Why helpfulness should be the purpose of every business

Mzamo Masito / August 2020

By their very nature, all businesses are different. So, naturally, it makes sense that they all exist for a different purpose. But what if there is one purpose that ties all businesses together? I believe that there is: helpfulness.

Many people believe that the core reason for the existence of all businesses is to make money. But to truly prosper and thrive, businesses need a purpose beyond simple profit

To be truly helpful means ubuntu: "I am because we are". Understanding that business and society is interconnected

Businesses don’t sell products, they sell the solution that the product enables. For some businesses, understanding this will require a mindset change.

A mindset shift is needed to embrace an attitude of helpfulness. To be truly helpful means ubuntu: "I am because we are." Understanding that business and society is interconnected. It means looking at your business and its solutions from your customer’s perspective, identifying what it is that you do that delivers value (as opposed to what you think delivers value), and then adapting your offering to be as helpful as possible in line with what your customers truly need.

Trust is key to helpfulness

A key component of helpfulness is trust. For your customers to embrace your solution offering, they need to trust you in a number of ways.

It’s about being a partner that enables your customer and not over-claiming your role in people’s lives

Your customers need to trust that you are providing the service you claim to, with honesty, integrity, and reliability. They need to trust that you are keeping them safe in every action you take, from making recommendations to them on things they should do to gathering and collecting information about them.

They need to trust that you are protecting their privacy in any and every circumstance, to the best of your ability.

Solving your customers’ problems

Helpfulness is not only about delivering products, it’s about delivering solutions for your customers’ problems. After all, we don’t sell products, we sell solutions. You don’t just want to be useful, you want to go beyond that to be helpful and assist your customers. More than that, it’s about being a partner that enables your customer and not over-claiming your role in people’s lives.

We are operating in an incredibly dynamic market, especially with the changes COVID-19 has brought. The importance of technology in navigating this market will become clearer as we explore new and different ways of doing things, and gain better understanding of how technology enables us to be helpful in ways we’ve not envisioned before.

Purpose-driven business

Purpose-driven businesses understand that it’s about creating a balance between serving a customer respectfully and honourably at a profit. It’s not sustainable to just chase profits. Successful relationships between a business and its customers are about give-and-take, win-win. For businesses looking to strike that balance, there are four key things to keep in mind.

1. Leadership

About ten years ago, Unilever South Africa's then CEO, Paul Polman, decided that he wanted to double the size of the business while reducing environmental impact and increasing social impact. This focus on long-term impact over short-term profits is the kind of leadership that sends a message of helpfulness to your consumers. A leadership that’s conscious and aware. Leadership grounded in history and political context of where Africa has come from pre, during, and post colonisation, remains essential.

2. Mission

You need a mission to deliver on your purpose. Take Nike’s mission “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. If you have a body, you are an athlete.” That’s a great mission that demonstrates clear and conscious leadership. Similarly, Google’s mission "to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and helpful" made it easy for me to accept a job here because I believe in it and want to make it a reality in Africa.

3. Culture

Culture is what you do, not what you say. Your customers must see your culture in your actions. This is about understanding that the working environment that you create for your teams directly impacts the work you put into the world. For example, having a diverse and inclusive team, that is encouraged to promote D&I, is more than likely to produce diverse and inclusive work.

4. People

To succeed in your mission, you need to hire a united cross-functional team (salespeople, marketers, product specialists, etc.) who are obsessed with the balance between short-term brand and business performance and long-term brand and business health. They need to be willing to lead with these two goals.

Start today

Customers that trust you and know that you are working to make their lives better will democratically spend their resources on your solutions, because they know they’re getting something back.

My challenge to you is the challenge I set myself daily: what are you giving back to your customers right now?

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