B2B organizations are still struggling with purpose

Most B2B leaders say their purpose efforts don’t feel authentic, according to new research.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

NEW YORK: Most B2B leaders know purpose is important, but very few say it’s an integral part of their business and most think purpose engagement feels like PR tactics, according to new research. 

More than nine in 10 respondents (93%) said their organizations are conducting some purpose-related efforts, and a majority (57%) said their companies are more focused on purpose than they were three years ago. 

The survey also found that the largest companies, with 20,000-plus employees, and the second-largest group, those with 2,500 to 19,999 employees, were furthest along in embedding concepts of purpose into their business practices.

However, 56% said that purpose engagement “feels more like a PR exercise” than something authentic. At least half (51%) also said purpose does not play a significant role among the companies they compete with, and 50% said they don’t have the resources to make a respectable purpose effort.

There was a significant disparity between the importance B2B professionals attribute to purpose and the degree with which it is included in their day-to-day business operations. While 86% said purpose is important to their business, only 24% agreed that it is “embedded in their businesses to the point of influencing culture, innovation, operations and their engagement with society.” 

The study was conducted last year, commissioned by Carol Cone on Purpose, the Association of National Advertisers and the Harris Poll. It queried 259 B2B pros with the title of director or higher in the insurance, healthcare, manufacturing, professional services, technology and telecommunications and other sectors with revenue between $50 million and $2 billion.

“We were shocked. The three of us, Harris, the ANA and me, were absolutely shocked at [that] number,” said Carol Cone, CEO of the eponymous purpose consultancy. 

She called the difference between intent and activation the B2B “purpose paradox.”

“Five years ago, we did not have the pressure of the war for talent, and we didn’t have the pressure from local communities where [these businesses] have plants, and we didn’t have the change in society going from shareholder primacy to stakeholder support,” she said. 

However, Cone is optimistic about the future, noting that in some ways, B2B businesses have a simpler task than consumer-facing organizations in authentically creating and communicating their purpose-related efforts. 

“You’re going to see a shift and the efforts of B2B businesses will not be just about price and quality,” she said. “The cool thing about B2B is you have a smaller universe of people to reach and activate as a community. You don’t have millions of consumers, and that makes the network of activations and communications easier.”

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