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Combat disruption fatigue with purpose

24th May 2022
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Purpose-led and values-driven innovation should be the new mantra for businesses in a post-pandemic world. Companies with a clear mission are proven to motivate both managers and employees as well as inspiring trust and interest from consumers who are looking for sustainable and social-conscious brands.

Following two years of sustained disruption from the pandemic, against the ever-evolving backdrop of climate/ change and the cost of living crisis, organisations are struggling to adapt to a turbulent social & economic environment. As populations seek to adapt to the break-neck changes in their circumstances, consumers everywhere are overloaded by instability. In fact, we’d say they are suffering from what we have coined as ‘disruption fatigue’.

For many years, brands across all sectors have attempted to disrupt their markets by using innovative and entrepreneurial ideas to compete and stand out in a populated market (or to put it another way “move fast and break things”). At best, this has caused a dizzying proliferation of digital products and services that address increasingly narrow consumer needs. At worst, it’s spawned a global (mis)information arms race with social and economic effects we are only beginning to comprehend. 

So faced with this fatigue, what do companies need to do to bring consumers back onboard? 

Innovating with purpose

Jeremy Heimans, CEO of New York-based public benefit corporation Purpose, says: “The brands that last in the 21st century are going to be those that build community, social capital and societies.” 

Unpacking this, it is no longer enough to make a good product that satisfies consumers and helps to make a profit and contribute to the economy. Brands also need to understand their role in society and push consumers to make properly informed choices that not only satisfy their needs, but take account of the impact their choices have on people and planet too. To arrive at a buying decision, consumers must ask themselves: What do I want? What do I stand for? Such questions oblige companies to offer their stance on and solve real problems, not just offer products and solve problems of convenience. 

As our Disruption Fatigue report outlines, the kind of innovation that consumers welcome nowadays needs to be holistic and purpose-led: it is innovation that makes life and lives better.

Understanding your role in the ecosystem

Brands also need to realise that they are part of a wider ecosystem. Depending on each company’s outlook, that can be as much a source of opportunity as of ruin.

As part of being human-centred, future purpose-led innovation needs to consult and heed the views not just customers and investors, but a more diverse group of stakeholders such as communities where they reside, adjacent brands and even competitors. It must understand how a product or service fits into our society, what other things are needed to complete what consumers really want to achieve and if any actions are needed to ensure its overall effects are positive, including the impact it might have on non-users.

Something economists talk about is the need to avoid ‘negative externalities’, which could be anything that might damage the environment and wildlife, for example, or sparing neighbours noise pollution or discarded packaging from takeaway meals. It means thinking through the entire production and usage cycle, rather than waiting for protests and lawsuits from victims of egocentric innovation.

Lower carbon footprint, that delivers more for your money

The call out for brands is to take time to think through the ways in which their products respond to the needs of society and the environment – and find a way to meet both. For this they may need to consider not just how it works, but also its supply chain and place in the wider sector supply chain, plus the ways in which human behaviour needs to change.

For instance, Back Market, a leading French unicorn, is doing good for the planet and consumers alike by retailing ‘renewed’ tech devices such as mobile phones and computers. Consumers get a like-new phone at a lower price – meanwhile Back Market avoids the CO2 implications of needing to dismantle devices, use up scarce commodities and expend energy to make new ones. It has identified a clear consumer need and married it with a proposition that not only creates a new market but reduces waste in the process.

Innovative brands like this have reflected on how their business can adapt to the change in consumer needs, but through a societal and environmental lens. For them to succeed, their products and services need to tick both boxes and not just provide short-term profit with long-term damage.  

Curing disruption fatigue

It should be made clear that purpose-led innovations and initiatives aren’t just a response to the pandemic. Back in 2013, Gallup analysed the data of 49,928 businesses across 49 industries in 34 countries. It found that margins were higher when companies had a clear mission and also that employees were more likely to ensure workplace safety, show higher productivity and have better relationships with customers.

This shows it isn’t just consumers looking to businesses to put social responsibility at the forefront of their brand, but that employees seek it too. Companies keen to remain relevant need to have a strong sense of corporate purpose and develop products and services that make the world a better place in order to improve hiring and retention. But again, they must also remain vigilant for those negative externalities—harm done to others by their operations—and address these rapidly once identified.

The combination of purpose wider reflection, values and authenticity is a powerful antidote to the pervading sense of disruption fatigue. Change is a constant. But only change for the better is welcome.



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