The Purpose of ‘Purpose” Is Business Growth and Brand. That’s It.

The word “purpose,” a subject of celebration, debate, and analysis, is as misused as any word in the marketing lexicon. It’s almost as if “purpose” had a different purpose than the prefix it serves–marketing. And similarly, marketing has a different purpose than growth.

Too many marketers confuse cause and effect and think of “purpose” as something that is more than a financial and strategic engine. This has negative consequences for the business and the planet. Marc Pritchard, Procter & Gamble’s Chief Brand Officer, stated that “what has happened in the sector, in general, is that it’s gone a little too far into the positive but potentially not (been paying enough attention) to growth.” This is why we turned it around…to concentrate on growth that leads towards good.” Pritchard doesn’t think this alone.

His perspective, like others, is flawed in that it confuses strategy and objectives. The notion that we should be “doing well” or “driving increase” is a false choice. It suggests that brands must choose between them. This is just as absurd as the “brands vs. performance” debate. This misses the point. In a world full of commodity alternatives across product and service categories, “good” will continue to be the key to growth. It’s a means to an end and another ingredient in the marketing mix that makes someone buy.

Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s founding capitalists, offered “doing good by doing well” as a social and strategic imperative. It has been nearly 250 years. We still debate its effectiveness and hold its use to a standard that suggests that every other component of the marketing mix works every single time. They do not, to my knowledge.

The Harvard Business School Professors Mark Kramer and Michael Porter wrote “Creating Shared Valu, How to Reinvent Capitalism–and Unleash a Wave of Innovation and Growth” in 2011. This article is more recent than America’s founding. Here is the original article.

In a world where businesses are expected to do and create great things, the brand and buyer values are what drive purchase considerations and decisions. Although this is not true for all businesses, in every category and not for all, it is becoming more common as more people vote with their dollars and thumbs. It is precisely this values-based alignment (or misalignment) that can drive value accretion.

The Nobel Memorial Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman’s idea that “the social responsibility for business is to increase its profits” was widely ridiculed during the evolution of capitalism. He was right, and he is still right. What has changed is that profit is not and cannot be used as a proxy for exploitative or damaging greedy. Anything more than “purpose” can be used as a proxy for philanthropy or charity, CSR, and giving without getting.

The world we live in is a place of pain. As necessary as it is incomplete, the evolution toward a more responsible, accountable, and transparent business model is urgent. There is good news for both marketers and people: we don’t have to choose between growth and goodness.

Pritchard says that good is the engine of growth. With growth, Pritchard suggests you have more resources to do good. If only we could see it that way. It’s a virtuous circle in a world full of vicious ones.

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