Most brands once cared only about profit and stakeholders. Today, things have changed: customers seem to expect companies to have a brand purpose that goes beyond profit. So, what do you do now?
You probably have heard the term “brand purpose” a thousand times by now. While the idea that brands could serve a higher purpose was very disruptive in the beginning, it has now become almost mandatory for brands to have a positive mission on this planet, whether it’s focused on the environment, the community or both.
Having a so-called “double bottom line” (making a profit while making an impact) puts a double hell of a pressure on marketers, but some make the case that brand purpose might simply benefit commercial outcomes, too.
While no brand wants to be left behind in this, brands should be very considerate in making their move.
The unstoppable rise of brand purpose
Brand purpose is not something entirely new, but purpose-led brands used to be a rarity. Brands like Patagonia, Ben&Jerry or Chobani have long held strong environmental and social views and acted accordingly.
The last years, though, have made these causes more urgent. On one hand, the impending climate and environmental crisis has forced all industries to take a deep look in the mirror, while customers were becoming more and more sensitive to these topics.
On the other hand, the rise of social movements such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter have made it harder for brands to just stay on the sidelines.
Today, everyone and everything is subjected to severe scrutiny over their behavior, and this goes for companies, too.
Brand purpose is a response to scrutiny, but of course, it needs to be matched by actions, which is where many brands fall. While statements are easy to put out, actions are costly and take effort.
It’s no wonder that brands are wondering whether the brand purpose is really worth it.
Brand purpose: do customers really care?
Of course, having a brand purpose is a good thing for the planet and the people, and it should be pursued just for that. But marketers are also looking at numbers, and they are wondering whether there is any commercial sense in all of this.
Apparently, there is.
According to several reports, like Accenture’s “From Me to We” customers choose their brands also based on their values. This is particularly important for Millennials and Gen Z, who seem to be more idealistic in their purchase decisions.
Of course, this is what customers say, which is not necessarily what they actually do. Unilever, though, reports a far better performance for its Sustainable Living Brands, making the case that brand purpose might actually be a strong enough differentiator to drive brand salience. One could argue that Unilever brands are strong already, and having a purpose just adds to a general preference.
Recent research by the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) on brand purpose has caused quite a stir, as it tried to demonstrate that purpose-led campaigns overperformed regular ones.
Some argue that customers actually just buy the brands they love, regardless of their purpose.
The truth – as usual – is probably in the middle. Brand purpose alone is not enough to differentiate a brand today, and it shouldn’t be used as a mere marketing tactic. Brands are built on other bases, and they shouldn’t try to be just another kid on the Greenwagon.
Purpose, in other words, is not a substitute for brand strategy.
Brand Purpose and Brand Activism
In the meanwhile, brands like Nike have been raising a bar with brand activism. While brand purpose describes how a company makes its decisions according to certain values, brand activism only applies to those brands that actively try to change the world around them.
It’s what Nike did with Colin Kaepernick. It’s what Patagonia does by taking protests to the streets or suing the President of the United States.
Brand activism is not for the faint of heart, as it requires the brand to take a position in a strong and irrevocable way. Additionally, not all brands have the right background to do that.
Activism is built in time, and it’s not born out of careful planning. You either are an activist or you aren’t. You don’t do an “activist campaign”.
Should you have a brand purpose?
If you don’t have a brand purpose, it’s definitely worth approaching the topic. Trying to understand why you do what you do is a valuable journey, no matter what. It might even help you understand some fundamentals of your business.
Just don’t rely on brand purpose to make you a winner in the market. Sustainable or conscious brands abound, today. What makes you stand out?
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