Brand purpose is more than a box ticking exercise that can impact on business success often we see agency terms translate into popular business vernacular. The latest term to cross the divide is brand purpose, the misappropriation of which is causing headaches in the agency world, as companies seek quick wins in their quest to convince their customer that they stand for something. Often times, the foundations of these so-called brand purposes are built on sand.
A company’s purpose is a powerful concept and one that, when properly deﬁned and managed effectively, can lead to real distinction for businesses, create an authentic connection with customers and properly engage employees. But in order to achieve this, it’s important to ﬁrst know what brand purpose means. To deﬁne purpose we must interrogate the question ‘Why does this business exist, beyond the commercial and ﬁnancial objectives?” It’s often a challenging question but a proper deﬁnition can lead to a clearly deﬁned role in how a brand answers a customer’s need. A brand’s purpose is a reflection of company culture, and where the culture reﬂects authenticity, responsibility and relevance, it will share an affinity with its intended audience.
Be true to your purpose
The biggest headache for marketing teams however is that trust in brands is falling consistently. A consequence of multiple ﬁnancial scandals, lack of transparency in their actions and growing customer cynicism due to brands constantly changing what they stand for. A recent Ipsos Connect study showed 42% of consumers distrust brands and 70% do not trust advertising (Marketing Week June 2017). This trust/distrust issue is inﬂuenced by the emergence of the more principled millennial customer, who expects more authenticity from the brands they connect with.
This has led to marketing teams scrambling to appear relevant, and in doing so redeﬁning purpose as ‘doing good’, which has them appearing more like NGOs, rather than ‘doing business’, which is what they’re supposed to do. Heineken is a great example with its range of ‘open your world’ ads released in 2017 that sought to challenge current and important societal issues. While the issues are very real and do require a platform to highlight their importance, it has nothing to do with ‘the beer in the green bottle’. In situations such as this, where brands lack realism and honesty about why they exist, consumers have begun to turn their backs. Purpose requires more than just lip service.
It requires action; a company needs to live and breathe its purpose. Otherwise it becomes a vacuous reference to a ‘nice idea’. And standing for something and acting upon it not only rallies customers to your brand, it also attracts the right employees.
A strong culture creates advocacy
You would be hard pushed to ﬁnd a staff member working for The Body Shop who doesn’t believe in what the company stands for. Each campaign undertaken by the company (now owned by the Brazilian parent company Natura Cosméticos) further embeds a well deﬁned and strong culture that resonates, not only with those who purchase the company’s products but with all stakeholders, including the parent company. A strong purpose deﬁnes a company culture, excites and engages staff and drives behaviour both internally and externally. When marketing teams parade constantly changing position as purpose, there is limited opportunity to transform staff into advocates.
As an example, a recent Gallup study found that only 13% of employees globally are highly engaged. And there are plenty of examples of this lacking engagement. You only have to spend some time on social media to come across the disaff ected. Deﬁning a company’s purpose should therefore not only be top priority for marketers but HR specialists too. In the war for talent, culture and engagement are vital. Employees can be the best ambassadors for a company, but only when they’re truly inspired by authenticity and action. And it’s the same attributes that build a reason for relationship between brand and customer. They require a compelling promise that engages and excites. To not take this approach means only one thing in the current zeitgeist; fail to deﬁne your purpose and prepare to fail.