The current state of purpose marketing goodup

The current state of purpose marketing


by GoodUp Info

Purpose is becoming a critical marketing communications priority, reaching CMO’s top two list at 79% of companies. Whether purpose marketing is your expertise or not; one of these days every CMO will be confronted with the topic. Why? 

If not from intrinsic motivation to make the world a better place, then surely because your customers demand it. Nine in ten Millennials are willing to switch brands to patronize one associated with a cause and purpose. And study after study after study confirms that today’s consumers consider environmental and societal impact when making their buying decisions.

The definition of purpose marketing

In our view, purpose is where your core skills as an organisation or individual make positive societal impact. Purpose marketing is an approach that leverages proof points of purposeful acts of a brand, to tell an authentic story about the brand’s societal contributions.

Later in this article, we’ll outline the sort of proof points a brand could create to be able to tell an authentic story.

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The success of purpose-driven brands

Purpose is showing significant potential for the bottom-line. In our item on corporate purpose, we report on data from a broad range of studies on the performance of purpose-driven companies. To keep it short in this article: purpose = good news for CMOs, CHROs, CEOs, CSR leaders and business in general. But more importantly: purpose means good news for society and the planet.

In another item, we list 13 companies with purpose (we didn’t shy away from listing some of the usual suspects, but you’ll find some surprises in there, guaranteed). Although their approach to how they embedded purpose into their core business differs, they all have a good reputation in common. Truly purposeful brands are loveable brands. Employees like to work there, consumers like to buy there, stakeholders want to work together with them, and lastly, shareholders reap the benefit.

Purpose washing

Purpose marketing is rising in popularity among marketers. Marketing agencies especially can’t seem to wait to land new clients by responding to the trend. We feel that most of them understand the true meaning, depth, and potential of purpose. Some, on the other hand, don’t. As with every marketing ‘tactic’, purpose is being watched closely by critics around the globe, who are on the lookout for greenwashing and purpose washing. A consequence of some of this is best summarized by Unilever’s CEO Alan Jope, who said that ‘woke washing’ as he calls it, is starting to infect the advertising industry.

‘Purpose done properly, done responsibly, it will help us restore trust in our industry, unlock greater creativity in our work, and grow the brands we love. But woke washing is polluting purpose. It’s putting in peril the very thing which offers us the opportunity to help tackle many of the world’s issues. What’s more, it threatens to further destroy trust in our industry, when it’s already in short supply.’ Click here for the full article.

In our view, purpose marketing is a crucial factor that facilitates the required acceleration of the purpose economy. Currently, there is a shift in thinking in purpose marketing.

From cause marketing to authentic storytelling 

Cause marketing, according to Wikipedia (hey, they just had a great definition of the term!), is ‘marketing done by a for-profit business that seeks to both increase profits and to better society in accordance with corporate social responsibility, such as by including activist messages in advertising.’

This article on xmarketingpro argues why cause marketing is a nice try, but not exactly what consumers are looking for in a brand. According to Kindred’s CEO Ian Schafer, “Just because a brand aligns itself with an issue or cause in a TV spot (which Gen Z is way less likely to see, mind you) doesn’t mean it is making purpose inextricable from its brand.”

Rather than focusing on campaign-driven marketing to generate attention around one-off contributions to social causes, brands should take a deep look at their core values and showcase the company’s acts that contribute and prove them. 

Schafer: “When done well, a modern brand lives at the intersection of purpose and company behavior. Given that two-thirds of Gen Z say purpose contributes positively to their brand experience, that’s reason enough to not just communicate the brand’s commitment but live it in their actions for the sake of customers and employees.”

Purpose, thus, is moving from cause marketing to authentic storytelling. At GoodUp we like to summarize this development by stating that purpose marketing is evolving from polishing the outer layer to nourishing the core. 

Purpose experts agree and feel that it is time to move beyond cause marketing to authentic storytelling. Afdhel Aziz, chief purpose officer at Conspiracy of Love: ‘The great purpose-driven companies have a culture of authenticity where everybody in the company has it rooted in their bones. They know why they show up for work and they’re drawn to the mission and the goal that the company has set. Whether it’s Patagonia or Tesla or AirBnB these are purpose-driven companies where there is no difference between the purpose of the company and why people show up for work.’

Afdhel Aziz goodup purpose marketing

Afdhel Aziz


Thomas Kolster, keynote speaker and marketing activist & advisor, has yet another perspective. He feels that brands should no longer think about how they can position themselves by doing good, nor about making an impact to the world at large. They should approach their purpose from a completely different, personal angle. In his view, purpose revolves around the question ‘who can you help me become?’ ‘Me’, in this case, is the consumer, the employee, every single stakeholder maybe? By doing this, companies change the world for the better and become authentic, people-first brands.

Although all the experts agree and more companies are invested in purpose activation, surprisingly low amount of companies seem to be able to actually transform their purpose into action (supporting stats here).

Nourishing your core

We believe that the only way to truly embed purpose in your company is by activating employees on the company purpose using a bottom-up approach. 


That’s quite a mouthful indeed. Actually, we needed 9 pages just to explain this bottom-up approach in our ebook Purpose Powered By People. If you want to know all about the four-step process of purpose activation and nourishing, you’re in for a treat there. 

If you’re not the reading type, then take a look at what purpose activation could mean for your brand via our explainer page for brand professionals.

Make purpose work for your business

In this blog series, we’ll explore the depths of purpose. What are the benefits for your business, how do you define a corporate purpose, and how can you turn that purpose into a business success? Read on and become a purpose expert yourself!

  1. Corporate purpose: the what, the why, and the how
  2. Purpose, mission, vision, what’s the difference?
  3. The three core benefits of purpose for business (coming soon)
  4. How to define your corporate purpose (coming soon)
  5. 13 companies with purpose
  6. How to use authenticity to create a successful purpose (coming soon)
  7. Employee purpose – How to activate it in your business
  8. The current state of purpose marketing