Get schooled on purpose-marketing

This article has previously been published in Dutch marketing magazine Adformatie.

In recent years Boulder, a little town at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, has developed into one of the main advertising and technology startup hubs in the US. In this column I’m highlighting some of these startups, in the hope to provide some inspiration to industry peers in The Netherlands.

When I met with Joe Corr from School last week, he’d just come back from Guatemala where he and his business partners Max Lenderman and Shane Kent spent a week building schools with Pencils of Promise. The three of them recently started an advertising agency which specializes in purpose-marketing. In short, purpose-marketing helps brands do better by doing good – a principle School applies to their own company as well. Part of the reason they donate to building schools in developing nations is to get publicity for their own agency. They don’t see their donations as charity, but as a marketing expense. Where purpose-driven agencies typically work for non-profits, School tries to bring purpose-marketing to the world of commerce. Joe: “It’s hard for non-profits to have a real impact. If you can help brands do good, then you’re really helping change.”

Here are some things I learned from School:

1. Purpose is the new digital
Purpose-marketing is not a fad but here to stay. According to the Stengel 50 index, brands that have a social mission outperform their competition by close to 400%. And Millward Brown discovered that businesses centered on ideals have a growth rate triple that of competitors. Agencies all over the world are jumping on the bandwagon. From Matter Unlimited in New York, to DW+H in Los Angeles, to Purpose Agency in Australia, to Truthmarks in The Netherlands. Joe: “Almost every brand, large or small, is doing some good things. We help unite these around a singular vision and communicate this internally and externally." 

2. Purpose breeds creativity
To do great work you need to be inspired and motivated. By adding meaning as motivator, creative work gets better and more interesting. School analyzed last year’s Cannes winners and discovered that the majority are purpose-driven. From Dove championing the self-esteem of women, to Brazilian soccer club Recife stimulating people to sign up for organ donation, to Dutch funeral company Dela stimulating people to connect to loved ones during their life. Joe: "In my previous ad career, I was obsessed with the coolest most innovative things. Now I want to use my skills to make the world a better place.”

3. Credibility is key 
If you use purpose-marketing as a gimmick, people will quickly find you out. Doing good can’t be at the periphery, it has to be at the core of your brand. In recent years, a new legal structure has been created in the US, called Benefit Corporation (B-Corp). The B-Corp structure gives mission-driven for-profit businesses the legal protection to consider additional stakeholders besides shareholders. Joe: “We’re in the process of becoming a B-Corp. I hope being a B-Corp becomes as strong a credential as LEED had become for sustainable architecture.”

4. Stay educated
Finally, no curriculum is complete without a booklist. Here are the top 5 reads from School’s library: 

Having a purpose is not only ethically the right thing to do, it can be a source of competitive advantage as well. And if the Dutch equivalent of B-Corp doesn’t exist yet, it might be a good idea to consider introducing it.