Saying it with purpose

“If you a fighter, rider, biter, flame-igniter, crowd-exciter

Or you wanna just get high then just say it

But then if you a liar-liar, pants on fire, wolf-crier, agent with a wire

I’m gon’ know it when I play it.”


Dead Prez, on authenticity, 1998.

At Rationale, our commitment to creating impact for our clients is matched only by our commitment to making a positive impact as a business, and as people — but what you do and what you say have to be in step.

Impact carries two meanings for us. As a brand and communications agency, it means supporting our clients to amplify and transmit the very best of who they are and what they deliver to their audiences. We want people to pay attention and engage. We want to simply communicate the complex, improve customer experience, and to positively influence perception and decision-making.

Impact is also the way we talk about our purpose. It means living our values; from our culture of respect and inclusivity, to our environmental footprint, how we treat our team, our clients and our community. But there are also two kinds of purpose, and businesses are coming unstuck when they inappropriately conflate the two.

Doing it on purpose

After a period of steady momentum — where we’ve seen businesses and organisations responding to an expectation around their impact on people and planet — there has been justifiable backlash on authenticity and genuine commitment vs. purpose-washing. A high profile example recently emerged, with the UK Advertising Standards Authority banning ads from three major airlines for unsubstantiated green-washing. We are hearing acknowledgement and responses to this from other corners, including behemoths like Unilever, who recently announced they will stop trying to ‘bake purpose in’ to many of their sub-brand propositions. This is good, and bad.

Lufthansa's #MakeChangeFly campaign
Lufthansa's #MakeChangeFly campaign

The world over, we are alert to the typical devices employed to gain our favour, part with our money, or sign on the dotted line. We are wise to the game, and we can smell it when we are being patronised or misled. The message here is simple. By all means paint a colourful, nourishing picture of how much you care, but do care. Don’t get caught just acting like you do.

If a company is going to align itself with certain values, do it in earnest, and not just for a surefire profit bump because ethical companies are viewed more favourably. We don’t want businesses to stop trying altogether.

A values-driven economy

Digging into your place in our lives as a business should be regarded as an opportunity for business innovation, improved customer experience, and value, rather than a trade-off to profit motives. It is especially important to be clearer on which sense of ‘purpose’ you are speaking to.

It doesn’t make sense to slap green lipstick on a pig, of course. So the debate over your credentials, and ability to walk the walk, should be more about looking at holistic business sustainability and your intrinsic value to people, rather than crowbarred-in brand messaging about the modest environmental sustainability policies of your business. Having a clearly defined business purpose is more compelling as a brand story than a shaky, reverse-engineered claim to environmental, social or ethical purpose that comes unstuck in the public forum.

Surrounded by global pressures and anxieties, and while losing faith in traditional institutions, people are more inclined to respond well to brands that align with and deliver on their values. Edelman reported this year that people increasingly expect the private sector to help lead the way in meeting many of the world’s challenges. ESG and CSR are not nice-to-haves, they are an expected and essential part of your future business growth strategy. But talking about your purpose is not only about DEI or green credentials, it is about optimising your service delivery, your operational capacity and evidencing your ongoing value — that you’re in it for the long haul. Build trust by aligning these things, while seeking a balance between your economic success and your impact as a sincere goal.

In search of post-purpose 2.0

Build an authentic, impactful brand around tangible core business purpose and avoid looking red-faced under a shallow marketing facade by considering the following things:

  1. Bear in mind, purpose is not only about being eco, or gender positive. It is about the essence and role of your business in the lives of your team members, investors and customers. If you can better connect your reason for being with making a positive impact, that’s something to shout about.  
  2. Take a good long look at yourselves. Dig deep into what you already do, and what you could do to better align purpose and profit. Look in every corner and lift every cover, supply chain to the sales platform, the human and the operational.
  3. Be open and speak to everyone. From the C-suite to the shop floor,  new paths to innovation can come from unexpected places, and often those closest to the coal face. Collaboration and opportunities to contribute are also great for building company culture and commitment.
  4. It’s about trust. Look at your values and avoid implausible virtue signalling. Particularly if your service offer sits less comfortably with a ‘doing good’ narrative. Your brand must reflect your reality — a unique offer, clear vision, commitment to your people. 
  5. Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint. So, modest but credible with a clearly defined trajectory is better than hyperbole and false pretences when it comes to telling a purposeful, impactful story. 

If your organisation could benefit from support in exploring your purpose, clarifying your values, or communicating better internally or externally, Rationale is here to help you make an impact. Get in touch at