The popular meditation app HeadSpace really stepped up with ways to give back in the face of hardship this past year. Their CEO Rich Pearson worked with his team to put together a free meditation collection for healthcare workers on the pandemic’s front lines. They also offer a similar option for teachers and educators. Their goal was described as “helping people around the world find some calm and compassion for themselves and those around them in a truly trying time.”
  • Here’s another example and a PRO-TIP. Don’t go it alone. Some companies partner with philanthropic organizations or establish their own to assist in the donation of their products and services. For example, Allbirds, the popular sustainable shoe company, takes lightly used shoes and sends them to Soles4Souls, a nonprofit that donates shoes to people who have been affected by disasters.
  • And this one’s for the sport lovers out there. If you didn’t notice, in this year’s SuperBowl, three major companies who have historically generated ads for the game throughout the years chose to sit this one out. Budweiser joined Coke and Pepsi as three notable brands that decided to forgo a Super Bowl ad in 2021. This decision stunned many as all three brands typically produce viral ads during the event that are shared even years later between fans.

Due to the unfortunate events of the year leading up to the game, many of the company’s employees were laid off or let go due to the ongoing pandemic and economic uncertainty. In an effort to lend aid to those affected, the companies donated the money that would have been spent on a commercial towards COVID-19 vaccination awareness campaigns and to assist the families of those that were let go. While this decision may not result in a viral ad or profitabily, it speaks to the human side of how companies diverge their usual methods for the greater good.

And that brings me to the bigger point today: This decision was not only a win for the world but an incredibly positive PR move—one that directly impacts profit. The next time someone who knows this story goes to the store and sees these brands, they may be more inclined to purchase them in an effort to support the positive actions associated.

I shared plenty of data earlier that supports this idea. But here’s the final word on that—and the idea of a triple bottom line—straight from Deloitte Insights: 

“Purpose-driven companies witness higher market share gains and grow three times faster on average than their competitors, all while achieving higher customer and workforce satisfaction.”

In Conclusion

I’d like to wrap up focusing on that last point. Giving back and establishing yourself as a purpose-driven business is not only good for the world and potentially your bottom line, but it can be incredibly impactful on your employee satisfaction. That’s huge in today’s reality where employee wellness is particularly important as we move from WFH to hybrid and return-to-work scenarios. Employees are flat-out stressed and looking to their companies to provide some guidance, resources and, yes, purpose. That also holds for potential employees—and employer branding is the next big thing in purpose communications and marketing.

Here’s some data to hang that on. Studies show that employees genuinely want to volunteer in their communities and that they like when their companies assist them in doing so. According to Deloitte’s Volunteerism Survey, workplaces with a culture of volunteerism find that volunteering boosts morale, improves team building, and increases its brand value. According to a 2018 study, of employees who feel their company encourages them to support causes they care about, 74% are more likely to recommend their company as a place to work, 71% are more likely to stay longer, and 61% are more likely to increase their overall engagement at work, provided their CEO makes a real effort to address important societal issues.

Translation: Not only does purpose impact ROI, but it also impacts ROE—return on engagement in issues like volunteerism, social justice, green energy and so on.

When it comes to being a purpose-driven business, the benefits truly outweigh the cost. And many times, volunteering, and philanthropy—the most fundamental embodiments of purpose in business today—come at no cost at all.

Something as simple as hosting a canned food drive or a toy drive around the holidays can not only do good for your community but increase employee satisfaction. I cannot emphasize enough how vital a philanthropic element is to businesses regardless of size, budget, and resources. If you are looking to find resources for local volunteer opportunities, I suggest starting with VolunteerMatch. The site is free to use and comes with many options for how to get out there and do good in your community.

So this leaves us to today’s ‘Move Your Feet Moment.’ I want to challenge you to go out and do something positive for someone else this week. Even something as simple as paying it forward and paying for coffee or a meal of the person in line behind you at your local coffee shop or drive through. A little action can go along way and inspire others. Talk to your team about volunteering and see what organizations, causes, and charities are near and dear to their hearts. Coming together as a team to do good can only bring you good in return.