Feel the power: The future of purpose-led business

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo

Fox, Creative and Marketing Director at Pukka Herbs, explains that just talking the talk is no longer enough - it's time for companies to lead the way and work hard for a better world.

For as long as advertising has existed, brands and marketers have searched for the motivations that drive people’s behaviour - nowhere more so than in those areas where marketing meets genuine human need.

Of course, the very best at this kind of marketing are those third sector organisations whose very existence plugs into the emotion of helping others or helping ourselves. Recent work by the RNIB and WWF is a showcase of the power of this emotional link between purpose and action. 

Commercial brands though, have also tapped into this idea - using campaigns to put purpose at the front of their marketing. The idea extends a long way back, and trailblazers still in living memory include Benetton and The Body Shop. But there is an array of activist brands out there - from Patagonia to Ben & Jerry’s, whose marketing is laced with the idea that to be relevant you have to be purposeful.

Unilever - one of the largest FMCG companies in the world - has now based its entire global strategy on this idea, that to be fit for the future you have to have purpose at your heart. It’s easy to be cynical about such ideas, but let’s consider the alternatives…

Society is at a crisis point: approximately 55% of people around the world now live in urban centres, with that figure expected to rise to 68% by 2050 - increasingly disconnected from nature. This disconnection is at the root of mental and physical health issues - a recent study showed incredibly that the NHS would save £2.1 billion by giving people more access to green space.

We are consuming things at an unsustainable rate - we'd need 1.6 earths to fulfil human demand for resources. And our lifestyles are linked to poor health - by next year, 70% of all deaths will be linked to chronic diseases. 

Against this backdrop, we live in an increasingly polarised world - one dominated by the populist political agenda. How can we rely on governments that are dominated by the needs of five-yearly cycles for re-election to lead the way? Put simply, we can’t. That’s why the ambitions of companies, basing their strategies on purpose, need to be empowered.

Yet the marketing landscape is also littered with examples of brands using cosmetic, purpose-led campaigns to seduce consumers. And so it is interesting and exciting to witness the momentum gathering around movements that don’t just pay lip service to this idea but set it at the very heart.

Patagonia are the architects of 1% for the Planet - a commitment for a commercial brand to donate 1% of all sales (not profit) to the environment. Ben & Jerry’s, along with Seventh Generation in the US, were founding members of the B Corp movement. The Body Shop - that trailblazing brainchild of Anita Roddick - announced two weeks ago that it had succeeded in passing the very rigorous commitments that becoming a B Corp requires.

Their recent announcement show clearly how they are heading back to their roots, and bravo to that.

Two years ago, Pukka recruited the first person who joined us specifically because we were a B Corp. They were in marketing, and this should tell you something important. It's no longer enough to just talk about things. You have to be things. The old phrase "actions speak louder than words" rings true here. It means companies and brands must examine their motives and be open to scrutiny of what they do and how they do it.

Pukka is a B Corp and 1% for the Planet member. As a previous chair of the consumer B Corp brands in the UK, I witnessed not just the power of like-minded brands such as Patagonia, Ella’s Kitchen, Divine Chocolate, Cook, and Ben & Jerry’s, but the increasing engagement and behaviour change of consumers related to it.

Purpose is not just a reason to believe, it’s a reason to be.

Set against this are the mounting demands from younger generations to deal with the impending global climate crisis. People are finding their voice - from the #MeToo movement to Greta, we are witnessing a collective waking up of society around the world.

People are beginning to feel their power - to heal themselves and the world we live in. Only those brands whose purpose lie at the heart of their mission and who bend every sinew to activate it will remain worthy of choice. Everything else is commodity. Everything else I hope is in the past. The future of brands with purpose is exciting, relevant and desperately needed. It’s time to feel your power.