Make your firm a social purpose leader

June 5, 2024

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In my book, The Future of Purpose-Driven Branding, an assertion is made that in the future, a firm to be successful, indeed to be relevant, needs to become a social purpose leader. To achieve that goal, two strategic directions need to be pursued.

Strategic direction one

First a business needs to have a serious, committed effort to address real challenges facing society. Simply have a program of grants, volunteering and energy goals is not enough.

It starts by creating a social purpose as part of or adjacent to a business purpose and adapting the organizational culture to support social efforts.

This strategic direction is imperative because:

  • Societal challenges that include climate change, inequality, health issues and more are so visible and threatening.
  • Businesses with resources, insights, and agility can contribute and governments cannot do it all.
  • Stakeholders, particularly many employees and customers, demand it.
  • Businesses, especially those with mature, bland offerings, need the energy and image lift they provide.

Those firms that break-out of the clutter and sameness and become a social program leader will enjoy a favored position among employees and other stakeholders. The “leaders bump” will not come to those that make parity efforts and those that are perceived to lack will or ability to make a difference will lose in the branding space.

Strategic direction two

Second, a business should recognize that societally relevant programs should not be an add-on appendage, but rather should be integrated into the business strategy. An add-on status makes the program a dead weight on the organization taking resources away from needed strategy and tactical investments and thus vulnerable to downturns or new firm leadership.

Those risks are much reduced when the programs are known and valued within the organization. The glue of the integration process is the symbiotic relationship between a business and the social programs, each will materially help the other.

A social program, which can be internal or an external nonprofit, can affirm the purpose and culture of a sponsoring business and lift its energy, image and connection with employees and other stakeholders. It can provide respect, admiration, pride and even inspiration. Any business needs such an enhancement and some with mature functional offerings may be desperate for it.

And a business, as a strategic partner, can materially help the social program whether it is internal or external. It can by endorsing the social program provide credibility and a sense of commitment. It can also provide a steady flow of financial support and access to resources including its expertise, marketing budget, employee volunteers, market insights, and customer base.

The lynchpin driver of the integration will be one or more signature social programs which will jump out of the perceived sameness of most firms and become the core of the communication effort.



A signature social program is one that:

  • Will address a societal challenge that touches people, connects emotionally, and comes to life with stories and facts. It aims to make the world better than just striving to operate up to legal or ethical standards.
  • Is credible, impactful, and committed. That means that the program has the resources and competence to succeed and has or will generate proof points that it will make a difference…
  • Will lift the energy and image of a business. The interest and respect that it engenders will benefit a business partner brand.
  • Has a visible, inspiring brand that will guide the program, motivate the staff, and lead its communication task to drive the program and to lift the business partner.

Signature Social Programs can be internal or external programs. With internal programs there is program ownership and control over the management and future of the program. It can supply the resources needed and help through challenges. The problem is to find social needs areas that are “not taken,” broad enough to be relevant, and ones in which a firm can contribute.

External programs can come with a track record of success and a strong brand. The problem then is finding the one that fits and to carve out an ownable niche and to create a visible link form your business to the social program. Not easy. But the payoff can be large.

About the author

David Aaker, Vice-Chairman of Prophet, has received five career awards for contributions to the practice and science of marketing that include being named to the NYAMA Marketing Hall of Fame and receiving the Sheth Foundation Medal. He has published over 100 articles and 18 books that have sold well over one million copies and include Aaker on Branding, Creating Signature Stores, Owning Game-Changing Subcategories, and The Future of Purpose-Driven Branding.

David Aaker

David Aaker

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