Comment: It's time for brands to find purpose

Elliot Kim discusses the importance of having a strong sense of corporate purpose and implores business owners to look beyond the bottom line.

Elliot Kim is the co-founder of Brooklyn-based backpack company Brevitē.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the call for brands to become more purpose-centric has never been stronger. The pandemic uncovered, and even exacerbated, social and economic disparity that looks sure to be felt for years to come.

Many consumers now expect brands to be mission-driven. This is particularly true among millennial and Gen Z consumers, who value companies that prioritise positive impact over ones that only prioritise profit. And rightfully so – companies with a strong purpose and social mission can be a win-win for their customers, community and stakeholders. The trick is to work out exactly how to view purpose as an engine to drive profit.

One example is to put a value on how much employees care about working for a company with a strong purpose. A 2018 study published by The Harvard Business Review that made big news reported that nine out of 10 employees are willing to earn less money to do more meaningful work. Employees that are fulfilled can feel greater motivation for their work and in turn produce better results. Better results can lead to higher profitability, and higher profitability can lead to a growing organisation that can have a more positive impact. Marrying profit and purpose can create a virtuous cycle.

In 2015, my brothers and I co-founded a backpack company as a side hustle while attending three different colleges. We always said we wanted the brand to be about more than just backpacks. Our purpose surrounded the idea of creating lasting change for the greater good. We didn’t take on any outside funding, meaning we could focus on creating sustainable systems for growth without too much outside influence weighing in. And that’s important, because when you’re scaling, you’ll find that there isn’t much time to change your foundation.

At the start of the pandemic, we were able to put our purpose into practice. We heard that NYC non-profit Backpacks for the Streets was handing out backpacks filled with essential supplies to the homeless. We felt a shared value to the work they were doing and were able to co-ordinate a backpack donation to support them.

The donation received a positive response. It also provided our team with a shared sense of purpose that we were doing something bigger than what our day-to-day roles entailed.

This feeling of purpose is shared by a large number of growing businesses that have continuously prioritised profit with purpose. The apparel brand Bombas comes to mind. For each pair of socks it sells, it donates another pair to the homeless. So far, it has given out more than 40 million socks to 3,000 different partner organisations. Its commitment to giving back is so strong that it has a full team focused entirely on this operation alone, and the strategy has clearly worked, because Bombas socks have now achieved cult-like status among consumers.

Clearly, a strong sense of purpose within a company’s culture doesn’t have to come at the expense of profit. And as the saying goes, ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ – so, over time, we can expect to see more companies prioritising profit that goes hand in hand with purpose. Don’t miss the boat.

This article was first published in Courier issue 40, April/May 2021. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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