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27 December 2017

Purpose brands: hype or not?

A lot is happening in the world today and unfortunately it’s not all good news. War and violence make it into the headlines every day, climate change is real and threatening, the #metoo campaign showed that sexual intimidation is affecting women all around the globe. In short, the world is in a really bad state and our future doesn’t look so bright either.  

But then it’s that time of the year again when love and warmth are everywhere and when we try to contribute more to society than we usually do. It’s not only on an individual level that we undertake all sorts of actions, but also brands are putting in an extra effort these days. Some of them even go a step further and do not restrict their efforts to the end-of-year period alone. This year, an increasing number of brands have included societal causes in their marketing campaigns.

Look at the ‘We Accept’ campaign by Airbnb, in which the brand uses a specific tone to strengthen its commitment to diversity. Or how P&G promotes racial equality with its ‘The Talk’ commercial. This ad shows parents from an Afro-American background having “the talk” with their children about the difficulties of growing up as a minority in the U.S. Closer to home we have the collaboration between Alpro and WWF, in which the brand donates 10 cents for every bottle sold to support WWF in its battle against deforestation.

Airbnb “WE ACCEPT” – the Airbnb community aims to create a world where all 7.5 billion people can belong anywhere. 

 

Procter & Gamble “The Talk” – the goal is to expand the talk about bias beyond the black community, and inspire a world with equal voices, equal representation and equal opportunity for success. 


All of these well-known brands are taking a social stand in a very visible way; they are stating a clear social purpose. They are what we call: purpose brands.

First things first: what is ‘brand purpose’?

Brand purpose should not be confused with Corporate Social Responsibility. Brand purpose is more than CSR programmes. According to Simon Sinek, Brand Purpose is the reason your brand exists: not just what you do, but WHY you do it. Most brands competing in the same industry offer very similar products, but the real challenge is to explain to customers why they actually do what they do. Customers today are no longer attracted by what a company does, but rather by why it offers this or that service or product. In order to have a brand purpose, this "why" can be anything, but should always involve social or political issues: from aiming to create gender equality to reducing pollution or encouraging diversity.

…and why do brands adopt it?

Around the world, the business environment is in a permanent state of disruption. Today, companies are searching for a new way that will help them to evolve and survive. Increasing customer requirements are forcing brands to no longer have just functional benefits. Instead, they expect organizations to demonstrate a purpose beyond profit-making. Customers require a business promise of making the world a better place. As brands strive for relevance, differentiation and growth, a clear purpose presented in an attractive way is often the difference between success and failure.

To follow or not to follow the hype

Today, big companies state a purpose that goes beyond functional benefits. But is purpose-driven marketing just fugitive hype or will it be adopted by others? It is also a way for marketers to turn the pessimistic outlook of the future around and will it eventually become inherent to every company’s marketing strategy?

The way we see it, there are a few reasons to believe that purpose brands are not just another marketing fad. In our opinion, purpose matters. Not only to your customers, but also to your employees.

Let us focus first on the value of brand purpose to employees. Despite the negative outlook for the future, today’s events give brands the opportunity to create a brighter world. But this process starts from within a company. Brands are all created from the same core: the employees who build them. This means that a brand’s biggest priority should be to give its employees a sense of purpose. Customers ultimately bring in the revenue, but without a purpose among employees, brands will eventually find themselves without motivated employees, or won’t keep them very long.

Having strong brand purpose is not only relevant for your employees, but it is also important to your customers. Today we live in a marketplace where confidence is low and budgetary vigilance is high. As a result, brand promises are no longer enough to grab consumers’ attention. In order to really win the heart of their consumers, it has become crucial for your brands to create a set of values and a distinctive identity that correspond with your reputation.

The final reason why we believe purpose brands are not just the latest trend is the fact that we as humans want to feel that we are making an impact. We all want to be part of organizations that have a higher purpose. So if we – as marketers – could create stronger, more humanistic brands, we would have stronger communities and we would all feel prouder of the future we are creating.

Hence we can conclude that purpose brands are here to stay and if you want to survive in this competitive business environment, then it’s time to start thinking about a clear social or political purpose. 

What can we do as marketers to create strong purpose brands and help make the world a better place?   

Sure, we won’t change the world overnight and it will take more than just a few marketing efforts, but a strong purpose can open hearts and change minds. By creating a purpose brand we can have a minor impact on our future.

Ready to implement a social purpose at your company’s core strategy? Then keep these 5 hands-on tips in mind:

  1. Be courageous – It’s not going to be a short-term success, but it’s going to be hard work. Dare to ask yourself why it matters that your brand exists and what value your brand can bring to the world.

  2. Be real – Practise what you preach: 80% of brand-building is through behaviour, not marketing. People want to see evidence that you are delivering what you promise. Being real starts with your employees. They should be your brand ambassadors and should be the embodiment of your purpose.

  3. Be honest – It doesn’t have to be perfect; it has to be true. Forget about ‘image is everything’ and embrace ‘reality is everything’.

  4. Be clear – Say what you do and set appropriate aspirations. Communicate clearly what you actually care about and communicate your set of values, too. Over-promising, purpose-driven marketing underpins credibility.

  5. Be authentic – Create a credible connection. Find a truthful overlap between the brand’s identity and social purpose you’re serving. Ask yourself the question: what are the values of our brand and what is our mission? List the reasons why your consumers should care about your organization and act on them.

 

References

Adweek, Alpro, AGBLD Brand Language Design, Forbes, Campaign US, Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business Review, Afdhel Aziz, Marketing Week

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