Why purpose-driven brands are the future of business
Once considered a positioning option for only certain types of companies, the idea of “purpose” inspired brand strategy has become virtually a requirement for any company to succeed in today’s consumer-driven marketplace.
What is brand purpose?
A company’s purpose is, of course, the reason it exists, but the idea of brand purpose goes way beyond just making a profit. It’s the added value and meaning behind everything a brand does and stands for — it’s the why they do what they do. When a business prioritizes a purpose-driven strategy, the why isn’t making money — that’s a result. The why is an underlying cause, belief or value — the reason why the company provides the products or services that it does.
Most companies today prioritize (or claim to prioritize) a core set of values — but the most effective ones are implementing those values into every aspect of the organization’s business strategy. Brand purpose brings your values to life by putting them at the forefront of everything you do. As a result, your values become your value — what sets you apart.
This means going beyond just something written on the walls around the office or some corporate mission statement that has no relevance in the day-to-day business. A well-defined and executed brand purpose affects all aspects of an organization. In other words, the why is the foundation for everything else — it aligns who you are with what you do and how you do it. Without a purpose, you’re just a company selling a product or service — and these days, people are looking for more.
Research shows that consumers are drawn to — and increasingly doing more business with — brands that are centered around improving people’s lives. Why? Because by doing business with these companies, consumers aren’t just buying a product or service, they’re investing in something bigger than that — something that’s making a difference.
As businesses strive for differentiation and relevance, brand purpose has become the driving force behind why customers — and employees — choose you over everyone else.
The power of purpose
Integrating purpose into business strategy and decision-making can impact organizational success in a variety of different ways. Most importantly, brand purpose increases a company’s value to both consumers and potential employees, by creating a connection that goes deeper than a simple transaction.
Research shows that the majority of consumers (with some studies citing as many as 90%) say that when given the choice, they will go with brands that share their values.
Over the past decade or so, or even more recently than that, the idea of purpose-driven brand strategy has become increasingly more mainstream — leading brands of all kinds to not only reevaluate the reasons behind the decisions that are being made, but also make it a priority to communicate those reasons with consumers. When a brand’s purpose is the driving force behind every decision, action and communication it puts out into the world, consumers notice. On the flip side, when a brand claims a value or purpose it can’t demonstrate, consumers notice that, too.
In his book “Start With Why,” Simon Sinek describes the effect of purpose in a great way:
“People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”
People are no longer just looking for adequate products at fair prices — they want to invest in something meaningful. Consumers today are making carefully considered choices to do business with companies that stand for something — something they can personally identify with that is aligned with their values and beliefs. At the very least, people want to know that there is meaning behind what you say and what you do — that you actually care about something other than profit.
The Lightspeed study also revealed that consumers now expect a range of “responsible practices” from American businesses, including:
Being a good employer
Operating in a way that protects and benefits society and the environment
Creating products and services that ensure individual well-being
Investing in causes in local communities and around the globe
Standing up for important social justice issues
For a purpose-driven strategy to be effective, it must be authentic. Even big brands have tried to preach deep-rooted values in marketing campaigns, only to be snuffed out by consumers who could see right through it — pointing out how the company’s actions tell an entirely different story. Jumping in on buzz-worthy conversations has been an increasingly popular way for brands to try to relate to consumers, but if it’s not genuine, it won’t work. When what you do and what you say aren’t aligned, you’re simply confirming consumers’ reluctance to believe that companies care about anything other than transactions.
Just as American consumers have evolved in their demands of companies they do business with, so have employees that work for these businesses. What people want, and very often expect, from an employer is very different than it was just 10 years ago. And to attract and retain top talent in today’s competitive landscape, companies can’t afford to ignore these desires that are often viewed as more important than an ample paycheck.
According to the 2018 Global Talent Trends study, in addition to workplace flexibility and commitment to health and well-being, employees today want to work with a purpose.
As previously mentioned, the Lightspeed study found that when it comes to responsible business practices, consumers say their top priority is that companies focus on “being a good employer” — which simply means that they put their people first.
But unfortunately, while a lot of companies are focusing on perks like unlimited PTO and ping pong tables (which of course nobody is opposed to), meeting this need for purpose is too often getting overlooked — and it’s costing companies in the form of top talent.
In the end, the goal is high employee engagement — where people are involved, passionate about and committed to their work and workplace. A 2018 report found that businesses with highly-engaged workers experienced “substantially better customer engagement, higher productivity, better retention, fewer accidents, and 21% higher profitability.”
So, how do you achieve this in today’s environment? By providing a purpose-driven and fulfilling working experience.
Like consumers, employees want to feel like their voice is being heard — and workplace culture and value-driven strategy play a big role. When people feel like there is deeper meaning to their work, they feel more connected to their company, their day-to-day job and their overall contribution at the organization. It boosts morale and people are more motivated to contribute their best. Implementing a purpose-driven strategy makes employees feel that they, and society, are valued by the company.
Implementing a strategy that works
As I already mentioned, throwing a few inspiring words on the walls around the office won’t cut it. An effective brand purpose must be a well-articulated mission that everyone in the company knows and believes in. When this foundation is in place — and drives business culture and strategy — you can create an authentic and engaging experience for both employees and consumers that stands out from the crowd.
Here are just a couple of example of successful purpose-driven brands.
Dove cracked the purpose code a while ago, and it continues to be a successful strategy today. The company’s purpose isn’t to simply sell beauty products. That’s how it makes money, but the Dove brand stands for a lot more than that.
Dove’s purpose is to improve the confidence and self-esteem of girls worldwide. Here’s how the company describes it on its website:
At Dove, we have a vision of a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety. Our mission is to ensure the next generation grow up enjoying a positive relationship with the way they look – helping girls to raise their self-esteem and realise their full potential.
This mission is successful because it gives girls, women (and all consumers) a deeper connection to the Dove brand — with a purpose anyone can get behind. By doing business with Dove, consumers aren’t just buying beauty products, they’re engaging with a purpose and vision they believe in. This strategy may not directly boost profit, but it gives the company a brand that people can relate to — and in turn, is a way for Dove to impact the world and make money.
What has made Dove even more successful is effectively implementing this purpose into its marketing strategy — specifically, by telling inspirational stories that focus more on the characters than the product. Here are just a couple of examples:
Mercedes is another great example of a brand that has figured out how to increase its value among consumers by operating with — and clearly articulating — a purpose. Unlike much of the automotive industry, which primarily focuses on customer experience and obvious things like sleek new car design, Mercedes is focusing on a hot environmental issue: CO2 emissions.
According to a 2018 Gallup survey, 62% of Americans say the government is doing “too little” to protect the environment, with the majority of respondents supporting initiatives focused on more solar and wind power sources, as well as reducing CO2 emissions. Furthermore, concern about global warming is at a three-decade high.
Research also shows that the majority consumers accept that CO2 emissions caused by cars on the road have a substantial impact on global warming — which means they want to know how auto manufacturers are doing their part to make positive change.
Mercedes has successfully answered the call.
Here’s part of a statement from the company in 2018:
From 2022, the production of our Mercedes-Benz plants in Germany will operate CO2-neutral. Thereby, we completely forego coal-based electricity and obtain our electrical energy from only renewable sources. Today, new plants in Europe are already planned with a CO2-neutral energy supply from the start. The decision also fits with our overall strategy.
The company is giving consumers the transparency they want when it comes to Mercedes’ role in the issue and what the automaker is doing to reduce its carbon footprint. And it’s working. In addition to focusing on a purpose-driven strategy across the organization, Mercedes has implemented an engaging content marketing strategy that goes way beyond just sharing highly visual images (which it does, too) — it has made it a priority to focus on exactly what the company is doing to address the widespread concern about our environment.
Take a look at just a few examples.