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How Embedding Purpose in Your Organization Will Make It Stronger

How Embedding Purpose in Your Organization Will Make It Stronger

Kirsten Malan

Senior Consultant, Consulting Division



It’s a simple but powerful fact: brands and businesses that have a clearly defined purpose and live it across every level of their organizations grow faster than those that don’t. A 2019 study by Kantar shows that brands that have a purpose at their core outperform those that don’t by 10 percent in revenue growth and 12 percent in market share.

Fuelled by the horrors of COVID-19, a new era of purpose is parading onto the world stage. It is truly a time of reckoning for brands, with Kantar’s COVID-19 Barometer study showing that 88 percent of South Africans want to understand what brands are doing to face up to the situation.

Over the last few years, Kantar has interviewed hundreds of CEOs and marketing directors around the world, and we are continually hearing the same tune. Defining corporate or brand purpose is the easy part – the hard part is getting everyone in the organization geared up to turn purpose into a competitive advantage. This remains the holy grail for most companies.

Recent work by Kantar across three continents points to four defining characteristics of organizations that get this right:

They’re social citizens

Organizations with purpose really get the world. They’re on top of what’s going on out there, and what they see beyond the ivory tower matters to them.

With a keen eye on the ups and downs of society, they’re able to spot where they can make a difference or take a stand on what matters most. In the face of the crisis, the Kantar COVID-19 Barometer study found that 91 percent of South Africa want brands to talk about how they can be helpful in the new everyday life we are all facing. By taking up this call to action, brands can connect with society in a way that goes beyond market share – to simply become a part of life.

If you could change something about the world, what would it be?          

They don’t fake it

If you think CSI or a tactical response is going to cut it, think again: 75 percent of South Africans think brand communication should NOT exploit the crisis. Even at the best of times, consumers are just people – and they can quickly smell a rat. Purpose-driven organizations understand what they’re great at and make a persistent and enduring stand in a way that’s a natural fit for their strengths. By focusing energy where they can win, they become more believable and never show up in a way that’s a bit of a stretch.

What are you great at that can make a difference in the world?

They DO things

Organizations with purpose walk the talk. They don’t just stand for something; they show it to the world by doing something. There are three parts to how organizations can get this right. First, they create experiences that support what they’re about. Second, they’re able to trigger a movement that goes beyond the brand or even the company, one that is lived and shaped by the people who take it up. And third, they act as role models to fuel conversations that matter, collaborating with partners or influencers to add weight to their point of view.

How can you trigger a movement that gets people on board?

They live it

Organizations that get purpose right understand that it lives in people, not annual reports.

This requires courageous leadership and the type of leader that MIT calls a “transcender”. Transcenders go after institutional success while (or by) seeking benefits that are best for society and the world at large. Imagine an organization in which courageous leaders infuse purpose by putting it at the heart of how they hire people, make decisions, and spend money. In organizations in which this rings true, purpose is the corporate culture, with a recent Kantar study showing it makes employees three times more likely to stay. Hold Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario in your mind’s eye and ask yourself:

Do you have the courage to lead an organization that lives its purpose?

For organizations big and small, in good times and bad, purpose is a powerful driver of growth. To reap its rewards, however, they need to turn purpose into a competitive advantage that lives beyond the marketing department. That requires a clearly defined purpose that is true to who you are and makes a difference in society — and the courage to do something beyond your brand or organization. Do you have what it takes to turn purpose into a competitive advantage?