Having a ‘social purpose’ isn’t just wrong — it’s bad for business
Being Canadian, I don’t lose my temper often. We are polite folk, more likely to apologise for saying sorry than to find ourselves criticising others. But I’ve been in California for three weeks, and perhaps that’s influenced my mood. The scourge of the business world has hit the West Coast, threatening to infect boardrooms all the way from Silicon Valley to Vancouver. Having watched this phenomenon spread like wildfire in Europe, I suppose it was only time that it made its way across the pond. And it is making me angry.
The problem is “social purpose” — and the seductive siren’s call is coming for your marketing director.
Championed by brand and advertising agencies, social purpose is your saviour. It will herald in a fresh wave of connection to consumers — proving that you are compassionate to your customers and their communities. Your reputation will be de-tarnished, your halo reinstated, your people reinvigorated. You care.
Watch out — because “social purpose” is the new greenwash, similar to companies who use campaigns to show they are helping save the planet to boost their image. It is a rebrand of a brand promise, with a CSR twist. It takes the importance of the idea of purpose and combines it with philanthropy in an attempt to create a halo for your brand.
Social purpose is a repositioning exercise that is costing brands big, and confusing business leaders, who are desperate to maintain their competitive edge and differentiate themselves in an increasingly crowded market.
Full disclosure: my partnership helps leaders find purpose and grow. We have worked with some of today’s biggest brands, and some of the most exciting start ups, as well as SMEs who want to leverage their culture to help them scale. We believe in the purity of purpose — an enduring North Star that guides your vision of growth. We work with leaders to understand why their business exists, and how that intention can give them something solid to lead from as they navigate the complexity of a growing business. We help them align their purpose to their values and their offer to the world, so that they show up to their stakeholders in a truly authentic way.