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Purposeful profits: How brands can grow by rethinking productivity

Here are four ways that brands can rethink productivity to embrace purposeful profits and collective well-being.

5 min read

MarketingMarketing Strategy

Image of a person with cupped hands containing coins and plant growing from it. Used for story headlined How brands can grow by rethinking productivity

Akil Mazumder/Pexels

In today’s fast-paced world, the pressure to constantly increase productivity has become an ingrained norm. Our focus on making everything we produce bigger, faster and more profitable has led us to prioritize material gain and brand or corporate status over our objectives as a society. 

Facing global warming, pandemics, mental health issues and much more, the time has come for us to pause and reflect.

  • What if we start doubting how we do things? 
  • How about thinking about a new kind of profit?
  • What if we get more serious about purposeful profits?
  • What if we redirect our efforts toward prioritizing collective well-being?

A great example is a recent Nike campaign, which speaks volumes about their commitment to inclusivity and social change. The “Familia” initiative resonates deeply with Hispanic communities in the US, while a stroll through the bustling streets of Mexico City unveils a campaign that boldly challenges societal norms, portraying these athletes in a powerful narrative of sacrifice and triumph, encapsulating the ethos of losing everything to win everything. Such initiatives reflect Nike’s deep understanding that true marketing excellence lies in fostering positive social change and championing diversity.

Let’s examine four ways that brands can echo the approach of Nike and others to embrace purposeful profits.

Recognize tradeoff of pursuit of growth vs. well-being 

But first, before exploring how to reassess our priorities and strike a balance between growth and essential human needs, we must face the dilemma of the unintended consequences of the relentless pursuit of productivity. While productivity can expand our possibilities, too often it comes at the expense of our well-being, meaningful relationships, and social support.

Only when we recognize that trade-off, can we begin redefining societal values and challenge the prevailing narrative that equates success solely with productivity. Only then can we embrace a paradigm shift towards purposeful profits and the prioritization of well-being over mere material gain to align growth and innovation with human needs. 

And no, this is not all about companies taking a sociopolitical issue stance, as the Wall Street Journal recently called out. Instead, it is very much aligned with making, in the words of the recent Gallup Business in Society Report, “a positive impact” in people’s lives.

The desire for brands to speak up is in fact on the rise according to a new report from Morning Consult, especially among younger consumers including millennials and Generation Z. It’s also inching upward among boomers and Generation X.

Know your consumer and your company

Study your consumer and also think beyond marketing and review your entire system to see what other innovations could be made on the purposeful profits journey. Look beyond conventional project requirements and allocate a specific space to highlight how each brand or corporate initiative contributes to a purposeful goal.

This process empowers brand alignment of business objectives with a broader mission. Eventually, it yields inspiring examples of how businesses can contribute to their bottom line – and also to meaningful societal changes and growth. 

At the corporate level, one example is Merck. In 2011 Merck defied Wall Street and committed to reinvesting in R&D at the short-term expense of earnings under the leadership of then-CEO Kenneth Frazier, who believed in the necessity of fostering an environment mindful of commerce and people, both consumers and employees.

Create meaning & sense of belonging 

Next, look to create meaning and a sense of belonging. The cultural influence of brands cannot be underestimated. Brands can shape societal norms, values and behaviors while playing a significant role in influencing consumers and consumption patterns. Examples of brands that are doing this well include the NFL with the 2023 Super Bowl commercial starring Diana Florez, marking a pivotal point for girls, Latinas and women in sports. Another is Kashi’s Nourish Your Raices Hispanic Heritage Month campaign which, as a token of appreciation for Hispanic contributions in the US, planted mangroves in Puerto Rico to protect coastlines from extreme weather events and mitigate climate change. Also, there’s Advil, which has promoted health equity to address systemic pain bias against Blacks in Advil’s Believe My Pain.

Re-evaluate priorities and align with purpose 

Once you have arrived at several options to create meaning and a sense of belonging, make sure the quest is aligned with the right goals. Certain brands become cultural symbols that represent specific values, lifestyles or ideologies. Certain fashion brands might become synonymous with luxury, for example, while others may represent a more sustainable or socially conscious approach. Think brands like Eileen Fisher and upscale designer Mara Hoffman, who now makes new clothes from recycled fabric.

By supporting artists, designers and cultural institutions, brands contribute to the vibrancy and evolution of cultural expressions. We need more of that. We probably need more brands that stand for empathy, support and love too.


Redefining our core values can change the world 

Brands can drive cultural change and create communities that can have a significant impact on cultural dynamics by fostering connection, shared values and collective identities. They provide platforms for individuals to engage, collaborate and contribute to meaningful conversations. 

We can create a society that values human well-being, happiness and support for one another. It is time to redefine success, shift the focus from individual gains to collective progress and foster a culture of compassion and collaboration. Let us embark on this journey together with brands, reshaping how we live, work and interact with each other.


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