Episode 71: Does marketing need a purpose upgrade?

Episode 71: Does marketing need a purpose upgrade?

Why purpose should be adaptable

This podcast will:

  • Reveal why purpose must change with the times
  • Examine why authenticity is key to your purpose strategy
  • Ask whether the marketing industry needs a purpose upgrade
Podcast transcript

Sophie Peterson  00:03

Welcome to the CIM Marketing Podcast. The contents and views expressed by individuals in the CIM Marketing Podcast are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of the companies they work for. We hope you enjoy the episode.


Ben Walker  00:19

Hello everybody, and welcome to the CIM Marketing Podcast the first of the New Year the first of 2023. And I'm delighted to start the year off by being joined by Natalie Spearing marketing director of CIM. I'm also joined today by Paul Skinner, a very special guest who is founder of MarketingKind, and The Agency of The Future and he is author of Collaborative Advantage: How collaboration beats competition, as a strategy for success. His book was published in 2018. And a new book he has just out called The Purpose Upgrade: Change your business to save the world and change the world to save your business. And you know what, the clue is very much in the name, the purpose upgrade as to what we are going to be talking about today. Because many organisations, many people think that purpose is something that we set in stone, and it then becomes immutable. Our purpose is set and we follow that path along from a starting point that does not vary and does not change. And the interesting thing about Paul's ideas is that Paul says that this is not the case. And then in fact, we have to upgrade our purpose from time to time and keep it relevant. Mr. Skinner, Ms Spearing, how are you today?


Natalie Spearing  01:49

Very well, thank you. Bit chilli got very well, thanks.


Paul Skinner  01:53

Delighted to be starting the year in such an interesting way.


Ben Walker  01:58

So it's very good to see you, we'll start with you, Paul. It is an interesting concept, a fascinating concepts at the core of your ideas, that purpose needs to be upgraded and updated from time to time to keep it relevant. So can you tell us how you came to those ideas,


Paul Skinner  02:15

I suppose I happen to have done quite a lot of work in the field of disasters and emergencies, for example. And so something you discover working in that field is that far from just falling apart, communities can turn out to be at their very most purposeful when something goes very unexpectedly wrong. And they have to completely reprioritize all together. And it was interesting, I was just reading through some of President Zelinskyy's speeches from Ukraine and one line that struck me just a couple of days ago was his comment from I think it was, it was much earlier in the year. But he used the line: Ukraine didn't seek greatness, but Ukraine has become great. And so often, we are very much at our best, not when we're following the plans that we already had, but when something goes unexpectedly wrong, and we have to completely formulate a new purpose to match that changing circumstance. In the book, I do propose that we need to think of purpose as a more renewable resource, a more adaptive capacity, and that achieving a purpose upgrade can be an always available event. And I think that a lot of the biggest stories that we tell ourselves particularly in the West hold us back from achieving that, a lot of the mental models that we use in management hold us back from achieving that. And some aspects of human psychology also hold us back from achieving that. So hopefully, the book goes some way to making it easier for people to achieve that and to achieve an adaptive purpose in enterprise


Ben Walker  03:55

That's fascinating Paul, a really interesting concept behind your ideas and great examples there and Natalie at CIM at Moor Hall, CIM HQ, how have you used purpose in your organisational lives? And how's it been introduced across the business?


Natalie Spearing  04:12

Purpose is, it's quite an intriguing one, isn't it? Because everyone kind of views it slightly differently. For our, for me, I suppose purpose, even at a kind of individual level is quite kind of guttural thing. It's a thing that it's almost like what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning? So sort of as an individual kind of what what is your kind of key reason for, you know, getting out of bed? And I think when you take that into the workplace, it you know, is there quite big questions. It's kind of why you exist. What do you do different to other organisations? I suppose fundamentally, why do you matter? And I think there's that great kind of example that that's often used is if you ask somebody if we didn't exist, would anyone care? And I think that often takes you towards your purpose. At CIM, it's quite an intriguing one as well. because we're sort of dual purpose in a lot of ways. So we have a, an organisation, we are an institute, we're a not for profit. So we have a kind of purpose to our business and a purpose that we need to serve for the people that are in it. But we have a wider purpose. So we have a purpose to the profession. And obviously, that's on a global basis. So I guess when we're looking at how we use our purpose, we're looking at why we exist to support marketers all around the world. So it's quite a quite a big purpose, I'd say,


Ben Walker  05:33

Do you think it's something that you update or was it something that you've sort of set in stone from the start?


Natalie Spearing  05:38

Having read Paul's book, I've looked at this quite differently. I think he's even as a fairly seasoned marketer, sort of over 30 years, I think we've always been a bit scared of changing our purpose, I think, because a lot of things sort of hand off our purpose, you know, we build our value sets and everything together, and it all kind of comes together in this big piece of work as an organisation. And I think, then we set a direction based on our purpose. And I think there's a massive kind of concern about changing that. And I think, you know, the often that's may be driven by something kind of outside of your control, or, you know, a change in the kind of environment that you're in. But I think we're very nervous about changing it. And I think that's what sort of intrigued me a great deal about reading Paul's book. It is an intriguing idea, it's intriguing ideas that you find in Paul's book. And Paul, because you are a marketer, at MarketingKind. So you're coming from a similar background to Natalie, with this idea that applies, of course, I would say to all businesses, but you are looking at it through a marketing prison, what is it exactly that you do at MarketingKind, and how has that influenced your ideas?


Paul Skinner  06:54

So actually, MarketingKind is a membership community. And I guess as it happens, a lot of our members use marketing kind to upgrade themselves as marketers, and perhaps to upgrade the purpose of their marketing as well. So we're a membership community for any marketer to join or for any change maker who understands the power of marketing and wants to better be able to harness it. Our founding premise is that the world's most important problems, whether they're experienced globally or locally, all require human cooperation for their resolution. And so we can choose to read them all as marketing briefs in disguise. So at MarketingKind, we create opportunities for our members to come together every month, first of all, to upcycle their marketing skills through our coffee with a cause gatherings in support each month of a different charity or social enterprise. And we've worked on all sorts of things from community renewable energy and Africa, to alleviating loneliness among seniors in the UK, to nurturing the next generation of creative talent. And it's a fantastic way for people to build a portfolio of social and environmental accomplishments through their marketing.  Secondly, we coach and support each other in becoming more conscious and impactful leaders in the day job. And so we've tackled topics such as leading ethical change at scale, going from being purely commercial marketers, to marketers that are leading the way on sustainability, to looking at how brands can drive systems change. And of course, we're also known for our exchange gatherings where we get to meet and work with some of our real heroes and some of the world's foremost changemakers. In changing some of the bigger stories that we live and work by for the better, we talked about disasters and emergencies. We asked Ian Goldin if we can rescue human kind given our more crisis prone world. Ian Goldin is a former vice president of the World Bank, and he also ran the state bank for President Mandela when he first became president. We've worked with Mike Berners-Lee, author of There's No Planet B on how to forge a pathway to climate compatible living, or we've explored how we can make all good marketing marketing for good with Seth Godin.


Ben Walker  09:19

So different view you're trying to look at embedding purpose throughout organisations as part and parcel of the business. It's something that is rewarding for individuals if they can find a purpose, but you're looking at embedding it throughout the business and do you think that brings business benefits as well as emotional benefits to people working in organisations?


Paul Skinner  09:39

So it's certainly the case that in researching for for my last book, the evidence appears to corroborate that people that are willing to buy more frequently from, work for, stay loyal to, and advocate for brands and businesses that that pursue a purpose that they care about. Since Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, we've been encouraged to believe that if we pursue selfish interests first, we should end up with a collective good as the happy byproduct. I recently heard somebody quip that Adam Smith's hand was probably invisible, because it's not really there. And I think we certainly know that in today's world of inequalities, the climate emergency, the collapse of biodiversity, and so on, that model isn't really working. But it turns out that reason, and evidence suggest that if we flip that on its head, and instead start by seeking to actually contribute to our stakeholders lives, then we do end up in a better position to gain our self directed rewards as our share of what you might call the far greater overall wealth of change. That comes from making a business a channel for something greater than its own intellect.


Ben Walker  11:02

That is absolutely fascinating, isn't it, Natalie, that, you know, the invisible hand is invisible, because it's not really there. But actually, what we're finding in modern economics is if we do find a purpose, we get to contribute to the greater wealth of society.


Natalie Spearing  11:16

I completely agree. And actually, recently, we did a global census, we're just starting to get some of that data in. So we did a kind of member census. And then we also went out to the wide profession. And some of the questions we were asking in that census were around what's important, you know, what's important to you, and, and in some respects, helping to guide our purpose, you know, what do people want from us as a, as an institute, you know, we've been around for a long time, you know, we need to sort of consistently, you know, keep changing what we offer, and the thing that I suppose really stood out, and it's still fairly linked to age at this point, but I think that's starting to change further up the age groups, is that, literally, it's the number one choice effectively for going to work for an organisation. Even at that level, if you're saying that, to go and join an organisation, if you do not agree, or you do not even have a purpose, then ultimately, those people are not going to be drawn to your organisation. So just sort of at a really kind of basic level, then you're unlikely to be attracting the talent, you're unlikely to be, then we'll see. So we know where that inevitably goes. So even from a day to day perspective, we're starting to see that, you know, money, for argument's sake is the fourth or fifth driver. So, you know, it's a huge shift away from where we were, say 5-10 years ago. So it's starting to resonate with people, it's starting to be almost embedded into what's important to them. Ultimately, if you if you're not fit for purpose, as an organisation, and you will be turning well, people will be turning their backs on you. So I think that's incredibly important as well.


Ben Walker  13:09

Where does it come from? Does it come from people at the top of the organisation, the bottom and middle of the organisation? Or does it come from our customers or consumers from where is purpose born? Do you think?


Natalie Spearing  13:20

I think you see it in all different directions. I think in any organisation, I think a lot of it is driven from the ground up, you know, that can force change, I think the example I just gave, so if you're in a situation where you're not attracting the right talent into an organisation, you've got to take a really good look in the mirror and see why that's not happening. As an organisation, I think, in some cases, particularly in kind of owner founder organisations, we see, that's very much something that's come from the founder, their kind of sense of purpose, why they started the organisation in the first place. I think consumers are demanding change, I think that's, again, a big shift in where where we are now versus where we were maybe 10 years ago. And I think consumers will vote with their feet. So again, that puts a kind of different pressure on organisations. And I think the, the other aspect of that is that people have to be true to it. You know, again, we've had lots of things in the past as marketers and in organisations where, you know, we've had a almost like a token, CSR initiative and people have kind of, you know, written a check and put it in the corner. And that's how they kind of perceive their commitment to whatever cause or purpose they've kind of got behind. It's just so much bigger than that, and I think as organisations are starting to understand, you know, that needs to be embedded the whole way through an organisation and it needs to be something that, as marketers we recognise is at the centre of who we are.


Ben Walker  15:08

It's got to be at the centre of who we are, it's got to be authentic Paul Skinner, and it can come from anywhere, it can come from the top, the bottom, the middle, or outside.


Paul Skinner  15:20

So yeah, there's a quite a few things to pick up on there, one button you pressed is the authenticity button. And of course, that's true in the sense that you can't really claim a purpose that is at odds with what you're doing. You know, that's what we typically refer to as purpose washing. But I also say that it's a limited truth in that purpose doesn't come from introspection alone, there'd be no point, for example, in offering an authentic experience of gastronomic delight in an environment of food poverty. So really, with purpose, what you're trying to do is to maintain an adaptive fit between the organisation and its stakeholders in a changing context. And so that's where purpose needs to be an adaptive capacity. Also, in terms of, you know, coming from everyone going throughout an organisation? That's absolutely right, I think we can even relate that back to human purpose in the sense that in the human mind, purpose is born, both from top down executive functioning and what we think we ought to be doing, but also bottom up sensory processing in terms of how we feel about the future. And when we formulate our aspirations, it can actually be quite difficult to separate those things. And so equally in business, as you say, I believe that that that corporate purpose, needs to have those top down dimensions, it needs to have leadership, it needs to have vision, it needs to have a plan of action. And without those things, you can't achieve efficiency, you can't achieve scale. That's the type of purpose that comes from having purpose as a conscious lens through which to direct our activities and align them. But equally, you need what I call a soft purpose. You need to foster relationships with your stakeholders so that you can better understand their needs, and lean into where your purpose needs to better adapt to those needs. You need the peripheral vision that is able to spot when circumstances change. And so you need to achieve purpose level adaptation to better meet those changing circumstances. You know, funnily enough, Hannah Arendt in the Origins of Totalitarianism describes the capacity for that kind of renewal as being the sort of primary victory that democracy has over dictatorships in that, of course, democracies are much better at being able to achieve renewal and adaptation. And similarly, in business, you need both the the top down approach, but also the bottom up approach of culture.


Ben Walker  18:01

That's absolutely fascinating. Paul, when people are trying to build a strategy, there's a lot to think about, it's a complex process, what are the challenges that businesses face typically when they go down this journey?


Paul Skinner  18:16

So I'm gonna give a really interesting example here. Because we've talked, I've made the claim that that sometimes we need to adapt at the level of purpose. And so I'm interested in all businesses becoming more purposeful and more adaptive at that level of purpose. So I'm going to give one example of a coal mining business that managed to become a sustainable food business. So that business was called DSM. DSM originally stood for Dutch State Mines, and the company was born from digging coal out of the ground to deliver directly to people's homes for heating and illumination. Now, of course, that was a perfectly laudable thing to do, it was originally a state owned business because the importance of that business was so high. Of course, coal mining is now deeply problematic. As it happens, I worked with the much of the leadership team of DSM and I would say the most significant purpose upgrade DSM ever achieved was under leadership of Ficah (unknown), who came on board when the business had already become an industrial chemicals company, which uses a not dissimilar skill set to coal mining, but he was willing to say to his board, actually, I don't think our future is to remain the kind of business we are today because I don't think that human kind has a long term need for us to keep delivering these industrial chemicals. He felt that it was important to root the long term future of the business in a profound assessment of the world's most important problems, the world's greatest needs. He knew as a biologist, that it wasn't necessarily the biggest, the strongest that survive, but the most adaptive. And so at DSM, how they rooted their business in purpose and the approach they still take today, is to begin by looking at the world's problems, to ask themselves if the businesses in the portfolio are solving at least some of those important problems, to allocate their capital reserves to fill in the gaps where those problems aren't being addressed, then to align their operations with those solutions, and to get right down to what kind of people they employ to lead and work in the businesses of the portfolio. DSM now stands today for at least informally for Do Something Meaningful. And in the food system, they're tackling problems like, you know, do people working the land have livelihoods that can support them in their families? How is the food system adapting to the fact that climate emergency is already with us? And the climate is changing profoundly? How is it adapting to be less of a contributor to the climate emergency and to re preserve biodiversity? Where in the world is there a lack of micronutrients in people's diets? Where are people obese and what can the food system do about that? So it's about tackling important problems, and rooting their purpose in the changing nature of these problems.


Ben Walker  21:22

It's an exemplar of adaptive purpose, if you say that our purpose is to solve the world's problems, the world's problems change, the biggest problems in the world change as the world grows older, it's a beautiful example of an adaptive purpose and it is authentic, you can see examples of how they're delivering upon it. Sometimes purpose drives or purpose strategies, Natalie are met with scepticism, are they not? And that's something that particularly as marketers, we have to face is that there is often scepticism in the public audience about competitors that say, we are now going to be a purposeful company.


Natalie Spearing  22:04

There is and probably within organisations as well, I think that kind of happens quite a lot. And to use that kind of phrase that Paul used on the purpose washing, you know, we've we're used to kind of greenwashing and everything else, I think there's, I think there's a lot of reasons for that, in a lot of cases, it's because organisations do purpose, at a very surface level often doesn't come from any real evidence within their organisations, you know, they don't ask their customers, they don't look at the bigger environment, they don't look at the future opportunity. They're often kind of, you know, adapting their purpose or creating a purpose on on the basis of fairly kind of flimsy evidence. And I think that consumers are so much more savvy and care more, I think, you know, they've got their own kind of big causes, and they've got things that they care about. So if it's not authentic, if it's not embedded, you know, it's a big problem. And actually, I think as organisations, you can do yourself a huge amount of damage to your reputation to your customer base but also thinking internally in an organisation as well, I think we sometimes forget that that kind of journey with your employees is incredibly important as well, you know, ultimately, they're your kind of biggest advocates. So within your organisation, if you don't have positive buy-in on your purpose, you know, if people haven't been involved in designing that purpose from the ground up, often there's a lack of belief and I think, honestly, when you see that in the market from a consumer perspective, I think people see through it. So I think we have to work a lot harder to not just try and make it authentic, it should be authentic. I think there's a big difference between the two.


Paul Skinner  23:56

I had an interesting conversation at MarketingKind I alluded to earlier with Seth Godin. And one phrase he came out with that stuck with me is that if you do enough mission action, then the mission statement writes itself. And I've often felt that a very good litmus test of purpose washing is, could your stakeholders without looking at your communications, would they be able to ascribe to you your purpose? Or would their story of what you appear to be about be completely at odds with your own story of purpose?


Natalie Spearing  24:29

That's really important, Paul, because I think the other part I was gonna say as well is having an openness and a mechanism, I think, in an organisation or certainly externally, that captures that as well. Because I think again, that that almost nature of being scared to change your purpose, often comes from that sense of being scared to put your hand up and say it's not working. Often within organisations, there isn't a mechanism for people to access to feed that back or it becomes kind of polarising, and people then lose their belief in it. And then it just becomes a huge waste of money. Putting out campaigns, you know, we do a huge amount of work around things that are built off the foundation of purpose. So we have a really big responsibility, I think, in leadership in organisations to make sure that there are those mechanisms that are in place for people to be able to call it out and be able to say, if we're steering off that path as well, or if we're just not staying true to the original purposes, that's been designed.


Ben Walker  25:33

If when purpose is authentic, when purpose is genuine, it becomes implicit. So people can see your purpose without being told your purpose. What's the role then of explicit marketing of it for marketers?


Paul Skinner  25:47

Let's take a step back, we're told a lot about the importance of storytelling, of stories to business. But what we usually mean when we talk about the importance of stories in business, is the story told by a business to its customers. And of course, that's only one among many stories. So I would say, first of all, the role of marketing isn't just to tell stories. The role of marketing is to understand the stories that its stakeholders are telling themselves and each other. A US economist, Robert J. Shiller won the Nobel Prize for proving that decade after decade, the biggest shaper of economic events was the stories that we tell ourselves across society. We're so interested in stories, behavioural science shows that we will be more attracted to a good life story than a good life. Because our stories are so important as coping mechanisms for how we engage with each other, for how we get the support that we need for how we solve our problems. And one of the interesting things about purpose, I think, one of the overlooked benefits of purpose to business, is that purposeful businesses are just a much more interesting story. And that's not just their marketing messages, it's the whole process of engaging with them becomes more interesting.  It's interesting, I've just been looking at a brand refresh for OLIO, the food sharing app. And what's interesting there is that, you know, their brand refresh highlights some of their values, you know, the spaces in the centre of the O's communicate the circular economy, the fact that the dot in the O is replicated on the I, indicates that they reuse things, and the L and the I are sort of leaning into each other in a way that connotes the sharing that the app is known for. And that's an interesting brand story, but what's probably more interesting is that its users get updated on that brand refresh. And it's kind of neat and so they probably start telling each other by the way, do you know why OLIO is written in this way and that becomes a more interesting story, and then that feeds into the stories that users are telling each other. So they're not just picking up some free food, they're participating in a bigger mission. And those broader stories are where the real value emerges. I mean, it turns out, for example, that OLIO users tend to report an improvement in their mental health just because they start to get to know their neighbours for the first time. So we really need to appreciate that these stories are taking place across all of our stakeholders. It's not just our messages.


Ben Walker  28:31

That is absolutely fascinating, isn't it, Natalie, that the role of marketers is not merely to broadcast, it is to hear and interpret all of the stories that are going around the business in the organisation, that is a really important message.


Natalie Spearing  28:47

It really is and I think we've almost hit this sort of sweet spot, really, I think as as marketers that, like no other time, we have mechanisms in place to allow us to do that, you know, we have exhaustive amounts of data, about customer behaviour. We have social listening posts everywhere, and we can go and talk to people, you know, we can go and talk to our customers in ways that we probably again, couldn't do previously. So I think that unified listening, the storytelling piece is incredibly important. You know, we as marketers, that is really our bread and butter, isn't it? That's what we love to do and I think getting better and better at hearing all sides of that conversation. I think we'll service and the profession really well.


Ben Walker  29:37

And we'll be quite provocative with you now Natalie, about marketing itself. Does it need a purpose upgrade do you think?


Natalie Spearing  29:45

Tt's a really interesting one, I think to Paul's point, there are organisations out there and businesses that are doing incredible things, and I think it would be really kind of remiss to not include those incredible organisations. But we are a profession of millions and these are kind of small stories, I think amongst those millions. So I think, as a profession, I think we are doing a lot of listening at the moment. And I think, again, there's through the kind of census and through our kind of social listening posts that we have across, you know, the whole global organisation. We could be doing better, I think, and I think we're on that road. And I think we're starting to understand what that could look like, but I think we are in need of an upgrade ourselves, actually, I think as a profession, and I think that CIM, as an organisation, have kind of started to understand that and I think we're looking at, for example, our professional marketing competencies, which are placed at the heart of the organisation, there are at the heart of the profession, they are the kind of set of competencies that we're all built from effectively as marketers. And I think I've been afforded an amazing opportunity to look at those again, and look at them with fresh eyes and with a future forward perspective as well. And I think where that gives us an opportunity is to say that we can change that narrative, we can change the story. And I think rather than talking about responsible marketing and sustainable marketing and those kinds of parts of the equation that perhaps weren't there 10 years ago, when they were previously written, I think it gives us an opportunity to reframe it and start talking about it in a different way. And I think rather than putting a lens on and saying, oh, if you want to be a sustainable marketer, you can go and do this course, or you can go and do this to kind of upgrade your knowledge, I think has got to be at the heart of who we are. And I honestly do believe that if we can change that, I think we have a really big opportunity to change the conversation and I think as marketers, we're the ones that should be leading that conversation.


Ben Walker  32:07

An inspiring call to arms from Natalie Spearing Paul, if marketers are hearing that and want to go do it, give themselves a purpose upgrade, where should they go? What are the resources that you would recommend as experts in this field?


Paul Skinner  32:20

The resources is going to depend on what kind of repurpose upgrade we want to achieve, Paul (unkown) wrote a Harvard Business Review article in 1927, saying that businesses needed to stop addressing needs and to start addressing wants. And I think the whole of marketing is perhaps been born off that kind of insight. And interestingly, I think the pendulum is now swinging the other way. If you want to achieve a purpose upgrade through marketing, we need to move away from just making the attractive necessary towards making the necessary attractive. Any genuine analysis of the state of the world's crises shows that we're in a very precarious place on multiple fronts. So we really need marketers that can find the stories of what good living and working can look like and to help us coalesce around those stories. So I would encourage marketers, not just to read books on marketing, not even just to read books on business, but to really study the world's problems, and the role that they as marketers can play, not necessarily in solving those problems, but in enabling all of their stakeholders to come together in better addressing those problems.


Ben Walker  33:43

Fantastic, fantastic insights and really holds in the mind doesn't it that we started as marketers in the 1920s to make the attractive necessary and now the call to arms from Paul Skinner and Natalie Spearing is to make the necessary attractive. Look at the world's problems and see how we as marketers can help solve them with our businesses. Natalie Spearing, Paul Skinner, thank you very much indeed for your time and insights today. It's been a fantastic show. A great way to start the new year and inspire our audience. Thank you very much indeed.


Natalie Spearing  34:18

Thank you.


Paul Skinner  34:19

Thank you.


Sophie Peterson  34:22

 If you've enjoyed this episode, be sure to subscribe to the CIM Marketing Podcast on your platform of choice. If you're listening on Apple podcasts, please leave us a rating and review. We'd love to hear your feedback, CIM Marketing Podcast.


Ben Walker Host CIM Marketing Podcast
Paul Skinner Founder MarketingKind
Natalie Spearing Marketing director CIM


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