top of page

7 Ways to Advance Purpose in a Turbulent World


The question is no longer if an organization will engage with society, it’s how. Yet, from Brexit to Trump to Black Lives Matter, how is now harder than ever before.

So, throughout the year, we will illuminate the “how” for business and societal impact.

We started by asking the Purpose Collaborative – North America’s largest community of purpose, corporate responsibility, and sustainability experts: “What key recommendations would you share with clients to accelerate the impact of their work in 2017?”

Their wisdom follows.

Be Brave

“If brands want this new generation of imposing consumers to pay attention, they need to be braver, bolder, and take more chances than ever before.” rise of purposeful brands makes it easy for companies to be “cultural poseurs” rather than doers. Be the latter.

Being brave means letting go of the way things have always been done. BBMG’s 2016 report, Five Human Aspirations & The Future of Brands, explores five trends motivating “aspirational” consumers — a growing segment seeking to “support companies and brands that have a purpose of making a positive difference in society through their products, services, and operations.” Yet, half of this segment cannot name a single purposeful brand, signaling to purpose-led companies that they need comprehensive and layered actions to win the trust and loyalty of aspirational consumers.

Companies driving societal change need to check their “normalcy” at the door. Think big and act bigger. Take chances. Do something that changes the world.

Adopt a Compelling, Inside-Out Approach

Purpose is a living set of values exercised every day, at every level of a company. Infusing purpose into company culture requires vision and action from company leaders, who must give employees a direct line of sight to how each employee advances company purpose.

As decision makers, company leaders have the power to create opportunities for practicing purpose. Prospective and current employees will take note. To dive deeper into this subject, Imperative’s 2016 Workforce Purpose Index explores how leaders can develop a purpose-led culture and leverage it to recruit top talent and improve business outcomes.

Talk Less, Listen More

“If good business is about serving people, we need to begin by listening.” Enso’s Sebastian Buck speaks to the power of simply lending an ear. Consumers — and employees — are accustomed to being spoken to, marketed at and directed. An act as simple as listening can open new doors to the hearts and minds of people your business serves.

Make listening actionable by understanding what’s being said. As humans, we register the inputs and emotions of our peers, and use that information to react. Companies should do the same, treating each input as invaluable information that can be used to guide them toward achieving their purpose.

To those brave brands continuing to embrace “hot” social issues — the rights of marginalized citizens, racial violence, immigration, etc — Mandy Levenberg of Lev Strategies suggests the following:

  • Acknowledge the conversation is happening by speaking to the common ground.

  • Give your audience a platform for constructive dialogue.

  • Be empathetic to the struggles, stories, and successes of your audience.

Rethink Creativity

Purpose-led organizations apply their creativity inside and outside their walls — to address societal issues through their people, products and processes. With this comes a mandate to empower employees to not just develop products that address a societal need, but to leverage a company’s core competencies to create something that serves a common good from blueprint to reality.

When it comes to creative storytelling, breakthrough companies are tapping into a tremendous asset: their customers. Brands that leverage the power of user-generated content (UGC) give consumers a chance to not just participate in the brand’s narrative, but to create it. To this point, Enso believes that we are all born “creatives,” and must now be called to “create more consciously” to solve societal and business problems together.

Make Purpose Personal

People are more likely to be motivated by their personal values than the values of a company. Makes sense. So how do companies make their mission matter to their employees? Dr. John Izzo, author of The Five Thieves of Happiness, suggests a few approaches:

  • Ask employees what they value — personally and professionally.

  • Reframe job function as job purpose. What opportunity does the employee have beyond their day-to-day activities?

  • Make space for purpose. If purpose is treated like a standalone “benefit,” it will be.

  • It’s just as important that your purpose incorporate and embrace the values of your customers. Forward StoryStudio advises companies to take their brands out of the spotlight to focus on their purpose in a humanizing way.

Starbucks sparked a movement with its original series, “Upstanders," which highlights ordinary people doing extraordinary things. People were asked to nominate anyone “fighting injustice, challenging the status quo, and creating opportunity.” Using a multimedia approach, Starbucks created films, podcasts, and short stories to tell these stories. Starbucks branding is almost nonexistent on “Upstanders” assets – a true show of putting people first.

Own Your Content

Marketers are transitioning to better understanding the value of human stories, which make messages relatable and inspire action on behalf of the consumer.

Reputation Leaders notes that as more companies become their own media studios and channels, it’s important to understand the deep motivations behind content creation and distribution. In other words: When every brand is creating compelling content, how does yours stand out?

Alan Chebot of Parallax Productions advises the next generation of brand marketers using video to:

  • Focus on your narrative. A compelling, emotional, and action-oriented story is more important than high production value.

  • Be human. Brands may not be people, but they are run by people and they exist to serve people.

  • Distribute smartly. Find out where your audience is, and share your content there. Make it natural — like two people running into each other on a street corner.

Build a Coalition

“One plus one often equals three.” The Giving Back Fund emphasizes the value of working with other organizations — even competitors — to address societal problems. If the combined strengths of both companies create a more significant impact (the ultimate show of putting purpose before profit), consumers, investors, and media will take notice.

Creating coalitions expands reach and capabilities, while amplifying impact and exposing each partner to new talents and disciplines. Enduring relationships focus on the complementary but unique strengths of each company, to create a shared mission.


Throughout the year, we will be addressing the “how” of purpose through the insights, research, and findings from dozens of Purpose Collaborative members. What purpose-related question or trend do you want to see covered? Tweet @cc_onpurpose


bottom of page