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Have a Heart: The Demand for Brand Purpose Surges

While brands are always navigating shifting consumer expectations, the bar being set in some areas is a daunting one. One of the latest: The consumer’s desire to find and support brands with Purpose – and willingness to abandon those without. A recent global survey reported that 94% of consumers say it’s important that the companies they engage with have a strong Purpose (and that they’d reward those who do). However, those same consumers also estimated that only 37% of companies have a clear and strong Purpose.

This means there’s clearly a gap that brands need to close. As marketers, we have the opportunity to help brands build the bridge. Here are four foundational steps for getting started.

1. Start Internally.

A Purpose is never going to thrive externally if it isn’t woven into the DNA of a company’s culture. This means you need to not only understand but clearly define why your company exists and the role it plays in the lives of your target audience (and/or the world). This “why” must be greater than just the good or service it provides. Popular “why” statements include Nike’s “To move the world forward through the power of sport – breaking barriers and building community to change the game for all” (vs. just making athletic apparel and shoes) and Dove’s “To ensure that the next generation grows up enjoying a positive relationship with the way they look, to help them raise their self-esteem and realize their full potential” (vs. simply making beauty and skin care products).

To help build that story, you can start by interviewing team members across the organization to gain a better understanding of what is most meaningful to them about their work and what they enjoy on their best days at the company. This is important, because if your Purpose doesn’t ring true among your employees – you’ll not only hear about it, but you won’t have the ability to realize that desire to make a difference.

Once you’ve established your “why,” you’ll need to find ways to articulate the Purpose clearly and merchandise that throughout the organization. Many companies fall flat if a Purpose isn’t stated simply enough to be easily understood and shared with others – so take time to craft and showcase it in a way that’s meaningful and a quick get. To set the stage for long-term impact, you’ll also need to review and evolve it to ensure the company remains aligned and can continue delivering on that Purpose over time.

2. Avoid “Purpose-Washing.”

One of the key lessons of 2020 was how savvy consumers are in rooting out businesses who are talking the talk, yet not walking the walk. Do you remember the backlash many companies received for posting their black square on #BlackoutTuesday? While a brand may have been trying to show their allyship in that moment, their overtures flopped or generated backlash if they had done little to support eradicating racial injustice up until then.

It is critical that your Purpose is living in the world in both ads and acts (emphasis on the acts). Acts can show up in many forms: organizational processes and culture, donations, employee activities in the community, lobbying for change and so much more. Define how your Purpose can be executed in real actions that make a real impact. While it is important to be able to share more about the Purpose you’re living with your target audience through ads and other marketing communications, it must be led by the real actions you’re taking in the world.

3. Bring In Your Fans.

When you’re able to have a shared set of values with your consumers – what a win! After you’ve clearly articulated your Purpose and some of the ads and acts you’re going to embark upon, you’ll want to find ways to weave in your fans to amplify the impact of what you’re doing. You could ask for stories that can play their way into your content program, offer a donation match for consumers who also want to give or even create “superfan” ambassadors to bring those acts to life in their own communities.

When your most loyal consumers are more connected to your Purpose, they will not only reward you with their business – but also by evangelizing your Purpose-driven efforts, products and services to their friends and family.

4. Measure the Heck Out of It.

If it’s not moving the needle in some way, you’re wasting time and resources. Take care to define what you want out of your evolved Purpose and at least know what those wish for’s are internally. If Purpose lives throughout the organization, all departments should have some expectations of performance around it. For example, if your Purpose is centered around sustainability, it’s easy to see how that could be a measurement for supply chain or product development teams. But, could the training department also have elements of accountability, such as responsibility for training all team members about the organization’s sustainable practices? Having measures in place within all teams will hold everyone accountable to truly living the Purpose.

Ideally, brands are sharing the results of their acts internally, of course, but also externally. Doing this could be as simple as an email to share the summary of donations raised for a specific cause or highlighting activities with stakeholders, vendors, partners and customers. For others, creating and sharing an annual impact report could provide greater depth around how the Purpose is manifesting.

At a time when most consumers want the brands they support with their dollars to have a little (or a lot) more heart, it’s worth the investment to consider how to become a company with greater Purpose. Interested in learning how to define and develop Purpose for your brand? Email Dana at darnold@hiebing.com to set up a call.