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Doing Business on Purpose in a bottom-line driven world

In a bottom-line driven world, purpose may sound like a fluffy, vague thing to focus your energy on. Many organisations are still of the view that purpose and profit are mutually exclusive, but some of the world’s most remarkable businesses have been built with purposeful intent.

In fact, it is becoming increasingly clear that to be a leading brand today you need to be fully in touch with your why. The world's most profitable brands understand why they exist, and why their employees and customers should care about them.

As we hurtle into an unpredictable and unstable future, it will increasingly be the purposeful organisations that stand out and drive profitable change.

Purpose drives business success in three key ways:

  1. It drives growth by giving focus to innovation
  2. It drives productivity by inspiring employees to care about - and commit to - their jobs
  3. It drives purchase by connecting with customers' emotions

Tracked over the long term, purposeful organisations outperform the market by a margin of nearly 400%. And more than that, it is especially relevant in Africa today.

African customers have a broader set of needs and aspirations than those in the developed world. They are more conscious of the social limitations and problems of their countries, and more responsive to the brands that impact their communities in positive ways. It's worth remembering, as businesses scramble for their piece of the emerging Africa success story, that connecting with African consumers means thinking beyond narrow category norms or product benefits - to impacting society.

So how can businesses get it right? How can they find their purpose?

We believe the path to purposeful success can be made simple. Businesses need to assess, align and activate.

Assess Your Environment

Your purpose needs to be relevant to your environment, your customers and their communities. A powerful purpose is derived from insight into your customers, category, social context and business. It needs to gear your business to provide value that people actually want to buy. Ask yourself:

  • What are the most important needs, aspirations of my customers?
  • What frustrations and setbacks do they struggle with?
  • What communities do I impact with my business?
  • What social issues negatively impact on my business?

Think about the long-term sustainability of the issues that you find. Your purpose needs to connect to genuine needs, not marketing buzz. And decide what kind of difference you want to make. It's important to be honest about this, as it will inform your decisions on investments, who to partner with and what metrics you will use to measure your progress.

Align to Your Organisational Truths

However you choose to define your overarching purpose, it should be rooted in what you do best from a business point of view. Purpose needs to come from the real character, strengths, values and philosophy of the company or it will not serve the company in the long term.

  1. Rediscover your history and heritage. Many businesses have lost touch with their founding ideals and principles in the race to outcompete competition. Often there is something inspiring and insightful in the original purpose of the founders
  2. Identify the core values, beliefs and passions of your people. Find out what really motivates them and what it is about their jobs that makes them get up in the morning.
  3. Map your organisational strengths. Purpose will only have an impact if it leverages the strengths of the business. These can be anything from product benefits to distribution networks.

Activate Internally

An accurately defined, relevant purpose can only drive change if it connects with your people. Activate it internally by inspiring employees to understand it, live it and believe it.

  1. Lead from the front. The role of leadership in embedding purpose cannot be overstated.
  2. Inspire employees to make it real. Articulate the purpose in a rallying-call and knit it into all internal communication
  3. Look for value fit when hiring. Change recruitment processes to prioritise value-alignment with your business purpose.
  4. Track and measure to embed purpose in the culture. Determine the right metrics to ensure you are behaving purposefully, and build these into organisational, departmental and individual performance review.

Activate Externally

Communicating your purpose can be tricky - it runs the risk of sounding like 'goodwashing'. The easiest way to avoid this is to do the good first, and then talk about it. Strike a balance between being humble and being committed.

  1. Show your purpose at every customer touchpoint
  2. Prove you're making progress with tangible changes and communicating your successes
  3. Collaborate for higher impact: with other businesses, and with your customers and employees
  4. Think engagement, not advertising. Facilitate experiences and activities that educate your consumers, and participate in feedback systems such as digital media.

Doing business 'on purpose' will enable you to deliver more value to your stakeholders, and will ultimately grow your bottom line. Finding your organisational purpose, and aligning your business behind it will transform what you do, give meaning to your employees and turn your brands into something the world actually cares about. The shift in thinking required may be difficult, but the benefits are huge. 


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