Brands That Take Action on Social Issues Provide Wings to Purpose

We’re living in extraordinary times, when the butterfly effect of a single tweet can send the market—and sometimes a brand’s reputation—soaring, or alternately into a tailspin.

While these reactions can seem extreme, ultimately they are the result of a positive trend. Our collective social consciousness is awakening and becoming more discerning. This presents a fantastic opportunity for brands to help foment the change so many people want to see.

We continue to see the private sector leading the charge on the environment, inequality and immigration, amplifying its responsibility to create positive social impact.

WE Communications partnered with Quartz Insights on research about the role purpose leadership plays in today’s business and communications decisions. When we queried business leaders across a variety of sectors, we validated that purpose is not only critical for brand relevance; it’s also the cornerstone of a healthy growth plan.

Here are three compelling points from the research.

Purpose is Imperative

We’ve entered an era where purpose is a mandate—we’ve moved well beyond CSR as a stand-alone company initiative or a singularly profit-focused filter for brand building.

Purpose is not a short-term, feel-good effort. 73% of respondents think a long-term purpose strategy will become as important as an organization’s financial performance. What’s more, 74% of the leaders surveyed believe customers will walk away from brands that don’t share their values. That’s an industry-agnostic wakeup call. If you’re not developing how to authentically put purpose into action, get cracking.

For communicators, it’s critical to identify and define your mission, vision and motivation. In addition, ensure your purpose impacts every aspect of how your organization operates.

Purpose Involves Everyone

The CEO may be the face of purpose leadership, but is not its owner. More and more, purpose within a company is a grassroots movement—whether it’s employee resource groups, organizational outreach efforts or sponsored volunteer events. Internal employee activism is playing a bigger and bigger role, and successful leaders must lean in.

This means getting out of the office, meeting with employees, and most important, listening with the intent to act. The fact that purpose has left the boardroom is why the momentum behind purpose-driven efforts is so strong. Social problems touch us all. We all have a hand in solving them.

Purpose: The Sum of Every Move 

Purpose must be the lens for every business decision. It needs to be an interdisciplinary approach and part of your organizational DNA.

No matter where you are on the corporate continuum, operating with purpose must be holistic if it is to be sustainable. And when this awareness is shared throughout an organization, we see the “trickle up” effect, inspiring companies to recognize their role and responsibilities in their own backyards as it relates to social issues.

The Personal Touch

While the research is important, I rely on qualitative experiences to add to my quantitative learning. When I talk with leaders from large, established companies, sometimes they mention that purpose discussions leave them overwhelmed. They simply don’t know where to start.

And leaders of every size business ask: What is the price of purpose? What are the consequences of making purpose-based decisions? Do you risk losing productive people if they don’t demonstrate the company’s values? Does it mean losing certain business opportunities? These questions are valid.

Yes, purpose takes courage. As is often the case, sticking to your values isn’t always the easiest decision. It's also possible that it will block instant gratification for the bottom line. But the consequences of sticking our heads in the sand are far greater when we consider the urgency of current social challenges. The actions we take today are shaping our shared future.

To tackle purpose, we must examine the heart of our businesses: Why do you do what you do? What do you do better than anyone? How do you navigate with your set of values as you move forward?

Some of my very best days at work are when I meet with our interns and discuss these questions from their perspective. I have found they strongly favor brave action—and brave action gives purpose wings.

Melissa Waggener Zorkin is Global CEO & Founder, WE