How Marketing Can Help Brands Tie Purpose to Profit

The responsibility should shift to the marketing department to fully capitalize on the potential of purpose-driven initiatives such as sustainability and DEI.

Too many brands have only cast their focus inward when it comes to sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and purpose. 

This hasn’t necessarily been their intention. These areas are broad and multi-faceted; to be successful, they must touch many skill sets. The issue is that the departments that have historically governed programs to increase values-based efforts have been internal-facing ones like human resources. In some cases, there is no determined owner at all. These internal-facing owners might make traction with how employees participate in these efforts, but they fail to tie them to revenue-driving performance. 

And that’s a massive missed opportunity. Purpose-driven organizations grow three times faster, on average, than non-purpose-driven ones, and 82 percent of consumers are making purchase decisions with purpose in mind. Today, tying purpose and profit together is necessary to be competitive in any market. To do that requires shifting ownership of the former to a department responsible for driving the latter: marketing.

Values, Adrift

HR has never been the right home for sustainability, DEI, and purpose.

This team often owns these areas because, historically, companies have looked at them from an employee perspective. And, after all, HR is trained to measure employee satisfaction and retention above all else. But HR doesn’t play a direct role in how much money a business makes.

I’m not here to say this isn’t a valiant effort—organizations should and must engage employees on how to be more ethically responsible and values-driven because it makes for psychologically safer workplaces. But, knowing brands’ sustainability, DEI, and purpose goals coincide with more significant profit means that a team well-versed in engaging external audiences should execute, manage, and measure them. Marketing fits the bill in several ways.

First, marketing owns the overall brand and plays an integral part in creating it. This starts with mission, vision, and values exercises and cascades down to positioning, value propositions, messaging, and tone and voice. Because marketing intimately understands the brand from all angles—what it stands for and sells for—it can translate that language into internal- and external-facing marketing messages.

Second, like any marketing campaign about any product or service, values-based efforts require their own narrative, and marketing is excellent at storytelling. Marketing can share the overarching “why” of a brand’s values in creative and compelling ways to target audiences across channels—including consumers who are now increasingly purchasing with purpose in mind. This ranges from the company website to video snippets on social media to public relations and everything in between, meaning marketing can embed values-driven messaging anywhere and everywhere. And because marketing is across all campaigns, they know the right opportunities for weaving values-based messaging into other topics. For instance, if marketing runs a holiday campaign, it might be an excellent place to talk about the charities the company gives back to.  

Third, marketing gets to choose the imagery and content across all channels, allowing the team the opportunity to represent diversity and inclusivity. Consider, for example, shifting pronouns to non-binary ones in marketing messages and ensuring that stock imagery doesn’t just depict one race. Marketing can incorporate values across everything an organization does. Values are not just a strategy for a couple of programs and should never feel that way – they should be present in everything an organization does. For instance, Patagonia doesn’t just sometimes care about the environment – their climate-friendly values are foundationally associated with their brand because of consistent action and marketing of that action consistently.

Fourth, marketing also owns events, which exact a heavy toll on the environment. They can restructure some of this budget to avoid needing to heavily re-print collateral and signage and produce so much SWAG. Some materials can be reused between events, or landing page links and QR codes can replace printed information.

Measuring the Monetary Value of Meaning

Suppose companies want to tie their purpose to profit. In that case, they must rely on the department trained to set goals, effectively communicate internally and externally and track the benefit of every dollar spent.

Marketing should set values-based goals for the entire organization and understand how they impact every aspect of the business. This enables them to influence where focus and budget are going so that they can help all departments make quick adjustments. For instance, many businesses want to work with partners whose values align with their own and want the data to back it up. Marketing and sales teams must work together to ensure tangible impact and that it’s being conveyed accurately to prospective partners.

Then, marketing can lead the charge of incorporating these values into every aspect of the business. I recommend that marketers test smaller activations around their values vs. waiting for everything to be perfect. Don’t lock your stakeholders in a room for six months to debate your values. Know that you won’t be all things to all people. Move quickly and thoughtfully and optimize from there.

Marketing will measure how internal teams activate against values and how their external audiences engage with them. As marketing already measures external engagements with key audiences such as prospects, press, and partners, they can get a holistic view of how values-based messaging resonates across each. They already have many systems and measurement methodologies necessary for proving the value of, well, values. And they’re in luck because a new suite of solutions is emerging to emphasize company values while achieving and exceeding business goals. Many are designed to be turnkey, easily incorporated in place of historical solutions, and offer additional resources to build a tight societal impact roadmap. Marketers should determine which solutions best align with their unique goals and incorporate these new strategies into their daily operations.

A marketing team can only achieve all of the above with key business leaders’ buy-in, ongoing support, and reinforcement. Marketing is the natural tip of the spear to lead an organization’s values initiatives because they already work across many departments as part of their broader function. Still, they can’t be the only advocate within the walls of an organization. Every executive needs to be an advocate. If not, they’re not paying attention to how business is changing. Marketing is the rallying group but not the sole responsible party.

The marketing team should lead efforts to determine which partners will help them achieve their value-based goals while driving the business forward. They should own the measurement of all values-based initiatives across the company and use their communication skills to broadcast their social impact successfully. By authentically communicating values and utilizing tools to drive action, companies can enhance their earnings and solidify that purpose drives profit.