When people buy a product or service, they buy into the brand’s story and its promise to do more. With each transaction or engagement, a brand’s purpose is realized and made real—it’s a promise of meaningful connection that leads to advocacy.
Here’s a good example: When a customer buys a jacket from Patagonia, they expect it not only to be a great product—they also trust in the brand’s positive impact. Patagonia has been on a journey to cement itself as a purpose-led organization over the last 30 years. Through making bold decisions about its supply chain, showing human-centered care for its employees, and promoting conscious consumerism, Patagonia has solidified this identity.
A customer’s interest in a brand’s purpose is nothing new. It’s an evolution of the role that brand identity has always played in modern society.
Several studies and articles have highlighted the commercial benefit of being a purpose-led organization. Being focused on more than just profit can lead to increased business resilience, better colleague engagement, and enhanced trust in your brand from customers and clients. In fact, Edelman’s Trust Barometer states that 80 percent of customers want brands to “solve society’s problems,” while on the investment side we’re seeing that ESG-related funds are performing extremely well, even during the crisis.
With brands being judged on the impact that they have—not only on the planet but also on their customers, colleagues, and citizens—they must consider their holistic societal and environmental impact. The shift toward being purpose-led, once you have a clear direction of where you want to be, can be achieved through various ESG levers, as discussed in this article. This purpose needs to resonate throughout and beyond your organization, while tackling challenges that are broader than pure environmental sustainability. Customers may associate either your brand or your products with sustainability, but any purpose-led organization needs to fulfill its promises across all aspects of its activity.
Caring about a brand’s purpose isn’t a phase—it’s a shift that’s here to stay.
Bringing customers on your journey
Becoming an authentic, purpose-led business means you need to fundamentally change what you’re doing and be clear about it with your colleagues and customers. There are some definitive steps to moving along this journey.
Determine your impact
An important place to start is working out the core impact that you want to have as an organization. This could be linked to enablement, prosperity, or other similar overarching themes. Use this to build out a statement of impact, recognizing that your vision is open to change as you go through a purpose-led evolution.
Commit to change
There can’t be any half measures in becoming a purpose-led business. It will require definitive change that alters the approach of the business across all activities. This commitment needs to be clear to all relevant stakeholders in an organization’s ecosystem, and it should impact them positively. Every new idea should root back to the reason for your brand’s existence and reinforce the benefits to your stakeholders beyond generating profit.
Transform from the inside out
To genuinely adapt as an organization, you need to take your workforce on the journey with you. Sustainability should be embedded across the organization for it to be felt by your external stakeholders, and to create tangible behavior change.
Be transparent about your change
Most organizations aren’t purpose-led, so you shouldn’t be afraid of being open about going through this kind of transformation. It’s a deciding factor for many customers—announce what you’re doing and follow through with the proof. Showing outwardly that you have a new objective at the core of your business is a strong message and demonstrates that you’re authentic about changing.
Tell the story
Great stories bring the customer into a brand’s own world. They’re the perfect way to instill belief in others that you are serious about change. Place your purpose at the heart of your brand, and adapt your brand story to center around it.
A new measurable impact
Purpose-led businesses can’t measure success on purely commercial metrics—key performance indicators (KPIs) such as Return of Involvement should sit alongside the classic Return on Investment. Organizations may find these hard to quantify, so we recommend a test and learn approach to determine what works for your specific business. A good first step is to think about KPIs that link to Diversity & Inclusion, Health and Wellbeing, and Social and Environmental impact.
To connect effectively with all relevant stakeholders, you need to be clear on your purpose, know what you need to do to change, and be transparent about your story to getting there.