Purpose Isn’t Proprietary: How to Stand Out by Hanging with the Right Crowd

July 25, 2018

The lines have never been more blurred between the role of business to sell products (i.e. make money) and acting for social change, embedding sustainability into a company’s bottom line, or speaking out on international or political issues. Two decades ago – even one decade ago – the thought of a Fortune 50 company speaking out on behalf of gender equality, gay rights and, even to some extent, climate change was definitely the exception more than the rule.

ketchum purpose cause marketing

But it’s a new day. Business arguably has a civic duty to speak out, and that is because the lines between work and play, home and job, have never been more blurred. We are all members of the global community. Social media has made it easier for people to speak out as a representative of their employer as well as an active member of their community.

We are seeing a convergence of companies aligning on purpose-driven missions. This goes beyond making sure the products they are selling are sustainable; beyond making sure they have strong community relations and volunteerism programs for employees. This goes straight to the heart of, “Why do we exist as a company beyond our profit, and the products and services we provide?”

That’s why you’ll see more companies rally around Purpose. That is because we all recognize that our ultimate mission is beyond lowering our carbon emissions or cause marketing or counseling our clients on sustainability and social impact alone: it has to be embedded in and core to everything we do.

This is where I challenge all companies interested in and discussing Purpose to understand one critical component: Purpose is NOT proprietary.

We are seeing an uptick in broader mission-driven organizations such as the Closed Loop Fund and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition that are rallying entire industries around fixing critical infrastructure and inherent challenges that entire sectors face. This also rings true on the international stage, where more than 2,800 organizations, totaling $6.4 billion in GDP, have signed the #WeAreStillIn pledge in the wake of the U.S. pulling out of formal climate negotiations.

That is power.

That is initiative.

And that type of collective partnership could not be done alone. It is time we stop thinking as individual institutions and understand that as community citizens and purpose drivers, we can “open source” Purpose to ignite real social change.

Here are 3 quick tips to spark your Purpose work:

  • Lead by example. Reach out to someone in your industry who is facing a similar challenge. See if there are ways to share solutions without impeding on competitive advantage.
  • Engage your employees in a two-way dialogue. Encourage regular conversations both up and down the management lines to discuss what Purpose means to them beyond an annual Company Values survey.
  • Lead with Humanity. Don’t ignore the social and environmental impacts we are currently facing, but address them head on. If there is a book you found truly moving, share it with your employees. If there is a campaign or ad you found inspiring, send an all-staff email. The more you can embody the brand values that you personally espouse, the stronger and more authentic you’re encouraging others to be.

We are absolutely stronger together.

Katie Michel is a Vice President for Ketchum’s Purpose practice. An energetic and detail-oriented project leader, she has deep institutional sustainability and corporate social responsibility knowledge, having spent the last 10+ years managing and executing high-profile sustainability communications strategies. Follow Katie on Twitter, @krmichel.