The Changing Face of Purpose In 2012

In 2012, as Purpose continues its pervasive growth throughout the most recognizable and admirable brands and corporations worldwide, we will discuss how these programs come to life. As we view these strategies through an ever-changing global context, let's take a look at a few of the trends and cultural cues that will shape how companies determine, embed and execute Purpose in the New Year.

If 2000 to 2010 was the decade of why, 2011 and beyond will be about how purpose can be strategic for organizations. How do you create, activate and articulate your Purpose? How do you bring your employees to the forefront? How do you partner with your consumers to solve environmental and social issues? Certainly, with the upheaval of last year still fresh in our minds, leading brands and corporations must learn to act in concert with citizen consumers, taking their concerns, and their collective power, seriously.

Global Context:
  1. Constrained Growth Drives Innovation in Wellbeing: The ideas and debate presented in 'prosperity without growth' will continue to flourish in the progressive business world given the prospect of a sustained period of flat economic development. As a result, we will see a shift towards innovations focused on well-being become more common, particularly across Western Europe and the U.S.
  1. Behavioral Economics Takes Center Stage: Behavioral economics has finally "arrived"-- and it will be increasingly applied by business and policy-makers to more acutely understand what drives real-life, sustainable behavior in citizens and communities. Through this deeper understanding of what motivates and activates citizens to adopt more sustainable habits, organizations will be able to create policies and programs that drive tangible impact and help individuals grow into more sustainable lifestyles.
  1. Collaboration is the new Competition: Collaborative consumption, as well as collaborative capital (e.g. Kickstarter) and collaborative capability (e.g. Skillshare) continue their meteoric rise as the digital and sustainability agendas converge, especially among urban youth cultures. Nimble and progressive corporations will learn from this expansive movement and evolve their business models to support cross-functional teams coming together to address challenges, as well as partnering with other brands and corporations to support a shared goal.
  1. Global Youth Demand Change at all Costs: It's clear the uprisings in the middle east/OWS/Russia highlighted a restlessness, and urgency, among young people for systematic change. Businesses looking to authentically engage this demographic, in any market, would be wise to consider how they can help promote freedom of thought, speech and action. Obviously social media will continue to be a major vehicle for this type of communication. At the corporate level, promoting rule of law in emerging markets will be critical in developing relationships with young thought leaders and future decision makers.
  1. Influencer, Democratized: The age of gurus is gone. Our leading pundits and thought leaders are no longer the sole channel to be engaged in communicating new ideas, innovations and commitments. It now starts with the quality of the content you produce, which is then disseminated across a variety of channels including social, hybrid, traditional and owned media. For brands and corporations taking new strides in their Purpose, take the time to deeply know your issue, create compelling content and utilize the breadth of influencers to help tell your story.
  1. Rising Causes from the Economic Crises: The growing divide between business, government and citizenry will continue to shape international and local agendas and the prominence of highly personal "causes", such as job creation, domestic hunger, economic development and access to quality health care will continue to rise in light of widespread economic crises.
  1. Breaking through is Hard to Do: The intersection of declining trust and acute economic struggle has turned almost everything we encounter in our daily lives into a "cause" to be fought for. From the 99% to polar bears, consumers and citizens will continue to be bombarded by "asks" through increasingly expanding channels and cause fatigue will spread beyond the ranks of the hyper-social and into the mainstream. The increasing volume of cause means that for organizations to break through, they must ensure that their Purpose programming and platform is authentic to the core business, well-communicated, sustained and embedded into the center of day-to-day operations.
  1. Increase in Social Investment by Corporations: As multinationals struggle to establish license to operate in developing nations and lay claim to the new middle class consumers in these markets, the need for social investment (be it investment in SME's or widespread microfinance) will become more apparent. This social investment will prime the pump of growth and spending and thus help the company do good while preparing to do well in a particular marketplace.
  1. The Opportunity of a Lifecycle: Leading companies, particularly in the technology sector, have begun to view sustainability not simply how their products are made and how much energy they require, but instead through the lens of the entire product lifecycle: Where do the base components originate? What happens when this product is purchased by a consumer? What happens when it is disposed of? How do we ensure every step of this product's existence is sustainable? This product lifecycle transparency will continue to spread from tech companies through traditional retailers and CPG's, forcing innovation in the creation, use and disposal of products.
  1. CSR as Cross-functional Imperative: As CSR continues its trajectory towards shared value and social innovation, the need (and usefulness of) traditionally siphoned CSR departments will decrease. CSR instead will become a cross-functional initiative led by team members based in R & D, HR, marketing and communications and management, working together to utilize the organization's key capabilities to address societal issues. In addition, we will continue to see the dissolution of stand-alone corporate foundations in favor of strategic philanthropy and CSR initiatives housed within the corporation itself.
  1. Multifaceted Reporting: There is a big drive for more and more companies to have integrated reporting. However, this only really works for companies who are not focusing on the consumer front, as very few people outside of investors will read an integrated report. The report is still a communications tool that needs to focus on the end user. Companies who serve the consumer need to continue to tailor their reports towards the consumer via digital, interactive elements, infographics and clear, consistent messages. Very different audiences need very different approaches.

And last, but not at all least, at the heart of every successful program are...

  1. Employees, Employees, Employees: We will see employees and internal engagement become increasingly critical to all CSR and Purpose programs. The understanding that a shared purpose drives a shared destiny will drive progressive brands and corporations to reorient and reengage employees at every opportunity.

We would love to hear how these resonate with you, as well as any others you would like to add.