The Rise of Purpose-Driven Marketing

Best-selling author Daniel Goleman explains why organizations are walking a fine line between being authentic and “purpose-washing.”

Daniel Goleman, author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence and host of the podcast First Person Plural: Emotional Intelligence and Beyond, is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, is available now. 

Most marketing shares one aim: to capture attention. Whether you want your audience to donate, click or purchase, the goal is to pique their interest and engage them in some form of exchange.

In the 2012 Forbes article The Attention War, marketing experts posited that in order for companies to reach new customers, their content needed to check two of three boxes:

  • Entertaining
  • Interesting
  • Helpful

The argument was that in order to cut through the overabundance of ads, products and content, brands needed to be personable – to resonate with people by inviting them into a community and showing that they care about them.

While this all holds true in 2022, the past decade has added a new layer to the conversation. A recent study reports that close to 8 out of 10 Americans feel a deeper personal connection to companies with whom they share values. Aside from being entertaining, interesting, or helpful, the brands sought by many consumers show a commitment to something they find personally meaningful.

This is the foundation of what experts have begun to call “purpose-driven marketing." The nonprofit Ad Council defines it as “a strategy used by an organization to center its external communications efforts around a social cause that aligns with its core values.”

The goal of purpose-driven marketing is to develop an even deeper rapport with consumers – not only appealing to their sense of humor, but to their very understanding of what matters over the long haul.

For most marketers, this approach makes sense. After all, brands gain traction by becoming a part of how consumers desire to see themselves. At the core, marketing is always a conversation about identity – a way of helping people see themselves in the brands they patronize.

Toms and Warby Parker are two good examples: for every pair of Toms shoes or Warby Parker glasses that consumers buy, another pair goes to someone in need. All of a sudden the consumer isn’t just fashionable, they have helped address a socioeconomic divide. The brands have appealed to their values and in turn, to their sense of who they are in the world.

Given the crises of the past two years many audiences – particularly younger ones – have insisted that brands take a stand on the social and environmental issues they care about. For many firms, it’s a whole new twist on what it means to be “helpful.”

What’s more, consumers are getting more alert to purpose-washing – quicker to see the divide between what a brand says and what it actually achieves.

At the beginning of the year, Fast Company sat down with the Purpose Collaborative, a collective of purpose-driven firms. Their prediction: in 2022 we will see more companies adopt standards that demonstrate their commitment to ethics and a sense of responsibility.

“Expect a continued blurring of the lines between environmental sustainability and social impact when it comes to brands’ engagement and communication on critical issues,” Raphael Bemporad, founding partner and chief strategy officer of the branding and social impact consultancy BBMG told Fast Company. “People are recognizing the intersectionality of issues like race and gender discrimination with threats like food insecurity, climate migration, and limited access to healthcare.”

The takeaway: capturing the attention of the market isn’t going to be as easy as it was ten years ago. It takes emotional intelligence competencies like empathy to understand what someone values and attune to their pains and pleasures – followed by inspiration, influence and teamwork – the skills to rally people around a vision and direct them toward a shared goal.

If purpose-driven marketing is the future, brands are going to have to dig deep. While being interesting and entertaining might be enough to capture audience attention, it may not be enough to keep it. 

Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence.