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The Purpose Report Maps Out Corporate Path to Purpose

Published on March 9, 2020

A comprehensive corporate purpose survey—covering ethnicity, generation, gender and politics—shows how purpose has achieved cultural rock-star status, bigger than video games, technology and professional sports.

CHICAGO (March 9, 2020) – A new report sheds light on the conflict between purpose and profit, and its implications for business leaders. The Purpose Report provides an extensive survey of consumer attitudes toward corporate purpose.

The Purpose Report sets the agenda for a decade of change in brand marketing. The 2010s produced a corporate debate about purpose—connecting brands with lofty social ideals. The new decade will be about purpose positioning—creating the informed businesses models that can truly change society.

In a nationwide survey conducted for the report, more consumers found meaning in purpose-driven issues like civic engagement, the environment, giving back and social justice than in fashion, pro sports, technology and other lifestyle interests. Views on a range of interests vary widely across gender, generation, ethnicity, political affiliation and location. By analyzing each segment, The Purpose Report reveals causes and values that resonate universally and, notably, those that can appeal to targeted groups.

For marketers, the implications are enormous,” says Purpose Brand CEO Diane Primo, the report’s author. “A brand can define how it wants to be positioned in the marketplace not only by its value proposition, but also the values behind it.”

The Purpose Report gives deep insights into consumers’ social interests and how they relate to buying decisions. In the survey, 4 in 5 respondents agree that a brand or company should have a purpose beyond making a profit. They prefer, by the same margin, to purchase from socially responsible companies.

Chart: A Culture Shift to Higher Values.

From Brand Positioning to Purpose Positioning

“Consumers are marketing skeptics: 3 in 4 say when companies publicly support an issue or organization, they suspect purely profit-driven motivations. However, organizations can take steps to overcome this resistance. When asked how companies can convince them their support of a cause is genuine, most consumers cite direct giving (61%) and direct help to people (53%). For a purpose initiative to succeed, a company not only must communicate its purpose effectively, but also must demonstrate that it means what it says. 

The Purpose Report states that the move to purpose will gain momentum as mainstream culture engages consumers in making the world a better place. Four in 5 people agree that marketing and investing in causes people care about is now a permanent part of American culture, and that social consciousness can be a genuine part of a company’s brand with no ulterior motive. The expectation and demand for corporate action will force brands to fundamentally define how they position their businesses and brands.

The report provides a practical approach to activate purpose at scale within corporate America. Following a method used in brand positioning, the Purpose Position Framework guides marketers to identify and communicate an authentic expression of what the brand does best. Unlike most brand positioning frameworks, the Purpose Position Framework requires an impact plan to give purpose a path to success.

While brand positioning is a common part of the marketing toolkit, Primo says marketers are at an inflection point. Organizations are accelerating their move to purpose positioning—a new form of branding that is rooted in seismic cultural and operational changes. “Purpose must be authentic to win consumers’ trust,” Primo said. “Communication needs to be clear, two-way, on point—and just better, because the stakes are high. This new decade marks a business shift to the authentic use of consumer values to drive shareholder value—so get ready for the Value Wars.”

The comprehensive report includes more than 40 exhibits that reveal consumer attitudes toward values and purpose marketing, including breakdowns along gender, ethnic, generational and political lines. Insights are based on a survey conducted in conjunction with the Ameritest research firm. The sample of 2,400 adults was collected to be representative of the U.S. population, and allows a deep dive into differences among consumers by life stage, employment sector and political affiliation and region.

How Organizations Put Purpose Into Practice

Purpose positioning gives brands the opportunity to connect to their stakeholders’ deeply held beliefs. Indeed, consumers expect brands to align with their core values. The Purpose Report confirms that consumers readily accept the profit motive when coupled with an authentic embrace of doing well by doing good.

The Purpose Report explores the common concerns of key market segments, where interests differ, and how consumer values align with the interests of employees, clients, suppliers and other stakeholders.  The report documents how consumers act on their values, with case studies of how organizations form lasting relationships by putting purpose into practice.

Companies now must accelerate their execution of purpose, reducing reputational risk and maximizing impact.

Among the key insights in The Purpose Report:

  • Internal Passion Fuels Purpose. When asked about hobbies and interests, consumers say they care about and find meaning in environmental causes (64%), civic engagement (62%), philanthropy, giving back and volunteering (61%) and social justice causes (61%). These concerns were judged more meaningful than outdoor activities (59%), athletics/health & fitness (57%), technology (52%), professional and semi-pro sports (47%), computer/video games (47%) and fashion (42%). Concerns and their intensity were more fully revealed in demographic breakdowns. More than other age groups, Generation Z finds meaning in health, outdoor activities, social justice and the environment. Gen Z may view health as both a lifestyle and a social issue, given that 84% of Gen Z respondents selected mental health as a cause they care about.
  • Power, Opportunity and Risk in Demographic Differences: Demographic segments widely share the values of equal rights, access to basic services, sustainability and job growth. But their level of commitment often is bound by gender, age, race and ethnicity, or political affiliation. The top causes for men were domestic job growth, fair and free elections, and access to clean water. Among women, top concerns were women’s health, equal rights and domestic violence. Blacks most often chose racial rights, equal rights and domestic violence, while Hispanics named equal rights, affordable housing and climate change.
  • Direct Action and Consistent Representation Signify Purpose: For every group surveyed, cash donations were cited as the top indicator of a brand’s greater social purpose. Direct action is widely seen as more substantive than words. Only 23% acknowledged the corporate social responsibility report as a way that brands and companies show a purpose beyond making money, compared with cash donations (61%), direct aid (53%), events or campaigns (39%), website content (39%), ads (38%), leaders’ statements (37%) and news coverage (37%).
  • Tech Company Collaboration Demanded: For every group surveyed, 80% or more thought social media companies needed to collaborate to create change around data privacy. CEOs of social media companies have twice the perceived power of CEOs in non-tech companies to address issues their customers care about. Their missteps may harm CEOs’ personal reputations as well as those of their companies.
  • Purpose Creates Employee Activists: Employees are not afraid to take a company to task publicly if their values are not aligned. Over 74% agree that as employees, they have a right to stand up to employers who defy their personal principles. This belief is widely held among millennials (82%), Hispanics (79%), blacks (79%) and Democrats (79%).
  • Social Media Sounds the Alarm: Two in 3 (67%) say it is important to let others know through social media when a company/organization does not adhere to the principles they care about, with Gen Z (76%), Hispanics (76%) and Democrats (74%) in high agreement.
  • Consumers Disenfranchised, But Steadfast in Their Beliefs: The power needed to take effective action often transcends the power of the individual.  While 89% said they’re willing to support an issue regardless of what others do, 40% say any action they take as individuals will not make a difference.

The Purpose Report will guide a conversation that demands straight talk and gives 10 practical rules to abide by.

Diane Primo profile.

“This new decade marks a business shift to the authentic use of consumer values to drive shareholder value,” says Purpose Brand CEO Diane Primo, “so get ready for the Value Wars.”

About Diane Primo

Diane Primo is the CEO of Purpose Brand, an award-winning, Chicago-based public relations, branding and digital marketing firm. She is the only African American female CEO of a purpose-driven communications agency. Diane’s focus on impact marketing stems from her belief that to be successful today, brands must be purpose-driven and committed to consumers.

Primo has been recognized by her peers as a communications trailblazer in a groundbreaking 30-year career leading some of the country’s top marketing organizations. She serves as a board member for Call One, a telecommunications company, and P33, the private sector initiative to promote Chicago’s standing as a technology center, and a committee member of World Business Chicago’s ChicagoNEXT. She is a member of the Economic Club of Chicago, the Chicago Network and the Business Leadership Council. Primo is being honored by Ragan Communications with its 2020 Top Women in Communications Trailblazer Award.

About Purpose Brand

The Purpose Brand agency is an award-winning, full-service public relations, brand and digital content marketing firm in Chicago. Purpose Brand always puts purpose into practice–making brands relevant and communities stronger. Services include media and public relations, brand strategy, content creation, web design and development, content strategy, special events, video marketing and training.

Working across disciplines, Purpose Brand develops and executes end-to-end PR and marketing initiatives that capture audiences’ hearts and minds. Contact Purpose Brand to learn more about its services or to set up onsite training in purpose positioning.

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