Why brand purpose is good for business
I’m going to start off by saying this one is close to my heart. As a passionate advocate for the power of a brand, you’ll get no arguments from me around the importance of having a purpose that can help align a team in their day-to-day work.
But the focus on purpose in many companies has started to feel a little tenuous. This has been magnified by recent events. My mission here is to try and clear the air.
In recent weeks, we’ve witnessed a social media kerfuffle over the results of a study by Peter Field. It analysed the IPA databank to understand whether brand purpose is an effective communications strategy. Various experts were concerned with how Field concluded that brand purpose worked. In summary, Field separated “strong” brand purpose case studies from “weak” brand purpose case studies. He argued that the “strong” case studies did things very differently. Some commenters argued that this method wasn’t valid, and any conclusions from the study were questionable at best.
Defining brand purpose
Aside from the scepticism around the methodology, the issue for me is more about definition or terms of reference. Field works with a narrow definition of brand purpose as “…improving health, the environment, human development” and so on. Lofty stuff. This is often referred to as ‘cause-related’ marketing, corporate social responsibility (CSR), and more recently environmental social government (ESG).
Whilst it’s great that businesses want to take a stance on a topic that’s important to them, it’s also important to remember we’re not all Tesla or Patagonia. It’s often not realistic or even necessary for brands to adopt this ‘worthy’ approach.
Instead, brand purpose should be more broadly viewed as a reason for being, beyond just making money. Your ‘Why do you exist?’ This is important. While pretty much every business exists to make money you need something more than a financial goal. It needs to be core to the product or service you provide.
Including employees in your brand purpose
Whatever your purpose, it shouldn’t be an after-thought or bolt on – it needs to be central to all that you do. To the way you present yourself to market; the products you make and how you make them; who and how you recruit; the associations you make; the charities you support. Everything.
Your purpose really comes into play when you start thinking about the people that make up your business. If you were to tell them your employee value proposition (EVP) was: ‘Work for me, so I can make lots of money,’ chances are they’re not going to be driven to over-deliver.
Instead, having an ownable and compelling brand purpose allows you to articulate equally inspiring employee and customer value propositions. A strong brand purpose will easily inspire initiatives and behaviours for your employees to live by on a daily basis. This tends to naturally stimulate your team to generate their own ideas to organically grow the brand.
For example, our brand purpose is around championing the power of thinking. Our EVP is for our people to go to bed smarter than when they woke up. These have been the catalysts for some fantastic initiatives that I wish I could take credit for, but it really comes down to a team that buys into the purpose of the business.
For some other examples, I highly encourage reading this Harvard Business Review article on the value of putting purpose at the core of your brand. From my perspective, there’s a clear difference between the brands this article (and the eight-year study that led to it) looks at, compared to the more campaign-based adoption of purpose in the Field study.
Purpose must be more than just another marketing buzzword, but you don’t necessarily need to feel pressure to save the world too. Done right it genuinely creates a reason to work somewhere, to buy a brand, to recommend to others. And the commercial benefits will follow.
Angela Smith is the chief brand officer at AFFINITY.