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  • Writer's pictureGayle Carpenter

Brand purpose: does your business have a 'why'?

As featured in Transform Magazine

A look at how some of the world's most powerful and successful brands have found exactly the right balance between profit and purpose.

Look at the following brand purpose statements. Which brands do these belong to?

  • To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world (and everybody is an athlete).

  • To empower creative exploration and self-expression

  • Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

The three brands chosen for this exercise are brands which successfully combine their brand goal with their brand purpose and make it look easy, (Nike, Apple and Patagonia respectively) but for many businesses, whilst there is always a defined goal, many don’t have a WHY? or even understand the need to having one.

What is a brand purpose?

While a brand goal is what a business anticipates accomplishing in a set period of time, usually a three-year cycle, your brand purpose is the reason you have formed your company and can be, as demonstrated above, explained in a single sentence.

If you tell your staff or customers that you want to achieve double digit growth and dominate your industry, it's not going to encourage them, but is a classic ‘goal.’

Purpose is more of a long-term investment; it doesn't necessarily provide you with quick wins but it helps to build brand loyalty and the emotional connection and trust with your customers. The disparity comes when you have to balance playing a long game when you have two/three-year business objectives.

Inevitably, therefore, some businesses find it very hard to understand purpose, fail to see the value in it and are sceptical, particularly stakeholders who have it ingrained in them to make profit the priority. They might question that purpose doesn't necessarily have an ROI against it and initially question why it is important.

But when you look at some of the world’s most powerful and successful brands, they have found that balance and as Steve Jobs once said;

“If people have a greater sense of purpose, profit will follow.”

Brand purpose is not a fad

Most of us can remember our school motto such as ‘honour and integrity’ - these gave us value and purpose, and this works in parallel with brand purpose.

Whilst the pandemic has seen a spike in the popularity of brands with purpose, it’s not just a fad. The last few years have seen a significant rise in the success of brands with an innate brand purpose.

Unilever backs this up with examples from their own brands, explaining that “In 2018, our 28 Sustainable Living Brands – those taking action to support positive change for people and the planet – grew 69% faster than the rest of our business. That's up from 46% in 2017.”

The Cone/Porter Novelli survey found that 66% of consumers would switch from a product they typically buy, to a new product from a purpose-driven company.

Purpose-led brands saw their valuation surge by 175% over the past 12 years, versus a growth rate of just 70% for listless brands uncertain of their role.

Purpose isn't something you advertise; you don't commercialise it, and that's why it's such a hard concept to understand. However, as the stats show, businesses need to find a way to entwine the two if the business hasn’t grown organically with a defined purpose.

The examples of companies that really demonstrate the power of purpose have been built from the ground up, where purpose is embedded in everything they do; it has been intrinsic from day one.

Ben and Jerry's is one of the best examples of this; they are activists who sell ice cream. They never set out to be so successful, but the reason for their popularity, why consumers buy into them and why there is such brand loyalty, is that they are genuine activists for change, and this has always been the case.

Every business needs a why

In the wake of the pandemic, many businesses are reassessing their strategies and as a result are thinking hard about their brand purpose. But how does this translate for the b2b sector, for businesses who don’t have a consumable product and who talk more prominently about business goals?

All businesses, no matter the sector/product/service, need to start with the ‘why?’ and for this reason you need to implement the top-down business model.

The mistake a lot of people make is they want a website and a social media campaign- and that's fine- but what are you going to say? These businesses know what they need to do but they don't know how to do it. People who start from the bottom up haven’t identified their brand/strategy/purpose and there is a whole piece of work that needs to be done before they can produce something that captures the hearts and minds of their staff and their audience. People won’t engage if there is no ‘why?’

Starting with a single idea at the top and then making the right decisions to forge ahead and flow down through the business enables you to position yourself, to create the right tone of voice and to identify your audience and your deliverables.

Another classic mistake is just tacking on some kind of charity or ‘do good’ angle to make it look like brand purpose; consumers will see straight through it. Even global giants make mistakes as demonstrated by the 2017 Pepsi advert featuring Kendall Jenner. This was a prime example of a brand trying too hard. What was meant to be a message of unification had to be pulled and apologised for (‘We missed the mark and we apologise’ – Pepsi) due to public backlash.

Does it matter if we don't have a brand purpose?

Well, yes! People are more likely to buy into you if you have a brand purpose and if you don’t, you will let other people occupy that space. This is where the challenger brands will come in and dominate.

Consumers will connect with other brands over yours and the result is that you won’t achieve your goals and you won’t grow your market share, which is proof again that brand purpose isn't just about being nice and fluffy, it actually and actively works towards achieving your brand goals.

Apple still remains true and its purpose lives on. People have come and gone from the business, but the core remains the foundation of the entire business and its unparalleled success.

And let’s face it, we'd all like a slice of that pie!

Gayle Carpenter, Creative Director of Sparkloop Creative Agency


As featured in Transform; the global magazine for rebranding and brand development.



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