A message to the marketing world: purpose drives growth and good

An increasing number of companies are looking at their triple bottom line and how marketing can assist in communicating a meaningful purpose beyond profit – for the benefit of all

One of the key drivers of successful purpose-driven marketing is an organisation’s “origin story” which is essentially its reason for being, according to Raquelle Zuzarte, former VP of Marketing for The Washington Post and now Founder & CMO of brand strategy consulting firm Equity Project For All, based in New York.

As an increasing number of organisations globally commit to goals around corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG), Ms. Zuzarte said there were a number of important considerations for such organisations, particularly from a marketing perspective. “If I were to identify the key drivers of success when it comes to purpose-driven marketing, or ‘better marketing for a better world’, in my experience it has been less about the size of the organisation, industry, or whether it’s B2B or B2C. It’s at all about its origin story. So why does the company exist? What was the vision behind the starting of that company?” she said.

Ms. Zuzarte gave the example of multinational healthcare company Johnson & Johnson, which was founded on a “credo” – or a set of values that guide its behaviour – written by one of the three brothers who founded Johnson & Johnson in 1886. “That is the foundation of a company that’s over 100 years old,” said Ms. Zuzarte, who observed that Johnson & Johnson’s credo still plays a key role in guiding the company’s leadership as well as the multiple stakeholders it engages with. Ms. Zuzarte led the growth of global brands at Johnson & Johnson in the US and Australia for almost a decade.

“There are also companies of the same age as J&J, that don’t have that clear, embodiment of purpose represented in their culture. And then there are smaller companies that were not founded on a clear purpose or direction, beyond just making short-term results happen,” said Ms. Zuzarte, who has also completed an MBA at AGSM @ UNSW Business School.

“So, the determinant of whether you are led by better world marketing is really driven by the founding story, the founding members, the purpose ‘credentials’ and the culture that is built around that company. And that transcends size, geography, and industry. And it really is about clarity, integrity leadership, and persistence in pursuing purpose across different scenarios.”

The principle of better marketing for a better world

Ms. Zuzarte was recently interviewed by John Roberts, Scientia Professor of Marketing at UNSW Business School, about the theory and practice of “Better Marketing for a Better World.” Prof. Roberts recently served as co-editor of a special issue of the Journal of Marketing which brought together a wide range of research to examine whether, when, and how marketing contributes to a better world.

John Roberts, Scientia Professor of Marketing at UNSW Business School, says businesses have got the ability to do a lot of good for stakeholders beyond their investors and customers

“As the discipline tasked with understanding the customer and external stakeholder-facing activities of the organisation, marketing has a unique potential to improve the alignment between the economic activities of firms and other providers with the outputs that consumers and other members of the society value,” said Prof. Roberts, who observed that this potential is not always realised.

Some economic purists believe public policy should be left to the regulators and to the government, while the business of business should be left to business, said Prof. Roberts. “My own view is that if business has skills in aligning what the organisation does with what the community values, to actually improve social welfare, for example, then business has got a responsibility to use those skills to make society a better place. And we’re seeing a lot more of this. There are very few corporations today that don’t have a corporate social responsibility charter, and that don’t only think about consumers or investors as stakeholders but think of society as a whole as a stakeholder.”

Prof. Roberts also noted economist Milton Friedman’s claim that businesses should focus on making money for their shareholders has become outdated. “Today, in our society, we understand that businesses have got the ability to do a lot of good for stakeholders beyond their investors and customers. So, it’s really important that a mining organisation like Rio Tinto, for example, thinks about its indigenous stakeholders of the traditional lands on which they’re operating, as well as their investors and the business-to-business purchases of their iron ore.”

The practice of better marketing for a better world

Ms. Zuzarte echoed Prof. Roberts’ line of thought and acknowledged the traditional goal of business is to make a profit, in which economic factors such as production, land, labour and enterprise have historically all been harnessed to deliver a profit for shareholders.

However, there is a “major change” in how businesses are now defining success. “There’s much more attention on the triple bottom line: profit, planet, social purpose. So, the paradigm has changed, and the rules of the game have changed. It’s beyond profit, and what I would call purposeful profit,” she said. “All of this is coming from enhanced consumer advocacy and high expectations around brand purpose, and understanding that a brand should not only deliver a great product and service, but also has a responsibility to also ensure that it’s delivering when it comes to human capital, it’s delivering when it comes to the planet, and really making progress in their community.”

Ms. Zuzarte explained there is also enormous interest on the part of consumers in these principles, which is reflected in the “currency of trust”. She pointed to the Edelman Trust Barometer, which measures how consumers regard brands on an annual basis, and Ms. Zuzarte said more than 70 per cent want to interact and engage with brands they trust while almost 80 per cent believe these brands have responsibilities to solve society’s problems. “These are things that we wouldn’t have heard of just a decade or two ago,” she said.

More firms are measuring their performance in terms of societal good-min.jpg
If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it: more firms are measuring their performance in terms of societal good. Image: Shutterstock

Conversely, consumers become “very jaded and skeptical” with brands that are engaged in “purpose washing”, she said. “If a brand decides to get on the purpose bandwagon and talk about a certain cause, but if that’s inconsistent with prior steps they’ve taken, there’s a lot of backlash against that. There’s very low tolerance for inconsistent purpose washing that really portrays the brand in a way that’s not true to what it is, and consumers are smarter at sniffing that out more than ever.”

How marketing leaders can create a better world

When discussing who is responsible for the practice of better marketing for a better world, the chief marketing officer (CMO) is usually singled out (while the CEO ultimately has overall responsibility), Ms. Zuzarte said.

“But I think there’s a real great opportunity for us as marketers to use our magic internally to get collaborators and supporters in the C-suite to help us with this purpose narrative,” she said. “Because when we go to get our budgets approved, we have to ensure there is buy-in throughout the organisation and make the teams in operations, customer service and finance feel just as empowered and just as interested in understanding what that purpose means in their day-to-day.”

There are also a range of titles emerging around the CMO, including chief growth officer and chief customer officer, according to Ms. Zuzarte, who says there is an opportunity in taking up the role of “chief purpose officer”. “Organisations need to ensure they have a coalition with the support of all these other different divisions, because we won’t be able to do it just as a marketing profession. We have to do it as an entire collaborative, multidisciplinary and cooperative group,” she says.

Prof. Roberts echoed Ms. Zuzarte’s sentiment and noted that “better marketing for a better world is too important for one group to try to own it.” He also underscored the importance of measurement in the practice of better marketing for a better world and cited the adage “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. We’re seeing more and more firms actually measuring their performance in terms of societal good,” he said.

Prof. Roberts explained reward structures are very important in this process and gave the example of a CEO of a major corporate being rewarded purely on the basis of share price. “They’re not going to be looking at much else. So we need measurement structures and we need reward structures,” he said. “And we need education and research so that we know how best to undertake some of these activities to make sure that we live in a society which is equitable across different groups so that over time, we’re not robbing our children of their future.”

For more information on Better Marketing for a Better World, read the special issue of the Journal of Marketing, listen to Prof. Roberts’ interview on The CMO Show or contact him directly.


You are free to republish this article both online and in print. We ask that you follow some simple guidelines.

Please do not edit the piece, ensure that you attribute the author, their institute, and mention that the article was originally published on Business Think.

By copying the HTML below, you will be adhering to all our guidelines.

Press Ctrl-C to copy