When Unilever’s new CEO Hein Schumacher recently announced that the company is emphasizing product quality to grow margins and volume, many marketers took it as big news…. Could this mean that performance marketing has triumphed and the focus on purpose is over?
Given public sentiment – even with political polarization – there’s little chance of that. Climate change, pay inequity, sustainable supply chains, treating employees well and fairly, respecting natural resources and more continue to be in the spotlight and of concern to the general public and business leaders alike. Although some businesses may operate primarily to earn a profit, having a reason for existing that’s tied to a higher order human truth is not going away.
As reporting around Schumacher’s declaration – and perhaps even his statements themselves – have demonstrated, confusion around what purpose is and is not prevails. Misconceptions that purpose revolves solely around lofty mission statements, social impact and philanthropic endeavors, detached from core product or service offerings, persist. Without a doubt it’s a misnomer to disregard the vital role product quality plays in activating purpose…. Doing what you say you do and delivering on your value proposition is essential for cultivating trust.
And so, I believe a reset around the meaning of purpose and the role it plays is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, it means purpose is growing up.
Unlike finance terminology, marketing language often feels like jargon because there’s little consensus around the meaning of many terms. And purpose is no exception.
For many, purpose is part of an alphabet soup that’s made of sustainability, cause marketing, DEI, CSR, ESG and the SDGs, among others, as catchalls for the same thing: a stakeholder approach to business and doing good.
To understand what purpose is and its relationship to product quality, therefore, it’s useful to begin with what purpose is not.
Purpose is Not…
Contrary to common misconceptions, brand purpose is not a marketing ploy or a transient trend that businesses adopt to boost their image momentarily. Purpose is not a one-off campaign, cause du jour, going green or even being a force for good. Perhaps most importantly, purpose is not an external veneer that can mask subpar product quality or a flawed corporate culture.
Purpose devoid of authenticity and substance is nothing more than an empty promise, doomed to fall short of people’s expectations.
Purpose is an ethos that provides direction and inspiration. It goes beyond mere profitability and encompasses a deeper, more profound motive for existence.
Purpose is the reason your brand exists at the highest level – broad enough to include a social mission. At its best, it’s a declaration of values, operating principles and long-term goals that align financial metrics and social impact.
When used as a guiding force and filter for decision making, purpose makes the heart of a business beat faster, fostering emotional connections that transcend the transactional nature of business relationships. When tethered to your value proposition and operations and, also, aligned with societal values, purpose becomes a powerful force for driving positive change and influencing loyalty – among customers, employees, investors and other stakeholders alike – alongside profitable growth.
The nexus of purpose and product quality
The connection between purpose and product quality is where the true magic happens. Purpose-driven brands acknowledge that their products or services serve as vehicles for delivering their purpose. A purpose-driven brand does not relegate product quality to an afterthought; instead, it understands that quality is an integral component of fulfilling its commitment.
A 5-step holistic approach for activating purpose
1. Aligning purpose with product development
Purpose-driven brands infuse their core values and societal mission into every aspect of their product development process. They focus on creating offerings that genuinely address the needs and desires of their target audience while also having a net positive impact on society. A purpose-driven product is designed to enrich customers’ lives and exceed expectations while also fulfilling the brand’s broader social and environmental commitments.
2. Integrating purpose into marketing communications
Effective brand communication is vital for expressing a brand’s purpose and connecting with different audiences. However, communication must be sincere – rooted in truth and consistency. Brands that genuinely embrace a social mission tied to their purpose ensure that messaging is backed by tangible actions and measured outcomes, not empty nice-to-have rhetoric.
3. Empowering customers and employees as purpose advocates
Purpose-driven brands recognize customers and employees are their most powerful advocates. By nurturing an engaged community of purpose-aligned people, brands can generate a positive, exponential ripple effect. Loyal customers, employees, investors, suppliers and other stakeholders who believe in a brand’s purpose are more likely to share their experiences with others, amplifying the brand’s reach and impact.
4. Cultivating an ethical supply chain
Purpose extends beyond the end product to encompass the entire supply chain. Purpose-driven brands maintain ethical and sustainable practices throughout their operations, ensuring that their products are sourced, manufactured and distributed responsibly. Importantly, a brand’s commitment to quality is not limited to the finished product or delivered service; it also encompasses the journey it takes from raw materials to the hands of customers.
5. Embracing continuous improvement
Purpose-driven brands understand that there is no ending, only a beginning to their journey and that missteps will likely happen along the way. Purpose demands that brand leaders take risks as they continually seek ways to improve products and services, operations and positive impact. By listening to their audiences, monitoring cultural sentiment, staying attuned to social and environmental challenges and being open to innovation, purpose-driven brands adapt and evolve, all the while staying true to their core mission.
Purpose and product excellence: the foundation for net positive impact
Rather than being a passing trend, purpose is the foundation upon which brands can build more meaningful and lasting relationships with customers, employees, investors and other stakeholders. As it grows up, purpose is transcending marketing buzzwords and becoming a transformative force for enriching people’s lives, respecting employees and natural resources, empowering communities, amplifying impact and driving success for people, companies and society alike.
Importantly, embracing the true essence of brand purpose involves recognizing its inseparable connection with product quality. Purpose-driven brands understand that their products and services are tangible expressions of their values and commitment to having a net positive social contribution…. And the best purpose-driven brands lead with their hearts and deliver with their heads, thereby harmonizing purpose and product excellence to grow both financial and social value. Without a doubt, the nexus of purpose and product quality is where intent meets action – and transforms brands into beacons for progress.