As our culture has been challenged by myriad mounting environmental, equality and social justice issues over the past year, the idea of brand purpose has begun to take center stage. Today, nearly two-thirds of global consumers prefer to buy goods and services from companies that stand for a shared purpose that reflects their personal values and beliefs.
Brand Purpose (capital ‘p’) offers the WHY a brand does what it does. It goes beyond profits, offering a reason for being that’s grounded in humanity. And, as many brands have recognized this past 18 months, that Purpose can be a guiding and stabilizing light in dark times.
Brands with Purpose
Starbucks has long been driven to “inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” That Purpose is illustrated from the way they source their beans, their farmer equity practices and a Feeding America partnership to films such as The Story of Access, localized neighborhood programs and community stores and internal programs encouraging ‘courageous conversations.’ As a result of their Purpose, they have been a part of the cultural zeitgeist. Even when their efforts have been challenged (#RaceTogether) they have remained committed to fueling stories and conversations that advance humanity and build lasting fandom.
Subaru of America is one of few automotive brands that have recognized and benefited from, a sense of Purpose. At the core of the brand is a commitment to show love and respect to all people. It’s a brand focused around inclusivity and community and that Purpose connects every action: from corporate giving to sales promotion. That love has been returned by their customers creating a pack of avid fans, driving 12 years of record sales, and despite decreased sales in 2020, still growing their market share.
In each case, as in many others who have harnessed the power of Purpose, these brands have understood a few key tenets to authentically championing a north star.
- Responsibility ≠ Purpose. Understanding a brand’s viewpoint and actions on/around cultural and societal issues are increasingly important, but they are also not the answer to Purpose for most. Appointing women leaders and ensuring diversity at all levels is a tremendous and important step towards equality, but also doesn’t equate to, or define, Purpose. In fact, following George Floyd’s death, most Americans said they wanted brands to speak out over racism. But a Pew study found that only a fifth of adults thought companies’ statements stemmed from a genuine concern for Black people.
Much the same, simply shifting towards more sustainable products or practices doesn’t make the environment your Purpose. Making electric cars doesn’t equate to an environmental brand Purpose. Conversely, Patagonia’s Purpose is protecting the environment and that informs EVERYTHING the brand does.
Hidden in the intersection of what’s important for your brand and how your product and overall organizational decisions align with those human beliefs is your Purpose.
- Lead with Empathy. All too often marketers spend a significant amount of time understanding and researching products, not people. Make empathy a core skill set throughout your organization. Consider implementing one ‘empathy exercise’ into your team schedule once a month at least. Think about your audience’s lives. What challenges do they face or what is on their minds (regardless of your product)? How could you help them? Purpose is rooted in humanity. Understand the people in your world, and how your Purpose can uniquely help make their world a better place.
- Signals, Not just Stories.
Brands of action win today. A simple (even if Cannes winning) ad about your point of view isn’t going to do the job. Find proof of your Purpose in action. Then tell stories around that. Since its inception, Seventh Generation’s commitment to future generations has focused on creating a healthier, sustainable, and equitable world. They’ve implemented an internal carbon tax and lean into their “Powered By Plants” messaging, but have gone further to shine a spotlight on the young people driving action around climate change and offering education for families about how to create a stronger and more sustainable way of life. They are stories that are human-led and product adjacent, but they all are backed by true brand actions.
Today people are looking for signals and proof of their beliefs in action. “Did They Help” has compiled information about the actions of corporations and public figures during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s just one example of how people want to see Purpose in action rather than just buy into the promise of it.
Sharing Your Purpose Helps Shape Ours.
What we buy reflects our personal brands. In fact, according to GFK MRI data, Millennials are 25% more likely than the average American adult to say that their car says a lot about him or her; 18% more likely to agree you can tell a lot about someone by the clothes they wear and 64% more likely to say their mobile device is an extension of their personality. Those numbers have all increased year-over-year for the past 3 years. Given those tendencies, defining and celebrating Purpose becomes even more paramount to building strong, favorable and lasting relationships with people.
The past year has been financially difficult for many companies, making business growth even more imperative. Despite what some may think, that’s even more reason to put Purpose, not just products, in the spotlight. In fact, a Harvard Business School study found that over a three-year period, 85% of Purpose-led companies showed positive growth while 42% of non-purpose-led companies showed a drop in revenue.
Purpose gives people a reason to stay with you, advocate for you, invest more in you.
As consumers, we often see a greater Purpose in the brands we invest in. The question for us as marketers is do we see it too?