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17 December 2020

Why purpose marketing is important, but too often fails

Two weeks ago, the Belgian Association of Marketing (BAM) organized their annual congress. The theme of this year’s congress was meaningful marketing and the importance of being purpose-driven. It also addressed how marketing is evolving and will continue to evolve in the coming years. Of course, we at the House of Marketing attended this event and are excited to share our vision and take-aways with you.

Brands need a clear purpose to stand out from the crowd and to create a meaningful relationship with their customers, as well as to have a positive impact on the world. So far, we agree.

However, we believe that purpose marketing only makes sense if it is connected to the WHY of customer needs: what are their (implicit) motivations for buying your brand? What are the true drivers behind the needs they are portraying?

Understanding the WHY of your customers

“The most important customer story is their own”. Julie Vandermeulen from Story Flow uses this neurological insight as the starting point for impactful storytelling. People need to feel connected to the brand and aligned with its purpose. “People do not buy products, they buy a better version of themselves. They buy products that fits in or build on their life story”.

Therefore, brands first need to have a true understanding of what customers need, delving deep into their intrinsic motivations, so that they can interact in a meaningful way with them. The customer will only see value in a brand if their functional goals as well as their psychological goals are met for the price they are paying. This is confirmed by the decision triangle presented by Olivier Tjon, Director of Beyond Reason, a consultancy company specialized in implicit research (neuromarketing).

decision triangle

The intangible psychological goals should then be translated into the brand purpose. As Nathan Axford, founder of Beyond Reason explains: "A brand’s purpose should step away from being the wishful thinking of a board and move towards a reflection of the implicit motivations of their customers. It’s the only way to become a profound customer centric brand”.

Gathering customer data through quantitative and qualitative research remains relevant and should still be part of the innovation process, but these data do not give us the correct interpretation of what people really want, since 95%* of purchase decisions are made unconsciously. So, asking if they would buy product X or Y is actually an unfair question.

It is a good starting point but should be backed up with implicit research and validation to really grasp what consumers want. The fact is, it is too easy for consumers to give the socially desirable answers says Deborah van der Zee, VP Foods at Unilever Benelux.

Purpose linked to the purchase motivations of your customers

One of the biggest challenges in purposeful marketing is linking the purpose of your brand(s) to societal issues while making sure they are in line with the purchase motivations of your customers.

Olivier Tjon from Beyond Reason explains how a big hamburger company was accused of deforestation from all the cows that were grazing to produce their burgers. This prompted the marketing team to launch a vast campaign focusing on reforestation: ‘buy a burger, plant a tree’.

The firm did not see any positive effect on sales, and it even had a negative effect on brand preference. The brand created a cognitive dissonance, as customers liked eating a burger but did not want to be reminded that they were harming nature in the process.

They then decided to dig deeper and perform neuromarketing analysis to grasp what customers were really thinking and they discovered that people linked the company positively to equality and the impact it had on its community (they were employing young people who often did not have any degrees).

They therefore decided to continue planting trees but to not actively communicate about it and rather focus their communication on the positive effect they were having in their community.

Integrated Data Marketing: the new transformation of marketing

At the House of Marketing, we apply Integrated Data Marketing, or ID Marketing. After the digital transformation, this is the data and experimentation transformation of marketing.

The concept is all about bridging the gap between what people say and do and the risk of creating your whole business around assumptions. With so much data available, marketers should replace their assumptions with evidence.

Purpose marketing should be linked to the (implicit) motivations of your customers who buy your brand(s) through implicit research and validation. This is certainly a change for most marketers, but it is a positive change, since it leads to a triple win: for the customers, society and your company.

If you want to get started with Integrated Data (ID) Marketing, discover more on how and why to apply this methodology:


Interview Mahoney & Zaltman, “The Subconscious Mind of the Consumer (And How To Reach It)” Harvard Business Review, Jan 13th, 2003.