A client confided in us recently that the move to purpose was, for one of their consumer brands, a 15-year strategy. That’s a brave strategy for anyone to put in place in this accelerating world.
It’s one that not many businesses can afford to take. But it’s one that some businesses always have. Indeed, many of the world’s longest-lasting organisations — often family-run and deeply embedded in communities — have always had what some call ‘blended goals’. That is, success criteria that included, but weren’t limited to, profits. Purpose, you could argue, comes more naturally to organisations like these.
In contrast, short-term rewards — characterised by annual bonuses and quarterly reporting — have lead to a collapse in trust and a race to the bottom in industries such as airlines. Meanwhile, the pursuit of share price, venture capital and stock market valuation over measures such as sustainable growth, infrastructure, assets, quality, jobs and profit has seen companies such as Snapchat, Uber and Pinterest wobble to the top. But no-one’s really asking if they’ll be around in 50 or 100 years.
In firms like Uber, values, culture and purpose seem like luxuries they can’t afford in the race for market share. That leaves these values-free disruptors open to be disrupted — because while they have market dominance, they have no loyalty whatsoever in the hearts and minds of drivers, customers, employees or shareholders. If Uber disappeared tomorrow, many millions of people would be inconvenienced. But would they actually care? For Uber and other scale-obsessed startups, it’s likely to be a case of rise fast, fall fast.
Meanwhile older, more established firms are able to take a step back, take a longer view, and own their own culture, values and goals.
They, like many others, have recognised that social purpose is a demographic shift, not a marketing fad. They recognise that the millennials who’ve grown up with a restless search for meaning, are today’s employees and early adopters —Â and tomorrow’s business leaders and core consumers.
They’re the companies who’ll build social purpose into their culture, values and products — and then their marketing. They’re less likely to join the desperate scramble for attention that characterises much of the purpose-led advertising and marketing we see today.
They might be the ones who surprise us, by doing purpose properly. And by being around to reap the benefits.