Fixing the purpose problem – Do your customers experience your purpose?

purpose problem - rubics cube

Unless your customers experience your purpose – you have a purpose problem. At the extreme end, some organisations have been accused of the ultimate modern indiscretion – the phenomenon variously known as greenwashing, woke-washing or purpose-washing.

Purpose is firmly in the spotlight, but for some leaders it can be somewhat uncomfortable.

Publicly they claimed to support environmental or social cases, but these noble claims failed to pass the pub test. These for-purpose claims were not backed by real action, demonstrable outcomes, or lasting impact.

This issue, at the less extreme end of the purpose-driven spectrum, recognises that organisations latch on to a cause because it’s good for business. According to Psychology Today, “Alignment between a company’s stated purpose and consumers’ own values sells.”

That is, people are more likely to make purchasing decisions, donate to or to seek employment from an organisation that’s aligned with their own values – particularly environmental and social causes. Research shows values alignment is a more powerful sales driver for consumers than traditional factors such as price and product features.

It’s no surprise senior leaders, particularly among large corporations, could be tempted to fly the purpose flag.

Real purpose is experienced

Of course, the real issue isn’t widespread corporate deception. It’s more subtle and complicated.

Purpose problem #1. Purpose statements don’t match reality

In this scenario, customers or members of an organisation simply don’t experience an organisation’s stated purpose. It’s not a lived reality.

They can’t feel it when they walk into a retail store, or in B2B settings there’s insufficient evidence to demonstrate a stated purpose consistently drives business and customer experience strategies.

It’s a scenario that could be particularly vexing for organisations committed to making a positive impact on society through foundations, community activities, supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals and embracing a range of responsible, ethical practices.

Purpose problem #2. Your customer’s purpose should matter more

What inspired your organisation’s purpose? Was it inspired by the CEO’s personal journey, or perhaps reflects the marketing team’s ideological agenda?

In both scenarios, the purpose looks inwards. What do we care about? Little thought is given to the number one strategic consideration for any organisation: its customers.

What is their purpose?

In not-for-profit and social enterprises, this purpose can be quickly evident: overcome personal challenges and thrive despite difficult circumstances.

However, for-profit companies can also discover valid customer purposes. Kimberly-Clark and its Huggies nappy brand had purpose: “Helping to navigate the unknowns of babyhood.” As articulated by Accenture in an HBR article, this purpose statement might resonate well with first-time parents.

It definitely passes the pub test, and from a strategy perspective is a believable human truth.

Acting purposefully

Against the backdrop of purpose-washing and rising cynicism, organisations with purpose statements are realising purpose isn’t a plaything.

Customers, donors and employees expect your purpose to be tangibly and consistently experienced.

In the age of hyper-sensitive social and news media, there’s little room for half-truths or claims that fail to resonate with community values.

And of course, that’s great news. The days of pithy, meaningless purpose statements are coming to an end – and that means we can expect customer experiences created by organisations with a commitment to creating a sustained, positive impact in the world.

Your organisation may have a compelling purpose statement, but is it real, or do you have a purpose problem? Is your purpose understood by staff, and most importantly, tangibly experienced by customers? Click here to use our Impact Index decision-making tool. Once you complete the survey, we’ll send you a confidential, customised report with unique insights about your organisation’s purpose and impact.

Ready to increase your impact?

At ImpactInstitute, we partner with clients to support, resource and enable their impact journey. Contact us if you’d like to discuss how your organisation can become impact-driven and avoid having a purpose problem.

Written by: Mark Jones and David Jack.

For more information visit: Impact Advisory