May 7, 2019
Balancing purpose with profit is a challenge that the more linear and profit driven entities of yesteryear never really had to reconcile. Enterprises today either tend towards more lofty and ambitious environmental or socially driven ‘manifestos’ and then lose their agility due to lack of resources, revenue, funding and/or interpersonal deadlock and operational inefficiency - or conversely - they may put too much emphasis on how profit is achieved and reported, de-basing people and culture to mere machines, models or algorithms and/or exacerbating societal and environmental problems through decrepit governance and invisible supply chains.
We would argue that brand authenticity (i.e. being trusted, loved and useful) demands a balance between the two. No one expects companies to be perfect but they also don’t expect them to be complete assholes either. The way to connect the “why” of purpose with the “what and the how” of profit is actually pretty simple – at least in theory.
First, uncover and celebrate the single-minded, profoundly human belief that the brand, business or organization has about the world. It should be human, it should be truthful, it should be universal and it should set up a tension for the purpose to resolve.
Next, articulate your purpose by expressing how the brand or business will affect culture, serve people or change the world for the better in some way. It should be simple, it should be focused and it should be transformative; it should also get to the heart of mission and human problem that ‘the business that you’re in’ is trying to solve for, and if you’re lucky, it will be muscular enough to inspire new and progressive thinking.
Last, but by no means least comes the profit level or what we call the three pursuits. These are:
The Product (what you invest your resources in producing and developing)
The Platform (what you need to leverage, create or build to operate and be effective)
The Impact (the quantifiable financial metrics that can give you a clear ROI – and that’s return on impact, by the way)
If the belief and purpose drive your pursuits then you’re creating value (in every sense) while doing good and when push comes to shove, well, you’re pretty damn authentic and your key stakeholders will most likely perceive you as such. A well thought through and architected Belief, Purpose and Pursuits (BPP) that connects and balances the “Why” with the “Way” works out well for everyone and leads to growth.
So, you’ll forgive me for pointing out that when brands and companies suddenly become ‘transparent’ overnight, appoint a chief heart officer to engineer diversity and inclusion or publicly demonstrate their commitment to the social good by hooking up with a non-profit like a cheap dinner date on Tinder, then that’s almost worse than doing nothing at all. It's fake, it's unnatural and like plastic surgery, when you look at yourself in the mirror you might feel a little better about yourself but you ain’t fooling anyone.
The bottom line: Honesty, integrity, awareness, and humanity need to be integrated in all aspects of a company's culture and go to market strategy. What a brand or business believes about the world that anchors its ambition and in turn provides inspiration for its purpose - ultimately benefits people, planet and profit if it drives decision-making from the inside-out.