The Practice of Purpose Project

The Practice of Purpose Project

Expanding a Brand’s Capacity to Grow with Social Purpose

Multimedia from this Release

Wednesday, November 15, 2017 - 9:00am

CAMPAIGN: Sustainable Brands Global Community


Despite the growing attention that brands with purpose have received, industry adoption of social benefits is lagging behind other critical transformations such as digital or analytics.  The integration of social benefits in the marketing of brands remains on the periphery of many leaders. 

What’s more, among many brand and business managers the pursuit of a social purpose is sometimes perceived as a distraction or an unwanted constraint to their ability to achieve their business goals.  As a result, the potential of social benefits is often trapped by the perception of uncertain outcomes, unclear methods, and unwanted risks.  

This project was created to help close the gap between the potential of social purpose and the actions of marketing leaders.  Our goal is not just to inspire, but to enable the integration of social benefits into brands.  However, “more brands with purpose” will only happen if there is “more growth through purpose.”  Therefore, the focus of this work is on identifying and describing practices associated with successful purpose-based brands and programs.

The Practice of Purpose project is a multi-phased research initiative in partnership with Sustainable Brands(R) and the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business.  The work was led by Omar Rodriguez Vila, Ricardo Caceres, Sundar Bharadwaj and CB Bhattacharya.  This first report is based on in-depth interviews with leaders of purpose-based brands and programs across a wide range of industries.  It describes over 50 management practices, skills and capabilities present when integrating social purpose into marketing activities and organized across three dimensions:

  • Management Practices: these are activities managers should consider to prepare their work for purpose.  They cut across the four phases performed by most marketing management organizations - Understanding the Market, Designing the Offering, Going to Market and Measuring and Learning.
  • Support System: these are activities managers should consider to create the necessary conditions for success.  It includes actions to prepare the brand and the organization to compete on purpose.  
  • Leadership Behaviors: these are considerations and behaviors identified as important by leaders of purpose-based brands.

Key Findings from the First Practice of Purpose Report:

  • Design the Right Model, Not Just the Right Message: The social purpose of a brand can become a critical aspect of its value proposition, but it is not the only thing the brand will do. Therefore, knowing when and how to compete on purpose is as important as finding the right stories to share with consumers about the brand. In particular, a detailed analysis of 70 purpose-based cases provided insights into four different models used to integrate purpose into a brand: The Engagement-Based Model, The Practice-Based Model, the Product-Based Model, and the Nudging-Based Model. The report provides a description of the different models, overview of important capabilities, and a framework to help decide which model might be more appropriate for a brand.  
  • Translate to Integrate: Many managers know that in order for social purpose to work, it must be integrated with the brand’s business needs.  Yet, the integration can be hard given the newness and complexity of societal needs. In our study, we find that active translation and education are critical for integration. This means describing the social issues and opportunities in language and concepts the organization already understands and values, as well as actively educating key stakeholders along the way.  
  • Provoke Mindfulness, not just Centricity: Customer centricity is an increasingly critical aspect of marketing management. Over time, we have been trained to understand people as consumers. However, when competing on purpose managers seek to also understand consumers as people. Noticing, studying, and considering broader needs as well as stakeholders.
  • Need to Evolve the Research Methods: Research into consumer preferences has traditionally relied on claimed attitudes. However, social benefits can induce bias that lead to over or under representation of its potential. Also, declared methods to measure preference can undermine the value of emotional effects of a social claim. Therefore, when studying purpose related claims, managers should use derived methods of consumer research such as conjoint, choice models, and field experiments, where consumer preferences are revealed rather than reported.

The next phase of the Practice of Purpose project will seek to measure the practices and establish benchmarks that can help managers define the specific capability changes in their organizations.  Individuals with an interest to share their experience with purpose will be able do so online.

Released today at the New Metrics Conference in Philadelphia, the report on the first phase of the Practice of Purpose Project is available for download here.

For more information, please contact:

About the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business
The Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business is part of the Scheller College of Business at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The Center acts as a catalyst and connector, bringing together students, research faculty, companies, and entrepreneurs to create an environment where business-driven solutions to sustainability challenges can take shape and thrive. We create and share the knowledge that current and future leaders depend on to integrate sustainability into their organizations and beyond, and to drive innovation in business models, products, technologies, and governance. Since its founding, The Center has been particularly active in leading sustainability research and in developing sustainability coursework for students at all levels—undergraduates, MBAs, doctoral students, and executives.

About Sustainable Brands
Sustainable Brands
® is the premier global community of brand innovators who are shaping the future of commerce worldwide. Since 2006, our mission has been to inspire, engage and equip today’s business and brand leaders to prosper for the near and long term by leading the way to a better future. Digitally published news articles and issues-focused conversation topics, internationally known conferences and regional events, a robust e-learning library and peer-to-peer membership groups all facilitate community learning and engagement.