Change course because of the ‘purpose push’: social involvement in times of crisis

November 20, 2020

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, many organizations seem to have had a ‘purpose push’: adopting a purpose that expresses social involvement. For example, bed manufacturer Auping started the production of medical face masks during the coronavirus pandemic, Bavaria contributed by converting old beer into disinfecting hand sanitizer and specialist in plastic pipe systems Wavin started producing facial protection for healthcare.

After more than six months in the coronavirus pandemic, Amanda (Senior Consultant) and Marjolein (Business Director Reputation Management) from communication agency Omnicom PR Group took stock. They discussed the purpose push and its credibility.

How do you see the actions of Bavara, Wavin and Auping?

Marjolein: I don’t think the Bavaria case is really purposeful. The company has been called by hospitals asking if they could produce hand sanitizing gel. Bavaria has committed to this and has made a number of adjustments to achieve this. This makes them a ‘good corporate citizen’, but perhaps no more than that. Comparatively, Wavin has already adopted a purpose before the coronavirus pandemic, which is ‘building healthy and sustainable environments’. The production of face masks fits this purpose, therefore the coronavirus pandemic did not necessarily create  a purpose push for them. A nice case though. I think Auping is a good example of an organization that – likely driven by the purpose push – is taking a completely new path.

How credible does Auping’s ‘sudden’ transition come across?

Amanda: Auping changed its production during the coronavirus pandemic and has become a health brand. Auping links these new activities to the origins of its organization. Auping used to develop health mattresses for local hospitals. I like that, they actually go back to their origin. At first, it seems as if the production of the face masks happened unexpectedly, but apparently that is not the case. That makes it credible.

Marjolein: What I like about this case, is that they are open about their motives. Auping believes it can make a difference and therefore wants to take a new path with the organization. It gives the organization the opportunity to learn a lot in a short time. In addition, they are not secretive about the fact that it can offer them commercial opportunities in the long term. It is for these reasons that they launched a health brand, which they have long-term plans and thus accountability. They haven’t just temporarily joined the health industry. Because of this, it feels honest and authentic.

To what extent should a purpose ‘fit’ with your brand?

Amanda: What I like is that the production of face masks is in line with their purpose with the slogan ‘Auping equips the world’. They also mean this as a health claim. So there is indeed a link with healthcare. That purpose is very well reflected in their face mask production, which allow Auping to explain their new health brand well. It fits well with the organization, so that it can fulfill its claim to continue to do so in the long term.

Marjolein: Indeed, it is important for an organization to have a credible story about how to continue to embrace their purpose-related initiatives in the future. If they can substantiate this properly with actions, that is credible. Organizations don’t necessarily have to go back to their roots. An organization can reinvent itself many times and shape its story over and over again. What you’ve done in the past doesn’t have to get in the way of the future. As an organization you can also gain new insights about your contribution to society and take a completely different path. As long as your story is well put together, well-founded with actions, also for the future. It is about the intentions and tenacity of an organization.

Conditions for a credible purpose:

According to Amanda and Marjolein, it is not about words, but about actions. They provide three conditions for credible purpose:

  1. Authenticity: an organization must communicate openly and honestly. As long as an organization is sincere, this will enhance the credibility of its purpose.
  2. Accountability: an organization must be able to explain why it is taking a particular path. That is why it must provide insight into what they are going to do and how they are going to do that.
  3. Commitment: an organization must assist its words with action. Not only now, but also in the long term.

When the coronavirus pandemic is over, it will be clear which organizations have actually committed themselves to their purpose and which companies have only benefited from the ‘purpose hype’. Curious about what we can do for you in terms of purpose? Please contact: [email protected].

Photo by Khwanchai Phanthong from Pexels.



The new committed entrepreneurship

The public debate has long ceased to be restricted to politics and the non-profit sector. The business community also has a responsibility to interpret developments and to initiate social themes…