Reassessing Purpose as Society’s Expectations for Business Rise
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Reassessing Purpose as Society’s Expectations for Business Rise

TODAY’S MARKETERS both appreciate and understand the ideals of brand purpose and the purpose-led organization. However, the complexity of global events, the acceleration of technology, and the need for profitable results amid economic uncertainty affect how marketing’s role makes a difference to both business and society.

Some of the survey results were entirely unexpected.


The Internationalist conducted this survey in February 2024 in partnership with the ANA’s Center for Brand Purpose as part of the Internationalist INSIGHTS Survey™ series about marketer sentiments on the evolution of purpose in a tumultuous year. These results will help shape content, think tanks, and broader solutions around marketers’ core concerns as part of the Marketing Makes a World of Difference™ initiative.

The Reassessing Purpose survey indicates that marketers now share more significant concerns as politics and world events become increasingly polarized and social media more acerbic. For the first time since The Internationalist began its benchmark research series on purpose in 2017, we now see more significant challenges related to purpose considerations, especially as marketers admit to the difficulties related to expressing purposeful messages, potential backlash, and percieved disconnects between stated values and actions.

Topline Survey Insights

Positive Sentiments:

  • Most marketers clearly define the attributes of purpose and what it can do for an organization.
  • Many adhere to ongoing ways of ensuring that their brands and companies’ purpose comes to life. This ranges from brand storytelling and case study examples to internal training and updates.
  • More marketers understand the need to be thoughtful about their advocacy and purpose when responding to complex issues with political overtones or global consequences. Most are trying to determine the best times to take a stance or act on specific issues that arise.  Increasingly, this is being informed by deeply understood purpose-led belief systems.

Areas of Growing Concern:

  • Three areas, outlined below, are considered extremely challenging regarding the communication of purpose. And while we all have heard of purpose fatigue, this is far less of a concern than other forms of backlash.
  • Fewer marketers see purpose as “extremely important.” While half of those surveyed say they have an established purpose tied to business results, study comments and responses to other questions also show that many overwhelmed marketers are simply “checking the box” on purpose rather than using it to structure decision-making, determine how a brand acts in society, and rally all internal teams and stakeholders.
  • Forty-two percent of marketers surveyed now say, “Brands are playing with purpose because it is cool and one of the ‘shiny objects’ in marketing.”
  • Only one-quarter of respondents recognize the value of integrating nonprofits to align with brand attributes and expand purpose-driven initiatives and business models.

Notions of Purpose Evolve

The five top-ranked statements provide a snapshot of how many thoughts around purpose are changing. Three answers (1, 2, and 5) demonstrate a clear understanding of purpose, while statements 3 and 5 show marketers’ significant concern about brand actions—at 71% and 57%, respectively.

85%— A purpose without substance will harm the company more than do good.

80%— Companies should serve not only their shareholders but also deliver value to their customers, invest in employees, deal fairly with suppliers, and support the communities in which they operate.      

71%— Consumers are paying attention to brand actions. And they are calling out companies that they feel are not doing enough in many areas of concern.

66%— A strong brand purpose is an organization’s North Star, consistent with its mission and culture.

57%— While recent crises taught marketers to respond quickly, they still need to be thoughtful about their advocacy and purpose when responding to complex issues with political overtones or global consequences.

Three Challenges

Over the past few years, business leaders have been increasingly required to react to hot-button domestic issues, while more consumers have urged multinationals to take stances on geopolitical developments. And marketers are challenged to communicate the way forward…


Is becoming purpose-led more complex now given potential backlash or “greenwashing”?

Yes    80%

No     19%


What about marketing and advertising– is it more difficult to express an authentically purposeful message now or to build a truly purposeful brand?               

Yes    71%

No     28%


Do you think a “purpose gap” exists now between most companies’ or brands’ stated values and the actions they take?            

Yes    76%

No     23%

The answers to three questions in our survey point to complications and difficulties for marketers when responsibly doing their jobs. The percentage of respondents admitting to today’s complexities around purpose is overwhelming. Internationalist Insights has asked similar questions in past years, and no more than 40% admitted to the challenges of being purpose-led. While some may interpret these results as “cynicism” regarding purpose, the overall outcome of the survey does not support this. 

It is now more difficult than ever to get purpose right and communicate its importance, particularly as the world faces more crises. 

Looking Ahead with Optimism

On a positive note, the survey shows that more marketers recognize the importance of corporate culture when embedding purpose.  They admit to “owning” the responsibility for developing and furthering purpose, often along with the CEO or Management Team. Most cite innovative ways of ensuring that purpose comes to life for customers, employees, and all stakeholders.

Purpose 2.0?

Perhaps we are all cautiously approaching Purpose 2.0, when we must be more committed, more careful about objectivity, and more dedicated to delivering on our promises. Call it overcoming the skeptics or call it maturity, but it’s certainly a move in the right direction. 

Or to quote from one of the survey respondents, “To connect with today’s and tomorrow’s customers, retain and motivate staff, and have a cohesive message for internal/external stakeholders, brands today have no choice but to be purpose-driven.” 


Purpose is an organization’s reason for being beyond profit — why it matters to the world. The ANA Center for Brand Purpose provides the education, resources, and guidance to maximize marketers’ understanding of all aspects of purposeful marketing and its significance to driving brand growth and social impact.


Building on The Internationalist’s focus on the people and ideas in international marketing, INTERNATIONALIST INSIGHTS™ was developed to quickly interpret global marketing trends at scale by surveying our worldwide audience and conducting in-depth personal interviews with individuals we have honored for their marketing contributions. These results and perspectives are interpreted by seasoned executives and are dedicated to a big-picture view of our fast-moving industry and how contemporary marketing is changing business strategy in the digital economy.