There is currently a lot of talk of the term “purpose”. In my attempt to interpret this term consistently with the vision of discerning leadership that I aim to convey to young business students, I see purpose as a new frontier of business that leaders are about to cross. 

It is not news that, in this age of significant change, obsolescent business paradigms are giving way to new models, which are more sensitive to values and less devoted to the exclusive pursuit of profit alone. The shift in the relational dynamics between business and consumer is taking place and is changing the relationship between the market and the stakeholders therein.

We can say, with certainty, that today’s customer demand for goods and services is strongly influenced, not only by the desirability of the brand as such, but also by what the company offering it represents. 

Today, consumer sensibility also goes far beyond mere functional or outward interest in the item on a supermarket shelf, involving every area of its production chain.

An approach that is now normal amongst younger generations. A large bibliography of authoritative statistical studies has, in fact, shown that the purchasing choices of Millennials and Generation Z, are strongly influenced by the brand’s ability to evoke the company’s commitment to other areas, which are not necessarily economic, commercial or related to the specific product offered.

Companies that adopt, as their “corporate philosophy”, a “brand purpose”, namely, companies that are attentive to these new consumer demands, are more easily able to engage customers and make them more loyal to the brand. This is because the “purpose mechanism” moves people’s will by significantly improving the principle of engagement, acting precisely on buyers’ “new awareness”. This means that consumers, today more than in the past, reflect on the meaning of their purchasing choices and the extended meaning of the product, assessing its multiple implications, in terms of the ideas, purposes and values embodied by the company that produces it; they want to feel part of a larger project, not just mere buyers.

Therefore, the purpose, namely, the reason as to why something exists, needs to make leaders reflect on the fact that obtaining profits is increasingly linked to the “meaning” conveyed by their brand as a contribution to improving the society in which they operate.

This is where discernment – by vocation – spurs them to find their essence, sensitizes them to issues, such as ethics and social relevance, in which consumers recognize themselves.

From this perspective, corporate culture is developed in a broader and virtuous sense at the same time, fostering social engagement, expressing concern for human issues, supporting inclusiveness and respect for the individual.

In essence, the purpose-driven content of a given brand does not aseptically represent a good or service, but rather describes its various implications, such as in the environmental, social, or ethical spheres and allows for the establishment of a vigorous emotional, empathetic and relationship bond with the end users, who feel the virtuous sense of the company’s purpose as their own.

In order for this bond of mutual interest to be truly profitable and lasting, I suggest that leaders conduct their enterprises by observing the true essence of discernment, shaping their activities consistently with the good intentions they themselves proclaim. Profit is not made today, but is made over time, building bonds that are, indeed, long-lasting and a model for future generations. Because this, too, is sustainability.

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