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The “Brand purpose” bandwagon – what is it, and should your business jump on it?

Paul
Paul
Paul is a Digital Strategist at CandidSky, he leads the channel teams on some of our biggest cross-channel campaigns.

July 24, 2018

6 minute read


As businesses strive to engage with customers in more meaningful and impactful ways, the past few years have seen an increase in brands focusing on “brand purpose.” As an area of marketing strategy designed to grow a brand, its aim is usually to appeal to an audience who believe a company should stand for more than just its products or services.

What is brand purpose?

In simple terms, brand purpose, or “purpose-driven marketing”, is a way for a business to form a relationship with a target audience based on their shared needs and interests – including supporting a worthy cause.

This is not as simple as brands getting behind a cause they think their audience are interested in, but demonstrating how the company’s values and beliefs are also aligned with those causes.

Successful examples of this could be anything from flat-pack giant IKEA’s commitment to more sustainable product packaging by 2020, to outdoor clothing brand Patagonia donating 1% of sales revenue to the preservation and restoration of natural environments.

Why would a brand adopt a purpose?

So why would brands go down this route? Is the the pool of passive consumers dwindling? Can greater brand loyalty be achieved through aligning marketing messages with a particular set of values? What are the benefits for brands focusing on promoting brand purpose as part of their marketing strategy, you might ask?

One key benefit is to grow the brand’s reach to a new audience who may not have heard of, or wanted to buy from, that particular brand previously. If a brand is strongly supporting a cause the consumer also feels passionately about, there is potential to build a strong relationship with that audience.

When is adopting a brand purpose the right strategy?

Brand purpose initiatives have the potential to tap into new audiences, increase brand loyalty and increase customer retention amongst existing audiences.

So how can you tell if launching a brand purpose initiative is the right way for your business to go – and if the timing is right?

Here is what you need to ask yourself:

  1. What objectives does this marketing strategy need to achieve based on your market offering and target audience?
  2. How does the strategy coherently direct your resource in order to achieve these objectives?
  3. What are the tactics needed to successfully execute this?

Many businesses have successfully identified and implemented the above three steps. For example, The Body Shop’s brand purpose was to commit to ‘enriching its people, products and the planet’.

They did so by setting clear, measurable objectives:

  1. Help 40,000 economically vulnerable people access work around the world.
  2. Ensure 100 percent of their natural ingredients are traceable and sustainably sourced, protecting 10,000 hectares of forest and other habitat.
  3. Build bio-bridges, protecting and regenerating 75 million square meters of habitat helping communities to live more sustainably.

What success looks like

In the case of The Body Shop, they don’t commit to achieving too many objectives, but the ones they have are clearly aligned to their customers’ perception of the company and products.

The Body Shop communicates this to its supporters on a daily basis, pushing messages out via mobile and updating till points with the latest fundraising targets. As head of global campaigns at The Body Shop, Jessie Macneil-Brown, says, their brand purpose efforts make it “clear and quantifiable to consumers how each campaign is driving social change.”

However, as with most marketing strategy, the end goal is typically focused on growing revenue -it’s why more and more brands are exploring this avenue of marketing strategy. For The Body Shop, the return to the company’s activist roots was (at least partially) commercially motivated, coming off the back of a slump in sales. And the key to brand purpose success is to ensure the alignment with a cause doesn’t come off as a blatant money-grabbing exercise.

Unfortunately, for every brand purpose marketing campaign that gets this part right, there have been many that don’t hit the mark…

When brand purpose goes bad

Many recent brand purpose initiatives to make the news have proven that even the biggest companies can get it wrong when the tactics aren’t aligned to a strategy, and the strategy isn’t aligned to relevant business objectives. In fact, many failed brand purpose strategies have opened businesses up to harassment, ridicule, and negative publicity.

Notable recent failures include Pepsi trying to solve global disharmony, Starbucks aiming to remove racial tension, Heineken hoping to break down the barriers between transgender people and their critics, or most recently, cosmetic brand Lush targeting the police and shaming them for their infiltration of activists between 1968 and 2008.

As prominent marketer Mark Ritson suggests “Consumers do not want brands to be evil, but they also do not want them to posture about purpose. People are not morons, they can smell the hypocrisy of taking up a purpose while ultimately pushing it for commercial benefit”.

And as European marketing director at Patagonia Alex Weller recently said:

You can’t reverse into a mission and values through marketing. The organisations that are struggling with this are probably the ones that are thinking about marketing first. The role of marketing is to authentically elevate that mission and purpose and engage people in it, but the purpose needs to be the business.

Therefore if customer retention, audience growth, brand loyalty, and revenue growth are your business objectives, there are many other strategies to achieve this, in the event brand purpose isn’t a clear avenue to pursue at this stage.

Tapping into new audiences via an improved keyword strategy, building customer retention through engaging content or growing revenue from your existing audience through conversion rate optimisation are all areas the team at CandidSky excel in, so why not get in touch today and see how we can help you maximise your marketing strategy.

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