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Malena's Brands with Purpose vs Purposeless Brands

Purpose, not altruism. Why authenticity matters in marketing

June 12th, 2017 · No Comments

As a marketer, it’s always been my job to shape a brand’s messaging efforts to express more than just the products or services they offer. It’s on me to help define brand purpose and communicate it clearly to consumers.

No pressure.

As an individual constantly in search of purpose in my own life, it’s a vocation that suits me quite well. I want to actively improve people’s lives through the work I do, and the companies I work with.

This drive to seek out and define meaning is not unique to me, of course. People have always looked for conviction in their lives, which includes the products and purchases that are often a reflection of their personal values.

Social purpose is an increasingly important factor for consumers: Edelman’s 2016 “EARNED BRAND” study revealed that brands will most effectively address consumer expectation and desire through “purpose, storytelling, and listening.”

Over the past few years, many brands have realized that “giving back” (or at least talking about it) can be good for business. Essentially, having purpose pays.

It is no surprise therefore that EY Beacon Institute and Harvard Business Review Analytic Services’ joint report on “The Business Case For Purpose” revealed that companies with a clearly articulated purpose see higher growth rates.

That’s a huge incentive, and perhaps the reason why we’ve seen the rise of the excessively emotional advert and cause-driven business strategy — whether it’s to (ultimately) sell food or say, energy.

But consumers are smarter, and know when a brand is sincere in supporting relevant causes or when it’s just another marketing ploy or brand building exercise.

Purpose must be ingrained in every part of the business, from company culture and innovation, to community outreach and marketing — because purpose demands actual purpose, not altruism.

Here are my tips on how to authentically build and articulate brand purpose:

1. Know your company: You must understand your past, your employees, industry and the basis on which your brand was founded. Your company will make a difference by doing what it naturally does best. Philips Lighting, for example, started out by bringing low cost, reliable light bulbs to the masses. Over the years, it has built purpose on this foundation of almost a century of entrepreneurship, and improves lives through ground-breaking innovations.

2. Purpose ought to be born in the boardroom, rather than the marketing department — so that it is truly embedded within the organization and its business objectives. It must have the commitment of the C-suite and beyond to inspire shareholders, employees and consumers.

Take the Sustainable Living Plan, for example, conceived by Unilever’s CEO, Paul Polman. His aim was for Unilever to operate by respecting its environmental and social impact as well as to increase sales and profitability. Polman engaged all the company’s brands as well as employees, customers and other companies up the supply chain. Since he launched his enlightened capitalism plan in 2010, shares have rocketed. Unilever has recently expanded its work towards sustainability in its recent launch of “brightFuture”, the parent company platform that brings together all of its brands under one umbrella, amplifying and uniting the social work done by its individual brands towards sustainability.

3. Purpose must be integral to what you do: When a company embodies its purpose, and truly acts in the way it says it will, the message will be inherently authentic and therefore trusted. This is particularly important in our transparent society. Purpose must be more than just a hashtag: It sounds obvious, but it must be about what a brand does, rather than just what it says.

Take for example, TOMS Shoes, while not shy of being a for-profit organization, an integral part of its business model is helping a person in need with every product purchased. Such is the power and success of the concept, that TOMS Shoes has expanded to TOMS Eyewear and TOMS Roasting Company. TOMS is more than just a brand, it’s a global movement, and one that I wish I’d started myself!

Or take Shell’s #makethefuture program, which, while surprising to some, was an initiative of our own invention. Admittedly, it does have a hashtag —but it has also brought safer and cleaner lighting solutions to 26 countries. It created the world’s first kinetic-energy football pitch, and fueled the first company in the world to industrialize the process of recycling waste coffee grounds into advanced biofuels. We’re not just talking about bright energy ideas for the sake of it; we’re actively enabling them.

4. Effectively communicate your purpose to your target audience. Walk the walk before you talk the talk. After you’ve established and demonstrated your purpose consistently, then you can talk the talk. Your brand might be making all the difference in the world to the world, but unless you effectively engage consumers, no one will know about what you’re doing.

Sometimes, this will mean engaging influencers or celebrities to amplify your message, and the key here is engaging personalities who meaningfully reflect the brand or message. For me, the power of celebrity was effectively harnessed in UN OCHA’s #ShareHumanity campaign — numerous stars, including Richard Branson, Cody Simpson and footballer Kaká, donated their social media feeds so that the UN agency’s message was amplified and shared with the largest possible audience. The campaign was enormously successful, generating 170,717 tweets and 1,702,188,256 impressions during its initial week.

The brands I mentioned all have one important characteristic in common — their core purpose is more than marketing. It’s at the core, and you can’t fake that.

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