Purpose before Profits

It’s no coincidence that purpose is arising in the dialog of corporate motivational circles. It’s a sign of the times. Purpose has always been a key indicator of human change. Today, more than ever, purpose powers a new breed of corporate leaders. Just consider the mission statements of some leaders of the Participation Age:

Facebook: “To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”

Amazon: “To be Earth’s most customer-centric company.”

If you think about it, media can no longer be bought with money alone. If our aim is to earn media by becoming remark-worthy in the social-media space, what is more worthy of remark than a world-changing corporate purpose? Nothing is more shareable about a brand. And, shareable purpose is less costly than paying for every media impression through advertising.

Some marketers wonder, “Will this encouraging trend toward purpose-driven brands last? Or is this just an enduring principle of business that simply has been magnified by the power of social media?” Many experts believe the latter is true.

In fact, a litany of new marketing textbooks feature purpose, debunking the previous doctrine of business success, “making money and maximizing shareholder value.” As Henry Ford said, “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.”

Another legendary personality of purpose-driven leadership, Walt Disney was not interested in fame or fortune, nor was he inhibited by lack of resources, either. He once said, “Money, or the lack of it, does not excite me. Ideas excite me.” He was often cited for his driving purpose to put smiles on every guest at his parks, which he built for the purpose of bringing children and parents together.

The whole concept seems to be counterintuitive. Isn’t the primary purpose of business to maximize shareholder value? Aren’t businesses supposed to be concerned with making money, not fixing societal problems?

Even Harvard and Cornell now admit they had it all wrong for years. Nobody saw it coming when professors at these top business schools published a shocking white paper which concluded that the shareholder value dogma is “a myth.” As corporate law expert Lynn Stout put it, “Prioritization of shareholder value harms returns in the long run.”

Obviously, a business cannot survive very long without profits. But, as has been proven time and time again, businesses that don’t provide adequate value to their customers won’t survive very long either — and the bar to meet consumer expectations is rising.

Brands that want to become market leaders need to do more than create ads. They need to be bold enough to create a movement.

They need to lead in measurable results by doing remark-worthy things — not only for their company, but for their industry. And their world.
When a brand stands for something greater than its features and benefits, its best advertising will come from its fans, who will promote the brand better than any advertising campaign can.