Purpose-driven marketing has shaped the corporate agenda for the past decade. But I’m not so sure the effort has paid off.

I was reading a recent report from DoSomething Strategic that discusses how businesses have struggled to make their cause marketing connect with young people. Gen Z definitely want to associate with purpose-driven companies. But businesses still have a lot of work to do in order to convince them that they’re aligned with Gen Z values.

The problem isn’t that the purpose-driven marketing is wrong. The problem is that companies need to align their actions with their marketing. They need to walk the talk by committing to the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profits.

But how?

The answer starts with a business’s entire C suite – specifically one that possesses an ecosystem mindset.

Why The C Suite?

Being a purpose-driven organization goes beyond marketing (although marketing is part of it). It means embedding purpose in everything you do: from how you hire and reward your people to how your source and design your products.

Only the leadership team is in the position to effect this kind of change. The CEO alone cannot do it. Neither can other individual roles in the C Suite (I would argue that for too many businesses, the CMO alone has been leading the charge without proper support among the C suite, leading to less authentic cause marketing).

An entire team needs to own the challenge and lead the company.

A Purpose-Driven Ecosystem

But why do they need to have an ecosystem mindset to act as a purpose driven organization?

First of all, acting as an ecosystem is table stakes for any business to exist now, whether they care about the triple bottom line or not. As I discussed in this blog post, being part of an ecosystem is essential for businesses to innovate. The emergence of ecosystems has changed the game for brands in terms of establishing alliances, understanding sector boundaries, and redefining business models. To cite one powerful example: the iPhone did not take off until Apple opened up the its operating system for third-party app development. That simple decision by Steve Jobs changed the world.

The stakes are even higher for a purpose-driven ecosystem. We’re not talking about better apps that change economies and behaviors; we’re talking about making the world better. Look at sustainability, for example. Businesses ranging from the Body Shop to Patagonia have demonstrated time and again that just changing the sourcing and delivery of products in a sustainable fashion requires changing their entire ecosystems.

Patagonia has expanded into regenerative agriculture (which cuts down on carbon emission) and then applied the principles of regenerative agriculture to Patagonia’s own cotton supply chain to source its products. In the consumer products space, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, and a number of other businesses have collaborated on a new approach to packaging products with reusable goods (you can read more about that effort here: Loop).

A Commitment from the Inside Out

Businesses can’t align customers and suppliers around a purpose such as sustainability unless the entire company is on board. The approach looks like this:

  • Evolve the internal culture. This is where functions such as recruitment, compensation systems, and approaches to work come into play.
  • Adopt an ecosystem mindset. Managing the entire product development and distribution process from suppliers to customers. Locking arms with competitors to co-create entirely new approaches.

Can the C suite alone make this commitment happen? No. The entire company needs to own the commitment. But only the C suite has the leverage and resources to lead the commitment through purposeful influence.

This is how you solve the disconnect between what a company’s purposeful words and actions.

Mike Edmonds

Mike Edmonds

Managing Director, VP Product