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28 January 2020

Why purpose marketing doesn't exist (and that's exactly why you should be doing it)

Welcome to 2020! The global battle for sustainable business revenue has become fiercer than ever. In the early 2000’s the Millennial generation started to demand more transparency from companies. Driven by digital acceleration and a changing global socio-economical climate, the following generation pushed that agenda even further by demanding proof of what companies where communicating. Purpose and trust are two of the most valuable assets companies can have in today’s market.

Why purpose marketing doesn't exist (and that's exactly why you should be doing it)

Purpose as sellable skill

By now, most marketers have institutionalized purpose marketing as a part of their business goals, and it has even become a sellable skill for many marketers. LinkedIn profiles now often boast of purpose marketing skills in terms of “Has built a purpose brand”, “Purpose marketer”, “Purpose Brand Builder”. If you aren’t communicating about how your products and services serve a meaningful purpose, it’s likely you’ve been called out on it by your superiors or peers. And why wouldn’t you? It appears every company that used to be purely profit driven has now shifted its gaze to include at least some form of social responsibility.

In search of the success formula

Yet many purpose marketing initiatives don’t yield the desired business results and can even lead to public backlash when executed poorly. The problem lies in the concept of purpose marketing itself: the whole point of “doing purpose marketing” was created by companies in response to a new breed of competitor they had not encountered before: Purpose Companies. These businesses were able to successfully tailor their core offering and entire business model to the new combination of a changing society driven by global social online interactions by a younger audience demanding transparency on business. Soul searching exercises (think of Simon Sinek’s golden circle to identify a company’s ‘why’) often confronted companies with their what (making profit) rather than their why (purpose, beliefs).

Trying to emulate the success of the new kids on the block, the incumbents struggled to adapt their entire business model to this new reality. Instead, they tried to copy what was believed to be a success formula, by adding a layer of purpose to their marketing activities. As a result, purpose marketing now serves a purpose which is entirely different from the marketing that purpose businesses generate. As a result, a pitfall we often see at companies ‘doing purpose marketing’ is that they focus on the wrong metrics for their purpose marketing activities.

Accelerating marketing effectiveness

Today, effective marketing revolves around how well you incorporate purpose into your business. Marketers can increase their marketing effectiveness by ensuring the brand purpose is translated into the entire customer journey and all marketing touchpoints. A clearer purpose, one that resonates with consumers and is utilized effectively by marketers throughout the entire sales funnel, will positively influence key marketing metrics such as brand value, customer lifetime value, ambassadorship and loyalty. It will also shift the balance between your paid, owned and earned media. Earned media is the prize you get for being a purpose company, while marketing spend is the price you could pay for trying to do “purpose marketing” incorrectly.

I’ll leave you with a new year’s challenge: when it comes to your company’s purpose linked to its marketing activities, ask yourself these confronting questions: What’s your ingrained brand value that will bring your company success because it serves a greater purpose in society and therefore for its customers? Is your company willing to reinvent itself and accelerate change? Or will you milk the cow until there’s nothing left? Will you be able to choose transparency and try to earn your consumer’s trust? Start by ensuring your company purpose is clear, that it’s translated correctly throughout your organization and choose the right metrics to measure the impact of purpose on your business. Your long-term success as a marketer and company might just depend on it.

Where are you on the purpose marketing scale? Do the test to discover your purpose profile.
Ready to continue the discussion? Contact our sustainability expert.



  • Deloitte, 2020 Global Marketing Trends: Bringing authenticity to the digital age.
  • Futerra, Transparency and the honest product.