With the dialogue evolving around climate change and social impacts, it’s clear to forward-looking companies that the demand for responsible, sustainable and social impacts in everyday products has grown from a quiet little niche to a larger, vocal demographic that is making a statement by buying from local makers with purpose built into their DNA. 

My focus is on independently-owned companies that are improving life for people or the planet, beyond the value their products bring to customers. B Corp has long been part of this movement, and many multinationals now have planning in place that address the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Smaller, local brands often fit into some of the goals intrinsically as independent, locally-owned companies can support the health and wellbeing of local communities as they grow and bring positive impacts to people and places. 

I want to acknowledge the influence of Kathy Caprino, as this article builds on a Forbes article she wrote in 2014 , 9 Core Behaviors Of People Who Positively Impact The World. She was writing about leadership and corporate culture with an inclusion lens. When I read it, it struck me how relevant the article still is and it seemed natural to bring her core behaviours into brand-building for small and midsize businesses.

The four ways that businesses are using purpose to grow are not just feel-good window-dressing, they infuse all aspects of the business – in operations; staffing, product development, manufacturing and fulfillment; and across marketing, the company’s purpose informs positioning, sales, internal and external communications, content, advertising and public relations. 

They aren’t afraid to lead with purpose

One shift I’ve noticed over the past 10 years is that business that put their purpose forward have shifted from being outliers to showing up as the strong brands in any space. Organizations that build a sense of purpose into what they do have more engaged employees, which has all kinds of benefits, and better customer engagement. Purpose-led businesses get media attention, panel invitations and speaking engagements because they know how to make what they’re doing relatable to what people care about. They win customers because of the passion behind their offering. People care about social and environmental impact more than ever, so developing purpose that shows how the business is addressing these impacts just makes sense. A shoe becomes more than just another shoe in the eye of the consumer, a piece of technology more than just another tech solution.

They commit to continual learning

Continual learning is like built-in intelligence for organizations, bringing an openness to new ideas, asking questions, looking beyond the status quo. Successful companies that deliver value for their customers understand that that change is constant and doing what worked yesterday isn’t a blueprint for future success. They invest in leadership coaching and education to adapt to changing markets, with training and resources across the organization. Coaching and outside consultants can fill in the gaps so everyone can adapt and grow to bring more in their area of expertise. 

They weave their values into everything they do

Values connect people intangibly, organic and lasting in ways that data can’t measure. Yet it’s evident that companies that lead with their values experience a kind of tribal growth that can’t be found by relying on a transactional value proposition. As more multinationals have adopted triple bottom line reporting to include social and environmental return, emerging brands see how cultivating community through values appeals to people’s hearts, tying them to their brand’s journey beyond the offering of the product or service itself. Big brands try to tap into this but the message easily falls flat, like with Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner commercial that lasted a day before it had to be pulled for being so tone-deaf.

They engage with people in inclusive ways

Brands that influence people understand the power of connecting with people and cultivating relationships. They know how to reach beyond their immediate circles to a wider audience of people. They share their vision to attract people to what they offer, offering a compelling solution to the problem they are solving. They connect with people in ways that resonate, that makes what they are doing relevant to them. They treat the people they want to reach with respect without telling them what’s right for them, because people are usually the best judges of what they need. Brands that connect inclusively respect everyone’s differences and are accessible and easily grasped.

It’s great to see the growth that companies experience from bringing their purpose forward and infusing it into their brands so they can engage the people they want to reach – and grow.