Discovering Cause Marketing was a pivotal career moment for Carolyn Butler-Madden, Chief Purpose Activist and Founder of The Cause Effect. With a background in agency marketing, and a passion for social justice, Carolyn forged her business to integrate both, by helping businesses to craft social purpose brand strategies.
Carolyn has helped many businesses embrace social purpose, embed it within their business model, and create a legacy of business for good, for the benefit of their people the communities they operate in. Carolyn’s book Path to Purpose, a must read for global business leaders, shares case studies of 14 major organisations who have measured the positive impacts of cause marketing on their business.
What are some of the big misconceptions around purpose?
There are lots of big misconceptions on what it means to be a Purpose-led organisation, which may be a surprise given that “Purpose” is one of the big super-trends that we’re seeing in the business world today.
Purpose has undergone an evolution, which has been driven by the expectations of employees, customers and even investors. But a great many business leaders in Australia aren’t aware of these changing expectations and their relationship to Purpose.
There are several misconceptions, but here are the biggest and most common that I come across in my work and research:
- Purpose is knowing the “Why” behind your product or service
- Purpose is about giving back
- Purpose is not essential – it’s a nice-to-have
I come across numerous businesses that consider themselves to be “purpose-led” because they have a purpose statement on “why” they’re in business.
Look closely and you’ll see that most of those statements are nothing more than a passive statement of context for their products or services.
If an organisation’s purpose is not about the change they want to create in the world…
If it doesn’t drive innovation and action through and beyond their products and services…
If it’s not galvanising an organisation’s employees to create solutions linked to that change…
Then it’s not a purpose in the sense of the expectations of the market. Because today the market expects a Purpose to either be – or be directly linked to – a Social Purpose.
Here in Australia and globally, overwhelmingly employees expect their organisations to stand for something. Leadership, culture and purpose are the three biggest contributors to meaningful work and it’s no surprise that they’re interlinked.
Then from a consumer perspective – a majority believe brands can be a powerful force for change and expect them to solve societal problems. They know their wallet is their vote and they’re increasingly using their vote to support those brands that are answering the call to Social Purpose.
Finally investors are also waking up to the changing expectations of the market. Three years ago, the CEO of the world’s biggest investment company, Blackrock, said that without a Social Purpose, a business will not be able to fulfil its full potential. He said that “to prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance but show how it makes a positive contribution to society”. Since that announcement, everything Blackrock has done has backed up that statement, including a decision to no longer invest in companies that don’t have a Social Purpose.
That’s game changing. Yet there are so many business leaders here who have missed this entirely.
So knowing your “Why” is a great first step, but without a Social Purpose that galvanises your business, you’re not going to be able to unlock its full value.
Once businesses start thinking this way, it often opens up the idea of “giving back” – for smaller organisations or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – for larger companies.
This brings us to the second misconception, that giving back or CSR can fulfil your Social Purpose.
The very notion of CSR was founded in the idea of “balancing the books”. Conducting business has unavoidable negative impacts. By having a CSR program, we balance that out by giving back and doing some good.
Some businesses genuinely want to do good; nothing to do with offsetting negative impacts. The reality is that even then, most of this activity is focused on donating money, product or time to non-profit organisations.
There is nothing wrong with that. Giving is good, but having a Social Purpose is not just about giving. A clear Social Purpose is about the change you are inspired to create through and beyond your products and services. It can’t be siloed into a department. It has to be integrated throughout the business.
By having a Social Purpose, you start to think about your company’s place in society. How you can contribute to positive change in a way that is sustainable and scalable. It’s also not just about what you can give. Think about a Social Purpose as creating a movement that your employees, customers, partners, suppliers and investors can be part of. It’s an inspiring and energising force that can transform your organisation.
The final misconception I wanted to address is that Purpose is not an essential priority for a business. It’s a nice-to-have.
If Blackrock’s actions aren’t enough to convince you that meaningful Purpose is not the most vital business strategy today, then consider this.
The 2018 Global Leadership Forecast by EY, DDI and The Conference Board, interviewed 1500 C-Suite Executives from different companies around the world. They divided them into three categories – those without any sense of Purpose, those with a Purpose statement and finally, Purposeful organisations – those whose actions were being driven by their Purpose.
They shared a graph with the financial performance results of the companies. It’s compelling.
Those without a Purpose performed -42% on the mean.
Those with a Purpose statement performed at the mean of all companies.
The Purposeful companies performed +42% on the mean.
It’s yet another piece of evidence that businesses with a Purpose that is genuine, meaningful and actionable are outperforming the rest.
It’s a clear driver of a business’ financial success. A strong reason to be considered an essential priority for business.
Who are some of the leaders of the purpose movement in Australia?
In the for-profit sector, here are some of my personal favourites:
Zambrero – Mexican Fast Food retailer
They’re in business to stop world hunger, one meal at a time. Their Plate-for-Plate initiative is the heart and soul of their business. At the time of writing, they’ve donated over 46 million meals and they have a bold goal to reach 1 billion meals by 2025.
Intrepid was founded to create a style of travel that could benefit both travellers and the places and people they visit. “Our 2025 strategy is to grow with purpose. This means more than ‘doing no harm’ to the places we explore. It’s about using sustainable experience-rich travel to support and empower these destinations and their people to thrive.”
Beaumont People – a NSW recruitment agency and one of my favourite clients
They exist to connect people with organisations that empower them to do meaningful work and to create more opportunities for meaningful work in Australia.
This purpose has driven numerous initiatives, not least Australia and the world’s first Meaningful Work survey to understand what the drivers are of Meaningful Work. And the development of the world’s first Meaningful Work Profiling tool to enable better matching of candidates and organisations based on meaningful work needs and attributes.
A Superannuation company that exists to create a prosperous future free from climate change and inequality.
And let’s not forget Femeconomy, who are in business to create gender equality!
There are also some great examples of Social Enterprise organisations, including Who Gives A Crap, Thankyou Group, World’s Biggest Garage Sale and The Good Beer Co.
What has the pandemic taught us about purpose in business?
Truly some great lessons.
Without understating the many negative impacts of the pandemic, it has created some real positives.
What it taught me first and foremost is that humanity is alive and kicking in business.
The way businesses responded – by looking at the needs and pain points that the pandemic caused – was nothing short of inspiring.
Early on, Accor Hotels opened its doors to vulnerable people, including victims of family violence, the homeless and worn out medical workers.
Woolworths and Coles created a dedicated shopping hour for the elderly.
Sydney’s Sea Life Aquarium and Wild Life Zoo live streamed playtime and feeding time with some of their cutest and scariest animals, with the Keepers hosting Q&A’s. That’s something that tired parents won’t forget in awhile.
There are endless examples of businesses adapting to the critical needs of society. I was coming across so many that we started a visual database which is available on The Cause Effect.
I think it’s important to understand what this means.
For me – it’s that we haven’t yet realised the full potential of business, which largely has been driven by profit for the last few decades.
There are so many needs in society – vital ones. These are needs that business, with all of its capabilities, smart people and processes can solve. Clearly, when we consider how many businesses instantly responded to the needs that arose from the pandemic, it shows that the simple human desire to help and be of service is there.
Instead of being driven by profit, if business can set its sights on how to serve society’s needs going forward, not only will society be better for it, but those businesses themselves will become more successful. Because people will always remember the good that a business does. And they’ll reward them for it.
That’s the billion-dollar opportunity here. Businesses driving profit through purpose.
Most proud of?
I’m most proud of backing myself and pivoting into what was very much an unknown area, away from my Agency career in the marketing world.
That was the moment I decided to let my Purpose lead me. To be honest I hadn’t articulated it clearly, nor did I know what my business would look like, but I knew it was something I had to do. Back in 2016/17 Social Purpose was barely a seed of an idea in Australia.
I backed myself and stepped into an unknown world. I wrote my book Path To Purpose, which made me even more committed to tough out the early stages of a self-funded start-up business. And I worked my backside off.
Being driven by my own Purpose – to make Social Purpose a vital part of business in Australia and beyond – has meant that the tough times in the first couple of years were just part of the journey. I read a Seth Godin blog recently where he talked about the idea that if you asked an experienced skier which run she’d rather take, a green or a black run, she’s always going to say a black run. The idea that you take the easiest route down isn’t the point. It’s the heights you reach for and the journey. The experience. And what you learn about yourself as you take that path.
That’s the point.
Advice for future female leaders
Take the black run – do work that matters and back yourself.
The world needs more feminine energy in business. More women leaders will bring that energy, as well as helping our male leaders become more comfortable with their feminine side. This will bring the natural balance of masculine and feminine that the world is crying out for.
You are the female economy. Whether you are a female consumer, business owner or a woman in the workforce, you can create gender equality by choosing female led brands.
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