THE BLOG

Cause Vs. Purpose

04/28/2014 04:23 pm ET | Updated Jun 28, 2014

You'd more or less need to be living under a businessperson's rock to not know that we are most certainly operating in a purpose-driven economy. Yet a great many brands are responding to this with cause-related behavior. Although these two terms have been used interchangeably, when it comes to social impact, cause and purpose are not the same thing.

A cause is based on a desire to stop something. A purpose is rooted in a desire to start something. Cause is charity. Purpose is empowerment. A cause is your nemesis. A purpose is your muse.

Should we break it down? Let's use hunger as an example.

Cause: Feeding the hungry.
Purpose: Creating affordable food for all.

Cause has you fighting hunger. (Nemesis)
Purpose has you changing the game. (Muse)

One might send you to the soup kitchen or shelter to donate groceries but the other might send you into creating a hydroponic farming system that can grow healthy, nutritious, affordable foods for people on a permanent basis.

Very different, right?

The cause-driven initiative focuses on treating suffering that is being created by the social condition. The purpose-driven initiative focuses on eliminating the social condition entirely.

Do we, as brands and a business community, need to continue to alleviate human suffering caused by social conditions? Absolutely. Until we all have access to healthy food, feeding the hungry is a necessary and noble cause. But we can no longer stop there. Lasting relief will come from purpose-driven thinking. Purpose-driven initiatives will take us from the symptom of social suffering to its source.

The business world is beginning to experience something akin to the shift the medical community has gone through in recent decades: Cause is much like traditional Western Medicine: Focused on the symptom of the problem and how to alleviate this. Purpose is more like traditional Eastern Medicine: Focused on the circumstance creating the symptom.

And just as we now have something called Integrated Medicine that treats symptoms that are creating pain in the present moment and also works to eliminate that which is creating the symptom, so too can we have Integrated Impact.

Integrated Impact cannot be born from a short-term initiative or once-a-year corporate donations. Purpose-driven thinking must be woven into the DNA of the brand and from this core, drive daily brand behavior and business decisions. Integrated Impact requires integrating the ability to make a lasting impact from the epicenter of the brand.

One brand that is doing this beautifully right now is The 7 Virtues. This Canadian fragrance company sources essential oils from rebuilding countries like Afghanistan. By purchasing essential oils distilled from legal crops, they are helping to provide safe, sustainable alternatives to the illegal poppy crop and the violent drug trade it supports.

In the short term, this provides jobs for farmers and workers, allowing them to feed their families and create healthy homes. In the long term, this brand is creating the foundation for an industry beyond illegal poppy crops, thus laying the foundation for a new economy that is not based on the violent, terrorist-driven drug industry. This kind of economic stability is critical to creating a peaceful world. The brand is creating peace of mind on the individual level and the conditions for lasting peace on the macro level. Both cause and purpose are being met.

And as you might imagine would be the case in a purpose-driven economy, this company is doing well. It is generating profit and winning awards left and right. Consumers don't have to think about whether or not they can trust this company. The results of their Integrated Impact are transparent and measurable. And this is essential.

Eighty six percent of Americans are more likely to trust a company that reports its CSR results. Not its actions, but the results of those actions. Consumers are demanding to see the return on CSR. They want proof that citizenship actions are making a real difference. Purpose creates change. And change can be measured. Which, given the above statistic, makes it a profitable business model as well as an effective means for social change.

Just as consumers need to see a return on CSR initiatives in terms of true and actual impact, businesses need to see a return from a financial perspective. It has to make sense on both sides of the coin for the behavior to be sustainable. For brands considering the shift from cause-related initiatives to a purpose-driven business model, the business boons are undeniable.

And, in the end, that is the beauty of a purpose-driven economy. Everybody wins.