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Leading with Purpose in Today’s Business Environment

Jordan Kelley, Content Director,

Chuck Murphy, President, Murphy Research
Chuck Murphy, President, Murphy Research

If Americans weren’t already critical of contemporary capitalism before the onset of the Coronavirus Pandemic, which brought about mass layoffs, job loss and sent over 50 million people filing for unemployment since mid-March, many are certainly critical of it now. Diminished trust in government and corporate leadership is borne from the powers that be not making good on the promise that trickle-down economics would create a rising tide that lifts all ships. Instead, corporate billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg are profiting off of the world’s misfortune, making them the faces of the villain that has been made out of contemporary capitalism. Those who have seen the writing on the wall are calling for a paradigm shift that repositions purpose as the modern corporate goal, as opposed to unchecked amassed capital. Many in the business community, in observing their consumer base, have realized that they can reposition themselves for the better by tending to the needs of their external stakeholders, not just internal shareholders.

This is the core conceit of the research conducted by Murphy Research, titled “Path to Purpose: The Importance of Positive Impact in Today’s Business Environment”. Brand Storytelling recently hosted Chuck Murphy, President of Murphy Research, and team for a special presentation at the Elevate Summer Session to further discuss their findings and what that means for brands seeking to lead with purpose today.

“It starts with understanding the psychology of the consumer” says Murphy. “There are people not having their fundamental needs met during this moment.” That anxiety, surrounding the simple provision of food and maintaining a living wage, is feeding into an elevated level of examination of brands. People are stopping to ask themselves, “why do I need you (brand) in my life?” The socioeconomic observation of the current moment is that there’s a critique of capitalism that has snowballed since the recession. And with all of the hardship people are facing state by state in this country, it’s not difficult to see why there is a belief held by the people for whom the system is not working that Main Street is suffering at the hands of Wall Street. There is a sense that the system is rigged and doesn’t work for people anymore, and when the system no longer make sense, people search for meaning and purpose. But is purpose enough to sway this moment’s mattress-stuffing, critical consumer?

Although you shouldn’t be able to expect to ask a consumer if a brand’s purpose is “enough to sway them”, using industry-vernacular like “purpose-driven” or “mission-driven”, you can ask a consumer if they sense that a brand is being inauthentic. Murphy Research set out to have a better understanding of the psychology behind a consumer’s choice and empower brands to implement purpose to become a better business. In doing so, they determined that 80% of people believe that businesses should have a purpose beyond making money. 89% say they were willing to pay more for mission-driven brands and products. The problem that this presents in the current moment is that of what issues to be vocal on and where to remain silent.

One of the things that’s difficult about the current environment is that there are lots of divisive issues during a historic period of unprecedented information accessible to the public. If you are a CMO or a CEO at a large brand, you’re likely a risk-averse person, making this a difficult moment from a social perspective. As the coronavirus continues to affect the nation, with race as a major point of conversation and the approach a critical national election, more and more scenarios are going to demand speaking up and weighing in on causes important to consumers. It’s important to remember to think strategically about how to simultaneously lead with purpose and toe the line on issues that, when spoken up about, may present as pandering or false. One way to think strategically about this is to have a guiding principle that helps brands navigate these situations that will inevitably arise.

In the end, Murphy and his team point out that creating a lot of positive impact through a sale of a product actually affects the bottom line. When brands attach purpose to a product, people are more likely to buy, more likely to buy volume, and more likely to recommend products to a friend.

If your brand is in need to determining its purpose, it needs to be approached the same way as any internal strategy. Marketing and communications are changing. It’s time to sit down and find a place to add social value in a productive way, and publicly. Making and communicating progress over time will endear your brand to your consumers. Asking for help is authentic! Look to your base, determine their needs, and work to meet them while communicating with them. That is the path to leading with purpose in today's business environment.


About Jordan Kelley

Jordan Kelley is a versatile creative intent on mapping new media trends and disseminating the most relevant information in the world of branded content.  He is a lover of stories and an avid consumer of visual media.


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