Establishing and acting on a well-defined corporate Purpose was an important trend in 2018 and discussed widely in the communications field. But as former Shell Head of Communications Bjorn Edlund points out in his blog for the Arthur W. Page society called, “Welcome to the Purpose Wars,” some are becoming skeptical of its role in business, dismissing corporate purpose as an empty promise, rather than a source of social good.

As we move into 2019, it’s worth questioning what is the purpose of Purpose and where does it fit into business?

Purpose as a Compass

Edlund advocates Purpose as a leadership mechanism – a tool that guides decision-making and inspires stakeholders. Indeed, employees and consumers increasingly expect their corporations to act on social issues.

In the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, 73% of respondents agreed companies can take actions that both increase profits and improve the economic and social conditions in which they operate. 76% said CEOs should take the lead on social change rather than waiting for the government to impose it and 67% expect prospective employers to join them in social action.

It’s clear that corporations must have some guiding purpose, mission, or values to live up to these expectations, but how can they ensure they act on their purpose authentically and earn the trust of their stakeholders?

Use Data to Strengthen Purpose

Companies need to develop a system to measure Purpose because as Edlund writes, “you can only manage what you can measure.”

Developing this framework is an important opportunity for communicators as the gatekeepers of brand reputation. If Purpose is a guiding force behind business decisions, communicators have the opportunity to bring valuable data to their CEO and other executive leaders – data that they probably have never seen before.

In order to measure Purpose, break it down into core values or topics and measure the pull-through of these topics in the media. Your values will most likely be nebulous, hard-to-define topics so communicators must make sure their measurement system takes into account the context of an article, not just keywords. This kind of in-depth analysis will yield accurate and actionable insights to be used across the business.

Contextual media analysis will reveal the public perception of your values – which ones you are living up to and perhaps more importantly, which ones you are not. This is valuable information for not only the communications department to focus their efforts, but for leaders across all business units to use when making decisions. Living up to your company’s purpose should be a company-wide goal and the measurement and sharing of data behind Purpose is another way communicators can integrate the business, break down silos, and become strategic partners to the business.

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