Purpose-Driven Companies


Companies are using their influence to lead culturally relevant conversations that align with their brand’s core values, but are not directly related to their industry.

Sustainable and ethical supply chains are no longer negotiable; instead, they are expected by consumers. This is prevalent in the fashion industry, where consumers are demanding a higher standard for an industry notorious for its environmental impact and mistreatment of workers. Fast-fashion retailer Zara recently experienced this first hand when angry consumers demanded to know why workers were not compensated after a factory was abruptly shut down. Shoppers are voting with their wallets; if brands don’t live up to their expectations, boycotting is a real possibility.

Beyond complying with the bare minimum ethical and environmental standards, purpose-driven brands are moving forward by addressing socio-political issues. While brands previously avoided involvement in public discussions around divisive issues to prevent polarizing consumers, they have started taking larger risks to strengthen their relationships with their ideal audience. For example, when President Trump requested to review 27 of America’s national monuments, outdoor clothing and gear company Patagonia directly confronted the president with a television ad discussing the need to protect America’s public lands.

While there is a clear connection between an outdoor company taking a stand on environmental issues, 
other cases are not as intuitive. Seventh Generation, for example, which sells plant-based cleaning products, has placed their purpose before their profit by encouraging consumers to line-dry clothes instead of machine drying – all at the risk of cannibalizing their own sales of dryer sheets. Thanks to their higher purpose of nurturing the health of the next seven generations, they have become a top employer of millennials while also gaining a loyal consumer base.

As brands have gained more cultural influence, their support of social issues has drastically broadened beyond their own domain. The Ben & Jerry’s website includes a full page on issues the company cares about, including fair trade and climate justice, but also marriage equality and peace building. They have actively shown their support of Black Lives Matter by issuing a seven-point list on how systemic racism is real – at the risk of boycott by Blue Lives Matter, a pro-police movement. By moving civil rights forward with their consumers, Ben & Jerry’s has strengthened their relationships through a common purpose.

So What?

Living in the information age has made people hyper-aware 
of the world’s problems. They are eager to become part of the solution by engaging in everything from low-commitment “clicktivism” to the radical restatement of their life’s purpose. While this doesn’t mean individuals will completely change their way of being, it does mean that they are more willing to engage with brands that make it easier for them to increase their social credibility.

Consumers are forming relationships with brands based not only on the quality of their products and services, but also on their core values. Taking a stance gives brands the opportunity to strengthen their relationships with consumers by actively working together on issues that matter. Consumers don’t want to stand aside and be talked at; they want to be involved in
 the conversation. By working together toward a shared purpose, companies are redefining the provider–consumer relationship – a relationship now based on co-creation and collaboration.

As consumers interact with brands in these new ways, they expect companies to live according to their values in everything they do. Beyond the single motivator of profit, brands are expanding their bottom line to include people and the planet. Only by redefining the metrics of success can organizations make real progress toward environmentally sustainable and ethical processes. A clearly defined purpose motivates not only consumers, but also employees toward a common goal.

A company doesn’t have to be a non-profit or social venture to create an environment where employees feel like their work matters. As boundaries blur between people’s private and professional lives, more individuals will come to crave a meaningful association with the work they do. Workers increasingly want their work to be a part of what defines them – it should represent their competencies, interests, and values, and it should go beyond their day-to-day responsibilities.

What If…

/ Personal

  • Nielsen found that 66% of global respondents 
said they were willing to pay more for products and services that come from companies committed to creating a positive social and environmental impact.
  • Consumers want 
to collaborate and
 co-create with purpose-driven brands. How might your organization create a compelling narrative that propels consumers to action toward a common purpose?

/ Brand

  • 85% of companies with a clearly articulated and understood purpose showed positive growth in the past year, while 42% of companies that were not purpose-led showed a drop in revenue, according to Imperative and LinkedIn.
  • Successful organizations understand the “why” of what they do. How might your brand incorporate people and plant into the bottom line? What would your ideal world look like?

/ Organizational

  • If employees
 feel they are working toward
 a good cause, 
it can increase their productivity by up to 30%, according to the Center for Economic Studies.
  • You can’t 
force employees 
to share your purpose. How might your organization design a recruitment process that identifies potential employees
 who share the same values
 and purpose?

the author

Stephanie Kaptein

Stephanie Kaptein is a senior foresight analyst at Idea Couture.