For too long, companies have behaved like citadels, with a single-minded pursuit of shareholder value, and brands built to defend a fixed market position.
But times are changing. Technology and consumer activism have brought on transparency, revealing the inner workings of corporations — good and bad. Today’s consumers expect a business they buy from to be more intentionally purposeful and are willing to reward them with a share of mind and wallet. The best businesses will use their brand to place what they care about at the heart of what they do.
When companies look beyond mere wealth creation and shareholder value, they unlock unlimited resources to create a better world and a lasting legacy for business people around the globe. It’s called ‘Purpose’.
High-growth companies will intuitively understand that having a brand with a strong sense of purpose is more attractive to customers, employees and suppliers. They know that people buy from businesses that are driven by higher motives than bottom line and stock price.
No longer can pure profit be the sole reason for business creation. Capitalism needs to reset itself with a purpose. In fact, purpose is the catalyst that can reinvigorate and empower capitalism.
A definitive purpose based on a fundamental human truth, a universal good or a deep-rooted conviction that opens minds will put a company at the heart of the consumer’s world, making services smoother, communications more efficient and add a feel-good factor to everything it chooses to do. It’s no longer about what people buy but what they buy into.
Fierce competition will not be sustainable in the future. Compassion will. In the future, we will see businesses focus on the business of life, working for the largest client there is – humanity. And when you put humanity back in business, business will come back good.
For centuries, religions and governments have tried to provide legends and laws to the world with the hope of improving society. Now it’s the turn of business.
Brands and companies with a purpose will indeed transform society by using the power of business to mitigate the ills of the world, such as hunger, poverty, injustice and the deterioration of the environment. No other sector in society today has the means to do so.
When Apple says it exists to ‘Challenge the status quo’ or an Uber says it wants to ‘Change the way people move in the world’ or when SKF says it is about ‘Reducing friction for the world to move forward,’ or when Lego says it exists ‘To fuel a child’s imagination,’ or when !DEA believes that it exists ‘To resolve human issues through telephony ideas’, these brands are putting their faith in fifth gear, pursuing a higher purpose.
Capitalism for these organisations is something that capitalises on human enterprise, not just performance metrics. On people, not just consumers. On relationships, not just transactions. And on becoming the best company for the planet, not just on the planet.
Since humans compulsively seek meaning in everything, most people know that they need a purpose in life. But the fact is companies need purpose too. And all the companies mentioned above, that found a larger purpose than profit, have gone on to become some of the most profitable organisations on Earth – all because they believe in working in the company of something greater.
In the future, businesses will not be about what they do or how they do it. The focus will be on getting people to appreciate why they do it. In a way, that will also be the saving grace, helping redeem the character of business and place it on a higher pedestal, both morally and functionally. Eventually causing a shift from a business model that is self-serving to one that serves others.
But the time to start that process is now. Every business in 2016 will need a purpose for itself. A purpose that will not just define its existence in the most holistic sense, but also liberate it to be the change it wants to see in the world.
The road to good starts with a purpose. What is your purpose?
(The author is national planning director at Lowe Lintas. Views expressed are personal. This article first appeared in the 22 January 2016 issue of Campaign India)