The power of purpose and how it's shaped my approach to marketing

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For a long time, marketing has had a negative tinge, associated with manipulative techniques designed to trick the customer into making a purchase. I’m here to argue it doesn’t have to be that way, and increasingly it isn’t. Purpose-led businesses are rewriting the rules on how to do business, including their approach to marketing. In this blog, I share my professional journey and how it’s shaped my work.

My journey

Sitting in marketing lectures at university, I was often disappointed by the examples that were showcased in class. Images of disposable plastic goods, soft drink giants and oil companies come to mind. Researching a SWOT analysis or the best channel to market was difficult with subjects like these because I would just be thinking, isn’t this supposed to be the place of future learning?

There was a massive disconnect between the educational environment and how I envisaged marketing could be used to create a better world. I left my tertiary studies feeling totally demotivated about a career in marketing and largely abandoned the idea for several years after graduating. There just didn’t seem to be enough people thinking on a similar wavelength that would put people and the planet before profit.

Fast forward a few years and I had refreshed hope for the industry. After spending time working in various corporate, non-profit and public sector organisations, I began to see more people initiating business for good, leading to a growing need for an impactful and refreshed approach to marketing. Because of course, it’s not just greedy corporates that need their products and services communicated, if anything it’s actually the values-led organisations that need it more, to get cut through massive marketing budgets. Having observed how digital tools were being used, I knew this fresh approach had to be purpose-led.

A fresh approach

Originally I started focussing solely on design for digital marketing platforms, which was how my business name impact digital came about - to create real-world impact through digital. If you can pinpoint the crux of what you’re trying to change, I thought, then you could affect everything that flowed from it. This is where analytics became interesting to me.

Starting with measurement allowed you to see, often in real-time, if what you were doing was having the intended effect. But staying in the analytics lane is pretty boring if you’re creative and desperate to make change happen, so that’s when I started going wider again, broadening out to general marketing activity.

Applying the same principles of purpose-first at every layer of design - from industry to business, marketing and delivery. Wherever there is a decision to be made, there’s a question of purpose. Often there are multiple objectives in any given piece of work, but there’s always an overarching mission or vision that brings people together, and that I see is key.

Purpose has shaped not only my approach to marketing but business design and culture as well. As you’ll see in the following paragraphs, I believe starting with why helps to create clarity, enable systems efficiency, establish a positive culture, and help navigate change through communities.

A powerful unifying narrative

Purpose is not just marketing spin, it actually helps you to work better and more efficiently across every area of operations. When businesses use purpose genuinely, their people are brought together under a shared vision, resulting in better alignment, team engagement, and efficiencies in collaboration. In a marketing sense, this can mean a better understanding of content direction and willingness to pick up tasks that may on the face of it seem more menial (because it’s understood that they need to be done to achieve the bigger picture).

Feel good marketing systems

Teamwork and cross-organisational working groups are some of the most obvious applications for leading with purpose, but equally relevant examples include, ethical decision-making for digital platforms. Historically, any and all data may have been collected in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage with a “data-driven” approach to marketing, but when you put a purpose lens on these activities and lead with a vision to create a more equitable, safer world, conversations about whether we will implement tracking, or how much, become normal and welcomed. This also results in better, cleaner data and systems because what you need to measure has been identified to begin with, and designed to flow together.

Thriving culture

When leadership is with purpose, it sends a strong signal that it’s okay to question (respectfully) things that were once left to the outlying “eco-warrior” or “accessibility advocate” in the organisation. Instead of being the person that feels like they’re just making things a little bit harder to execute, now you have a platform to stand on, because the values that have been agreed upon for how to do business and the commitment made for greater impact underpin everything. These small everyday actions add up, making a culture of change, but it’s still an opt-in system, making community really important.

Communities of change

When we join together, we feel less alone, healthier, happier, and inspired to keep going. This is important because it takes time for people to understand a whole new way of working that can also benefit them as an individual in a system. But if you’re in business for the long haul, you’ve got time. Purpose-led communities have this amazing middle point of being related to your work without perhaps all the pressure of being in your work environment. When the vibe is right, there’s the freedom to be yourself, ask dumb questions, and find connections that you might be missing in other places. They can help you find support, transition to new areas, and have a great time doing it.

Customers and marketers alike are tired of marketing that gives them the ick. Now that a purpose-led approach to business is making its way into the mainstream, I feel less alone in pursuing a meaningful career path - one that relates back to our real-world, rather than just short-term transactions. That’s why I put purpose front and centre, at the beginning of my process, because when you have a clear why, everything else flows from it with much greater ease. It is a privileged way to work, for which I’m grateful. Let’s not let it stay that way!

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