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Purpose: it’s built-in not bolted on


Purpose: it’s built-in not bolted on


In the second instalment of their three part series on brand purpose, Ben Peacock and Scott Matyus-Flynn discuss how introducing purpose to your brand can’t be done in half measures, and look at three big name brands doing it right.


  • In part one, Peacock and Matyus-Flynn compare the current focus brands have on purpose with the three waves digital went through in becoming a mainstream mode of communication and technology.
  • In part three, Peacock and Matyus-Flynn offer five ways to find the right cause for your brand.

Done well, building purpose into your brand is both the most difficult and rewarding thing you will do in your career.

Yes, you can start small, but ultimately, like anything to do with brand, you can’t be half in – you either stand for something or you don’t. Purpose needs to be built-in, not bolted on.

Bolt-ons are easy to spot. They talk a good game but, ultimately, their actions let them down.

Like BP talking ‘beyond petroleum’ then engulfing the Gulf with oil. Or VW taking us all for mugs in a US$20 billion fail that has seen that brand lose trust, customers, employees and reputation in one big brand stink.

Brands like these become unstuck because purpose is not authentically built into the business, guiding both business and brand decisions. Just as purpose is important for authenticity, authenticity is important for purpose.

Purpose needs to drive both words and actions. It needs to go beyond the marketing team and influence how everyone in the business does things.

Done right, purpose will challenge you to walk the line between long term positive impact and short term sales.

It will make you rethink whether the world really does need your brand, and why.

It will ask you to better understand the issues that matter to your customers and communities they live in.

It will force you to spend more time with other teams within the business – like innovation, sustainability and HR –than you ever have before.

It will demand you become a master explainer to the powers that be – especially the sceptics in upper management who cut their teeth in a different generation.

It will make you ask the question of your own core purpose and role in the world.

But most of all it will equip you with a new skill set that few can match, set you and your brand up for the future world and help you reach your targets while also going home feeling like a better person who made the world a better place. And what could be better than that?

So who’s doing it well? To help you along the journey, let’s look at three brands with purpose built in, not bolted on.


The Body Shop. An original pioneer.

When people talk brand purpose, they often think of it as a new idea. At which point, we like to remind them that Anita Roddick built a global empire off the back of three words: ‘against animal testing’.

body shop against animal testing

By tapping into an uncomfortable truth about cosmetics – that our favourite cosmetics are killing our favourite fluffy animals – The Body Shop put a spotlight on the problem and presented the solution in one neat package, and took the world by storm.

It was authentic, because it was an issue Anita Roddick genuinely cared about.

It drove business, because it tapped an issue her customers genuinely cared about.

And it set the brand up for a long life built on the premise of ‘buy from us and make the world a better place’.

In business terms, The Body Shop built an empire of over 2,000 shops in over 50 countries by having a real point of difference that went beyond communications and packaging and into the way the product was made.

Championing causes, particularly those related to animals has remained a cornerstone of the brand, its communications and in-store activations ever since.


Patagonia. A global leader.

An undisputed heavyweight of the purpose-led brand, Patagonia brings together clothing and causes and mixes the line between advertising and activism.

Let’s start with its purpose. Wrapped in a mission statement, it looks like this: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

The way it’s written speaks volumes. It is humble, not boastful. It accepts that by being in business it does damage and sets a pathway of constant improvement – for its products and its social and environmental impacts.

Patagonia has taken this brand platform and built on it with actions that write its own communications.

1% for the Planet is its philanthropic program. It takes 1% of profits or 10% of turnover (whichever is greater) and distributes it to grassroots environmental causes. In doing so, it creates conversations and fans globally, as well as impact.

Worn Wear is its brand activation. Old style vans roam the country, offering free clothing repairs and creating a centrepiece for clothing exchange get togethers.

patagonia van


Vote the Environment is both a change campaign and a T-shirt design. By encouraging people to find out where its local politician stands a on key issues, it stay away from supporting any one party while standing for a key cause at election time.

vot the environment


It goes on. Whether through supply chain change, or dollar-matched philanthropy, Patagonia has mastered the art of creating positive change while creating a positive brand story all at the same time.

Its reward? The company doubled in size between 2009 and 2015 to be an almost billion dollar behemoth. The world’s reward? As Patagonia says, ‘the more we grow, the more we give.’ Who wouldn’t want a brand like that?

Related: On Black Friday 2016, Patagonia raised US$10 million for grassroots environmental organisations worldwide – 100% of its sales for the day


IAG. A local legend.

Better known as the financial muscle behind consumer brands NRMA Insurance, CGU, SGIO and others, IAG may not seem a likely candidate to engage its customers in purpose, yet it’s one of Australia’s leaders in the space.

Its purpose: make your world a safer place.

So simple, so logical, so what you want from an insurance company.

It drives in innovation. Globally, IAG has used insurance data to develop a global interactive map highlighting the economic and social cost of disasters.

It drives collaboration. Nationally, IAG has partnered with the Australian Red Cross and others to form the Australian Business Roundtable working to reduce the cost and impact of natural disasters.

It drives partnerships. Locally, IAG supports organisations like the SES to help communities reduce the impact of storms and floods.

It drives product development. At a time when other companies were cancelling people’s insurance for renting their homes on AirBNB, IAG looked to its purpose and decided that would not help make people’s world a safer place. Instead IAG created ShareCover – short term insurance for short term rentals.

Not bad for a brand whose interaction with its customers would otherwise stop at an annual renewal notice.

Top Tips

So where to begin?

We’ve worked with dozens of brands to help them on the pathway to bringing purpose into their brands and have learned dozens of lessons doing so. Here are some of our top tips:

  • Start at the start: Why do you exist? Who and what is your brand dependent on for success?
  • Consult wide and early: Purpose works best when it’s whole-of-business owned. Otherwise you may have conflicting strategies.
  • Think long term: If your purpose lives and dies over a campaign it’s probably just a nice idea.
  • Act first, talk later: It keeps things authentic, and gives you something to talk about.


In part three, Peacock and Matyus-Flynn discuss the five brand actions – five ways the world’s best brands take purpose to the market.

In part one, Peacock and Matyus-Flynn compare the current focus brands have on purpose with the three waves digital went through in becoming a mainstream mode of communication and technology.

Ben Peacock is founder and partner at Republic of Everyone.

Scott Matyus-Flynn is head of strategy and partner at Republic of Everyone.



Image copyright: luckybusiness / 123RF Stock Photo


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