ThinkOTB Agency

What is a purpose-led brand and how can marketers use it.

June 7, 2017

We are in an era of choice overload and near-constant exposure to advertising. Many brands perceive consumers to be reluctant to remain loyal to one brand. Yet it is not necessarily that consumers do not want to or cannot be loyal. Rather, they are demanding more of the organisations they choose to affiliate themselves with.

It is no longer sufficient to sell good quality products and promise strong customer service. Consumers increasingly want their brand to ‘stand for something’. Cue, purpose-led brands. This week we’re exploring what this latest buzzword means. We also question its value to brands looking to connect with consumers at a level that goes beyond sales.

The latest trend?

‘Purpose-led brand’ has become something of a buzzword in recent months. Many industry commentators are writing about the subject.

Only last week Marketing Week published a piece about energy giant E.ON’s bid to become a purpose-led brand. E.ON’s global head of brand and customer communications, Emma Inston, told Marketing Week ‘the strategy had to evolve due to changing consumer needs and because [E.ON] is keen to adopt a leadership position when it comes to renewable energy solutions.’

Adam Rush, Account Manager at Sunhouse Creative Ltd commented recently on LinkedIn that ‘from Apple’s ‘…to empower creative exploration and self-expression’, to Nike’s ‘…to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world’, there are some heavyweight claims being made’ in which brands proclaim big ideas and big goals.

A valuable new strategy, or simply CSR in disguise?

As with many buzzwords, terms gain currency quickly, but often need unpacking to understand the potential they may hold.

Many marketers reading this may be thinking, this all sounds remarkably similar. After all, many of the biggest organisations have recently pursued a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy. Marks and Spencer have Plan A, which was renewed in 2010 and 2014. It has aims of ‘helping to build a sustainable future’ because ‘there is no plan B.’ In 2009 Walt Disney Company was named a leader in CSR by the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship and Reputation Institute. It was celebrated for its Worldwide Conservation Fund helping to support over $20 million in projects in over 112 countries by 2013.

So if major brands have been practicing CSR for years, how does a purpose-led brand differ? One major difference is that, while international corporations and global players have the labour and financial resources to put into developing a CSR strategy. For many SME brands, this is not always the case. Purpose-led branding allows for the ambitions inherent in a CSR strategy to be scaled relative to the size of the organisation. They might engage with their surrounding community, reduce impact on their environment or foster links with young generations of talent.

Additionally, where purpose-led branding trumps CSR is that, whereas CSR often focuses on what organisations can give back to their environment through a proportion of profit redirection, this does not change the brand offering itself. Purpose-led branding goes further. It seeks to imbue a brand with an inherent value that can be utilised by consumers. It creates an emotional connection and offering more than simply the product or service it sells.

What are the essential components of a purpose-led brand?

Becoming a purpose-led brand is not an overnight venture, and requires commitment, foresight and patience. There are a number of important points for brands to consider when beginning this journey, a few of which are:

It’s not enough to simply know the value of purpose

Though having a brand purpose can lead to increased customer loyalty and trust, knowing this isn’t sufficient in itself. Adweek argues that brands should look to strong examples of purpose-led brands such as Airbnb. After reorienting their mission in 2013, Airbnb discovered that their purpose was ‘to make people around the world feel like they could belong anywhere.’ “Belong Anywhere” became its tagline, which according to Adweek actualized the Airbnb brand for the human race and elevated its offering above being a low-cost travel alternative.

Translate your values into messaging

Having a separate page on your website which describes your commitment to being purpose-led is likely to remain under-read and under-appreciated. In order to be a truly purpose-driven brand, this mentality needs to be clear from every marketing message that you put out into the sphere. Ernst & Young’s 2016 whitepaper ‘Winning with Purpose demonstrated this point exactly when it compared the messaging of Nike and Adidas.

While Nike’s mission statement reads ‘bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world’, backed up by the tagline ‘if you have a body you are an athlete,’ Adidas’ mission statement reads ‘strive to be the global leader in the sporting goods industry with brands built on a passion for sports and a sporting lifestyle.’ The difference in tone, resonance and aspirational level is stark when the two are placed side by side. It clearly demonstrates the importance of pitching your purpose clearly.

Whatever the size of your brand or the market within which you operate, the demand upon your organisation is changing. As customers continue to demand more, unpacking terms like purpose-led branding will become ever more necessary. You must gather insight and successfully apply it to reap the rewards. Through careful reorientation and clear messaging, brands can make the shift and go beyond large scale CSR to become truly purpose-led.

Do you want to become a purpose led brand? Get in touch with our team of creative thinkers.


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