The word purpose is one that fascinates me. Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “the reason for which something is done or for which something exists”.

Taking this literal definition, we can clearly say that purpose is existential both for individuals – it’s what makes us get out of bed, what makes us tick, it’s our why – but is also more important for organisations now than ever before.

That’s because the rapid shifts in technology, culture, society and behaviour are driving a rise of new attitudes towards how people are deciding which organisations and brands they work for and buy from.

Companies today need to have a purpose that goes beyond profit and places value and importance on building relationships to be a brand that people can connect with. Getting this connection right improves business performance, reduces churn, and more importantly creates value and trust with customers.

The data proves this, a study published by the Harvard Business Review found that companies with a clearly articulated purpose outperformed those organisations that didn’t develop their purpose. Specifically, 52% of purpose-driven companies experienced in excess of 10% growth compared to 42% of non-purpose-driven companies.

They also experienced greater global expansion, more product launches, and more successful transformational efforts.

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The reason for this is that “transaction businesses” are largely a thing of the past, and relational, purpose-driven businesses are the way of the future.

At these organisations, employees are more empowered and motivated, and the resultant innovation and performance fuels even further customer engagement and loyalty.

As a news powerhouse used as a global point of reference, CNN also has a clear purpose. In line with my own admiration for the work that my editorial colleagues do day in day out, the role of international news is, according to a recent study by Toluna, viewed by 73% of global news consumers as being more important today than ever before.

In addition, international news is seen as being reliable, trustworthy, providing high-quality journalism and in-depth analysis.

This role that CNN plays in the world, based on 43 years of journalism, not only gives us purpose, but also provides a platform and environment to help brands articulate their purpose to global audiences.

At the centre is aligning with audience expectation and sentiment around their purpose. When we conducted a study into attitudes amongst the CNN audience, we found that, after inflation, climate change is the second topic that our audiences are most concerned about in 2023.

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This concern is impacting their behaviour, both in their personal and professional lives. 75 per cent of our audience agree that ‘responsible’ sustainable financing is important in their company’s investment decisions, and around two-thirds work in companies that are transitioning to alternative fuels and energies and have signed up for net zero emission goals.

The need for brands to be more purpose driven and responsible is especially important to the Gen Z audiences who have a very different set of behaviours and expectation from brands.

This is an audience segment that value brand authenticity and strive to be socially and environmentally responsible.

They are more cautious of what they buy, who they buy from and the effect their actions have on the environment.

The CNN Gen Z audience firmly believe that brands need to take a stance on causes of our time.

Therefore, we know that brands will be disproportionately positioned to connect with our audience if they are taking meaningful action around sustainability and are able to articulate this message in an authentic way.

The word “meaningful” is absolutely key here – brands and nations should only communicate around sustainability issues if it’s true to their brand identity and purpose.

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Your message needs to be borne out in your actions. Otherwise, audiences will quite rightly reject any messages as “greenwashing” leading to a negative reaction.

Meaningful is also a word used frequently when describing the upcoming COP28 in the UAE.

From the very announcement, this has been billed as the most important COP since Paris in 2015.

In recent months, further evidence of the climate emergency and its far-reaching effects has been in force all across the world.

Even many sceptics are sitting up and taking notice as temperatures soar, wildfires spread, sea levels rise and glaciers melt exacerbating issues from food security to migration.

If ever there was a time for companies to look to the future, embrace and clearly define their purpose, particularly around the issue of sustainability and the future of our planet, the time is now.

The world will be looking closely at not just the words, but the actions, at COP28, presenting a unique moment for brands to show they have the agency to be part of a more optimistic purpose-driven future.

Tini Sevak, Vice President, Audiences & Data, CNN International Commercial

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