Why you should opt for a purpose-driven brand strategy

Sep 30, 2020

You generally come to a brand because you need something: a piece of software, some new face lotion, office furniture. If that brand provides you with the thing you need and nothing else, you’re not likely to think about them much afterward. But if that brand provides you with the thing you need while also letting you know that they’re committed to a larger mission — and your purchase helps support that mission — you’re pretty likely to develop a lasting positive association.

These scenarios highlight the distinction between a brand driven by purpose and one driven purely by profit. Read on to learn what defines a purpose-driven brand, why your reputation is everything when you’re driven by purpose, how to balance purpose and profit, and more.

What Is Purpose-Driven Brand Strategy?

Every company has goals and objectives, but not every brand has a purpose. A purpose-driven brand is one that is motivated by a core mission, a mission that transcends the surface-level service or product they provide. It’s a brand that exists to solve a problem or meet a need in society, to make the world a better place, and everything they do ties back to that purpose. The purpose comes through in their mission statement, brand goals, visual identity, company culture, operational processes, and so on.  

That definition might make you think of philanthropic organizations and NGOs, but the truth is that any kind of organization can be driven by a larger purpose — and increasingly, more large corporations are. A few notable examples:

  • Dove: The personal care brand is on a mission to improve the self-esteem of women and girls everywhere. They do this through their products, but also through their marketing imagery (featuring unretouched women of all shapes, sizes, and ages) as well as social media campaigns and content that support their message.

  • The Container Store: While they’re known for selling great organizational products, The Container Store’s larger purpose is to promote Conscious Capitalism. That means that all of their business practices serve to benefit all employees, and their communications and marketing promote the idea that people at all levels of a business should thrive.

  • Nike: Underneath the sneakers and sports apparel, Nike is driven by a goal of promoting equality in not just the sports world, but all arenas. Their partnership with Colin Kaepernick is one notable example of this, but it also comes through in their business practices, marketing language, and website.

As you can see from these examples, being purpose-driven doesn’t mean being a charity or nonprofit. What it does mean is that your business has a unifying and energizing goal that drives your daily work.

In a Purpose-Driven Landscape, Reputation Is Everything  

Purpose-driven brands have become far more common in recent years for a variety of reasons. First there’s the internet and social media, which give consumers much more transparency into corporate practices, and also allows them to engage in direct dialogue with brands. It’s also partly generational, with Millennials and Gen Z-ers prioritizing environmental, social, and political issues to the point that they want their brands to align with their values.  

In response to these shifts, more and more purpose-driven brands have popped up, and it’s become something consumers now expect. Even a great product or service is not enough on its own — the brand also needs to be working toward a bigger goal.

This isn’t just a vague theory; the numbers bear it out: a poll from Unilever showed that a third of consumers believe companies should be driven by a higher purpose, while an Accenture poll found that 63% of consumers prefer to purchase from purpose-driven brands.

Meanwhile, research from Porter Novelli found that 79% of people believe companies should work to address social justice issues, 78% of consumers would tell others to buy products from a purpose-driven company, and 66% would switch from a product they typically buy to a new product from a purpose-driven company. What’s more, people are more likely to stick with purpose-driven brands, with 79% of Americans saying they would be more loyal to a brand driven by purpose than one that isn’t.

Indeed, the public today expects more of the brands they associate with. For brands, that means that if you want to reach your full potential, you need to firmly establish your purpose and then communicate it clearly in everything your company says and does. Long gone are the days when brands could separate business from larger global issues: today’s consumers need you to decide what your values are, and see that these values inform your business practices. Each of your touch points — business operations, social media, marketing, website, storefronts, customer service, products — shapes your brand reputation, and is a chance to let the public know who you are and what you stand for.

How to Balance Purpose-Driven Strategy with Financial Demands

As the examples listed above make clear, you can be purpose-driven and still be very profitable. In fact, given the shifting expectations of consumers, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to be profitable if you’re not purpose-driven. Still, idealistic missions will always come in conflict with economic realities, and there will be times when the need for cash flow threatens to compromise your greater purpose.

 To balance your brand’s larger purpose with your financial needs and goals, keep these strategies in mind: 

  • Remember to run your business like a business. Just because you’re driven by a purpose doesn’t mean you’re not also driven by quarterly goals, KPIs, and regular assessments and iterations. Track the numbers, have benchmarks, and adjust accordingly when you’re not meeting expectations.

  • Get everyone on board with your mission. Everyone feels more motivated when they’re part of something they believe in, so build a team of people who care about your core purpose. Empowered and passionate employees will not only bring their A-game to work, but also spread the word about your brand to their networks.

  • Share the impact you’re making. When your profits are tied to your purpose, you have a valuable opportunity to clearly show consumers how their purchase helped to make a difference. Communicating these wins — big and small — will make consumers feel good and want to keep investing in your brand.

  • Get funding from the right people. Every company has ups and downs, which is why it’s so important for purpose-driven brands to find investors who are aligned with their purpose. Otherwise, you risk getting pressured by shareholders to make choices that may help with finances in the short-term but compromise your long-term mission.

  • Allow for flexibility, but keep your eye on the prize. Of course, you may need to make decisions along the way that feel slightly out of sync with your larger goal: perhaps you’ll have to take on clients that you aren’t fully aligned with, or spend half a year working on a project that feels like a distraction. These types of things are sometimes necessary to keep a company afloat during tough times or to lay the groundwork for future growth. It’s totally fine to be flexible here, as long as you and your team remain committed to your purpose in the long-term.

Defining and communicating your brand’s larger purpose may seem like an extra thing to add to your to-do list, but the truth is, it makes everything that follows easier. With a purpose-driven brand strategy, you know who you are and where you’re going, and everything falls into place after that.

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