Purpose: the P that matters most in Marketing

Customer experience, Communications, Strategy | Nigel Clark | 01 December 2020

Considering what customers expect from brands, what makes a good marketer and the frameworks you can use to help you fine tune your Purpose.

Marketing is somewhat obsessed with the letter P. Any student of marketing will be familiar with the marketing mix and the 4Ps (product, price, place and promotion). They’ll also know of the extension of the mix to 7Ps (people, process and physical evidence). There is then a 10P, 12P and even a 25P version of the model. The more Ps the merrier!

The marketing mix is undoubtedly a useful framework for marketers looking to develop and build their brands. It’s especially good for challenging marketers to think broadly and go beyond their ‘home’ territory of promotion – probably a marketer’s favourite P. But irrespective of the number of Ps included, I have always thought there was risk of it being a hollow construct. If not used correctly it can lead marketers to create brands and campaigns that are unconnected to their organisation’s over-arching aims and objectives. It suggests something can be created out of nothing – or worse, to hide something – with just a clever application of the marketer’s ‘black arts’. I know vision and strategy should be clear before the marketing mix is brought into play, but too often it is deployed by marketers as an independent ‘fix all’ solution and takes precedence over any consideration of the motivations of whoever is pulling the strings.  

What customers want from brands 

I think this potential conflict is particularly relevant today as customers increasingly want to know the societal value and risks of a brand’s host. In short, they want to know what your overall purpose is beyond just selling a basket of brands and delivering a range of products and services. They expect all the usual stuff like value for money, but in addition they want to be sure that a business is trying to do more than just make money and not causing unnecessary societal harm, especially environmental and social, when producing and selling those brands. 

Preventing societal damage 

The environmental or sustainability movement has long had its own set of Ps too – albeit only three: Planet, People and Profit (or Performance) – to help counter this concern for societal damage. Their mantra has been that in achieving the money P you should consider the impact on the two societal Ps. But this again implies a trade-off where a greater focus on Planet and People leads to a decrease in Performance or Profit. Its unintentional, but it come across as a confrontational framework. 

I much prefer the concept of developing a clearly defined Purpose for any organisation, from which the aspirations for your products/services and brand portfolio can then flow. This encourages balance and a consideration of all economic and societal factors together.  

Many organisations already have a clear sense of purpose, often influenced by their founders or original owners, but it is not clear in all organisations what they are trying to achieve, beyond making a return for their shareholders. Any nod towards societal benefits can appear token at best. 

Suggested frameworks that can help you

To help influence that balance in Purpose and between profit, people and planet, there are several sustainability frameworks, from the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) to the consideration of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) risks. These frameworks can help any organisation interpret the risk and rewards of a stronger, more balanced, sense of Purpose within the context of their particular market and business model.  

But for any organisation, it is hard to determine where that point of balance sits with the needs and expectations of an organisation’s key stakeholders; their customers, staff and owners. Most importantly, Purpose needs to be anchored to those stakeholders’ needs, not floating independently.  

What a good marketer does 

This is where marketers can step in and help shape, rather than just follow, an organisation’s Purpose. A good marketer has the core skills of listening, interpreting stakeholder needs and taking an ‘outside in’ view of the world, which will be essential to ensure that economic, environmental and social factors are balanced and aligned.  

A Marketer’s eye and input will ensure that any positioning around a new sense of Purpose will enhance a brand’s value and build customer confidence. There is quite a lot of talk today about brands being more ‘authentic’, and by helping to align organisational Purpose and brand values marketers can achieve just that. 

In short, Marketers need not hide behind a veil of Ps and just practice the dark arts of brand creation. They should lead the way and be champions of marketing with Purpose.  


Podcast: 'Marketing with a purpose'

This article was written to support one of our latest podcast episodes 'Marketing with a purpose'. We are joined by our Professional Services Course Leader, Nigel Clark, who gives examples of organisations that do Purpose well and those who do less well. 

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