Does Purpose matter in a pandemic-world?

By Holly Rouse, Director & Partner Purposeful Business

Crises often bring out the worst, but also the best, in people. And businesses are no different.

Before Covid-19, some started to question whether business Purpose was still relevant. While consumers expected businesses to play an active role in shaping society, there were doubts on whether companies were really meeting this expectation. Studies showed that many businesses were struggling to articulate, much less live, their Purpose. Just 3.4% of the companies measured in a report by the Reputation Institute had a strong Purpose rating.

Yet today’s pandemic has seen Purpose – and with it human leadership – really come to the fore. Without a clear blueprint for companies on how to deal with a challenge on the scale of Covid-19, a significant number have turned to the core principle of Purpose to respond:  playing an active and positive role in society, whether through increased support for employees, helping the most vulnerable in society or better servicing the communities in which they operate.

And at the heart of this has been communication. In an uncertain world people crave answers. To help allay people’s fears communication that is rooted in Purpose, based on values and actions, that acknowledges the challenges we all face today, and that seeks to improve outcomes whether that be for individuals, organisations or society – has and remains key.

We have seen numerous business rise to this challenge. From supermarkets creating shopping hours for the elderly and the NHS, through to businesses that have started to manufacture personal protection equipment (PPE) and to organisations donating goods and services to charities in need.

But what happens when life starts to return to normal? Will Purpose still have a critical role to play and should businesses continue to act purposefully?

What we know is that in a short few months the pandemic has changed consumer perceptions in a way that would have been unheard of before. Research from Fleishman Hillard has revealed that consumers see their own employers as a barometer of who they are today and how they will act in the future. And this has significant implications for future buying behaviour.

Here in the UK, 65% consumers have re-evaluated which products and services they value most with 59% noting that they don’t plan to revert to old buying behaviours once the pandemic is over[1]. With consumers pre-crisis ready to pay up to 19% more for ‘responsible’ products[2] and 88% being prepared to say something positive about a business with an ‘excellent purpose’[3] these numbers are likely to go only one way – up.

In today’s new world, and after, it will be those companies that lead from the front and show how they’ve met the needs of more than just themselves who not only survive but thrive.  And it is this that is at the very heart of Purpose.

Put simply it matters more than ever. Purpose is here to stay.

If you are looking for advice on how to reframe, live or promote your purpose in this trying time, please don’t hesitate to get in touch through holly.rouse@fhflondon.co.uk or purpose@fhflondon.co.uk

[1] How the global pandemic is sharing UK consumer attitudes and behaviour, FleishmanHillard True Global Intelligence, April 2020

[2] Harvard Business Review, Why Are We Here?, Sally Blount & Paul Leinwand, November–December 2019 Issue

[3] Global Trends in Reputation 2020, Reputation Institute