September 27, 2023


Business&Finance Specialists

How to keep your ‘purpose-led marketing’ from turning into pointless pandering

2 min read

Purpose isn’t about companies looking beyond profit, as some Pollyanna prognosticators believe, it’s inextricably linked to a winning strategy. Henry Ford knew this when he paid his workers more—good for them and good for business, not a zero-sum game.

And your purpose isn’t a porpoise, moving with the tides of public opinion, jumping through hoops for our amusement. It should be immutable, unchanging and core to your business, not mine.

Despite the echo you hear inside our industry bubble, average consumers couldn’t care less what brands think about politics, any more than they care which Hollywood celebrity voted for which cardboard candidate. Real people with real lives don’t look to the stars for direction unless they’re sycophants or sailors.

The problem with purpose is never the intention, it’s the inconsistency. So if you want to champion LGBTQ+ rights or equal pay here in the U.S., please don’t pretend your products aren’t sold in countries where even discussing those issues in public is against the law. If you crow about sustainability and flood my feed with a bold plan to ban plastic straws, don’t leave out the toxic tidbits of your business in China. And next time you share a breathtaking video of your smartphone product design, add a behind-the-scenes clip of the mines where the rare-earth metals that power your phones actually come from, just for context. 

Business is messy, and making things requires resources, labor and supply chains, some of which might not be as perfect as you’d hoped. That’s to be expected, so invest in fixing those things instead of marketing misdirection to persuade the public your product is pristine. 

In other words, stop telling me what to think, who to vote for, when to march or why I should feel proud, sad or guilty.

You’re a brand, not my mother.

And here’s another idea: Do what we’re paying you to do. Make a good shoe. Arrive on time. Fix my car. Answer the damn phone. (Apple, I’m talking to you—your AI-voice assistant gives me the Heisman every time.)

A brand is a promise, so think of your purpose as a fulfillment of that promise. Making air travel more affordable. Connecting people. Building a safer car. Putting shoes on every pair of feet on the planet. Whatever your founding ambition might have been, big or small, aim for the stars and see where it takes you. 

If every company did what it was founded to do and became the best version of itself, just imagine what a world that would be.

That sure sounds like a shared purpose to me.

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