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The mighty rise of purpose marketing

The mighty rise of purpose marketing

The mighty rise of purpose marketing

When we discuss the broad topic of marketing, we would be remiss not to mention Prof. Philip Kotler, widely recognized as the father of modern marketing: while a member of the faculty at Northwestern University in Chicago, he developed the framework of the four-Ps and taught us that demand-side economics is not solely dependent on price. This became a de-facto de-commoditizing of the economic concept of “supply”. According to the Financial Times, Kotler has contributed significantly to three aspects of marketing and management: first of all, he helped transform marketing from a peripheral activity to a core business competence. He also initiated the paradigm shift from a product-oriented mindset to customer’s needs. Finally, he helped to broaden the scope of marketing far beyond the commercial realm by incorporating NGOs, political organizations and other non-profit institutions.

Imagine the public’s surprise when, just a few years ago, Kotler published an article featuring the title, “Does your company really need a marketing department?”. The purpose of his writing was to highlight the changing nature of the marketing industry due to the widespread effects of digitalization and social media. Kotler argued that a marketing department which still operates through a traditional one-way paradigm of production followed by consumer response was altogether obsolete and useless. As a marketing luminary, Kotler understood before many the need for an innovative, new marketing paradigm where consumer satisfaction is superseded by consumer sensation, and products and services are transformed into sensory experiences. Large-scale manufacturing concedes to co-creation and co-production. This new paradigm is not the outcome of a mere intellectual exercise, but is, instead, based on significant trends of the last years. As Millenials join the work force, they gradually become an increasingly large component of the consumer goods industry and consumer service consumption. Their ideals and values are becoming increasingly important in the market place, both at the demand and supply side of the equation. The financial crisis has put an end to our previous shared vision of capitalism. Rather than providing an opportunity for the middle class to grow, the financial industries have dissolved much of their savings and, thus, their future hopes.

The baby boomer promoted conundrum of “I consume, ergo I exist” is becoming progressively more taboo in developed countries, regardless of the fact that consumption is still broadcasted as the main proxy of wealth and social status. Finally, a shortage of resources (e.g. drought in California) and the growing awareness of debilitating side effects found in several products (e.g. tobacco, junk-food, sweet beverages,…) are driving a marketing paradigm change. In particular, they are promoting what is called de-marketing, social marketing and sustainable marketing: the first aims at limiting the consumption of certain scarce resources, for example, water consumption in California. The second concept focuses on educating our society on the risks of certain types of consumption: smoking, drink and driving, and waste management. The third aims at building new brands and products which, when consumed, will prove to be environmentally sustainable. Ultimately, these perspectives have changed the global marketing discipline from an anthropocentric viewpoint to a biocentric stance.

At the same time, it is important to note that Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle” framework has also become a significant eco-friendly-doodles-vector-illustration_fkIZbZI_influence on leadership philosophy, highlighting the importance not only of “what” companies do, and “how” they do it, but also “why” they do it. Sinek’s mantra is “start with Why”, which he believes will help inspire colleagues and nurture followers not only inside but also outside an organization. Through his approach, Sinek expounds on the idea that the “why” gives purpose. This purpose promotes and drives action, both for employees and for customers.

“Purpose marketing” exists at the cross roads of sustainable marketing, social marketing, de-marketing and Sinek’s “Golden Circle”. The purpose dimension, has two distinct meanings: first of all, it resonates with Sinek’s philosophy that an organization “needs to breath”. Only by insuring a sense of purpose inside can an organization ensure proper execution of their strategies. This helps promote compelling narratives which each part of the organization can follow: by focusing on ‘purpose’, the management team can ensure that the appropriate people are properly aligned to complete the task. Inspiration is harnessed in order to achieve optimal results.

In Sinek’s own example, this approach is what explains Apple cult-like success. Both employees and consumers are inspired and moved to action, which explains why the zeal people feel towards Apple resembles a religious movement.

Moreover, the ultimate question posed by purpose marketing asks what a brand can do vis-à-vis its community and the environment. In a nutshell, consumers do expect large brands to take care of large problems. In the past few years, PZU insurance has launched a campaign concerning road safety. The campaign, which touches at the heart of viewers without being overly mellow, will not help sell more insurance in the short term. However, it will help consumer relate better to their general brand.

The duality of purpose marketing – e.g. marketing with a purpose and purpose-driven marketing – can be incorporated at the strategic and executional levels. It affects the positioning of a brand by focusing on a brand ladder that goes beyond the functional and emotional benefits and connects with societal issues. Probably one of the best and most self-evident examples is the 2012 “Thank you Mom” campaign by Procter & Gamble, featuring the catchy tagline: Proud Sponsor of Moms. Purpose marketing also affects a brand’s architecture: one of P&G’s fiercest competitors, British/ Dutch multinational Unilever – also known to have a “house of brands” approach, welcomes website users with the statement: “brands with a purpose”, which highlights how each one of the category brands as well as the corporate umbrella, must distinguish themselves through a purpose.

At the executional level, purpose marketing requires inspired believers: therefore the process of storytelling is usually enabled by putting together several levels of the organization in order to ensure truly inspired leadership. This last step is critical for ensuring effectiveness: the Dove brand has – in their own words – a compelling social mission, and to achieve it they need their employees, customers and consumers to believe it. This is why their advertising, communication and approach is consistently different from that of their competitors. Purpose marketing involves relevance, but also uniqueness.


This post was originally published in Polish by Media Marketing Polska


Growth Adviser, Innovation Catalyst, Branding Architect, International Expansion Consultant. International change agent and leader, launched growth consulting boutique in 2012. We have four principal areas or intervention 1) Branding (e.g., positioning of new brands, re-positioning of existing brands, brand architecture and design) 2) Innovation (e.g., co-creation with consumers and experts, ideation, business planning, concept validation and fine-tuning) 3) International Expansion (e.g., countries screening and development of expansion plan, route to market strategy, portfolio) 4) Route to Market (e.g. marketing and commercial planning, portfolio analysis).