How to instil and convey genuine brand purpose

Today, eight in 10 global consumers say purpose is at least as important to them as Customer Experience. And more than half of Gen Y and Z consumers, compared to 37% of other consumers, say they have shifted a portion of their spend away from their current service provider when a company disappointed them due to its words or actions on a social issue. So, making sure your brand has purpose is more important than ever for success. But when we talk about brand purpose, what do we actually mean? And if you’re not sure if your brand has one, how do you establish what it is and make sure it’s genuine? Type ‘brand purpose’ into Google and you will see umpteen Venn diagrams and ‘golden circle’ explanations. Ultimately, when we talk about brand purpose, it’s the very reason your brand exists. And once you’ve established this, it will filter down through your entire business strategy – from everything to your branding and tone-of-voice, right through to your company culture and your business processes. And ultimately, it will influence whether consumers decide to choose your brand over your competitors.

How to establish your brand’s purpose

When you know the reason your brand exists, you will understand what your purpose is. And making money isn’t a purpose, it’s a product of what you do or sell. Your purpose is more than this. When we work with clients, they usually fall into three categories – those that have their purpose nailed and it is clear to everyone (these are the rare ones), those that think their purpose is one thing, but after some investigation quickly realise it must be something else, and those that haven’t established their purpose at all (the most common).

There are different ways to get to the heart of what your brand stands for, and we use tried and tested methods to achieve this. But it all starts with that very simple question – what do you stand for? If you know what this is, you’re off to a winning start. And if you don’t, agencies like ours can help you get to the bottom of it. But if you’re a brand that thinks you know your purpose, but you’re not following through on it – this is where you’re in dangerous waters. Trying to establish a purpose for the sake of it and jumping on the ‘purpose bandwagon’ is, in our opinion, worse than having no purpose at all. For one, consumers will see right through it and you risk damaging your brand beyond repair.

Why purpose is important to today’s consumer

With nearly half of Gen Y and Z saying they prefer brands that make them feel part of something bigger and connect people around common causes or beliefs, you could be missing out on a large customer base if you fail to establish and effectively convey your brand’s purpose. That’s not to say your brand always has to take a stance or on societal issues, or be advocates for or against particular social groups, but knowing what your brand believes in will give your followers and potential customers something to believe in. Likewise, it will also inspire your employees. And today’s consumer is basing their purchasing decisions on much more than just price point and availability. Issues such as sustainability and equality are becoming more important factors for consumers when it comes to choosing the brands they buy from. This is where it is important not to veer into the trap of ‘engineered’ brand purpose. Just because sustainability is a hot topic, it doesn’t mean you should make it your purpose if it clearly isn’t. But your purpose may well lead to you having a stance on sustainability, and it might form part of your wider strategy. The bottom line is, if you’re working for a cause you believe in – it gives your potential customers something to believe in.

When it’s time to speak up

When it comes to social and political issues, the way your brand responds to these can have a major impact on how your brand is perceived. That’s why, as we’ve already alluded to, it is imperative that your brand isn’t seen to be jumping on a band wagon and speaking out about a subject that has no relevance to your brand’s purpose. In this case, you’ll just be adding to the noise and your audience will quickly see through it as meaningless and disingenuous.

If it is a topic that is close to your brand purpose, or aligns with your brand values, then your followers will expect you to speak out. But again, there still has to be some care taken when considering your approach – the way you handle such situations could be detrimental to your brand. However, if you get this right, you could win more favour with your current customers and attract new followers to your brand. Finally, it’s important to make sure you are adding value to a conversation or making positive steps to improve the situation.

Striking the right tone

In terms of hierarchy, your purpose is at the top of the tree when it comes to establishing your brand – it’s your North Star. Your vision, mission, values and positioning all follow – and these will all help to form your brand’s tone-of-voice. But when it comes to communicating with your audience, making sure your tone is consistent – especially if you’re commenting on issues that are true to your purpose – is crucial. Just as with speaking out at all – getting your tone wrong can lose the trust of your followers and damage your brand’s reputation. Get it right, and you can elevate your brand and grow your followership. Take Brewdog’s ‘beer for girls’ campaign. By creating a ‘pink beer’ aimed at highlighting issues around the gender pay gap – an unquestionably worthy cause – Brewdog got the tone completely wrong. With the campaign’s execution the irony they were aiming for was lost, and the backlash was fierce. They completely missed the mark and subsequently had to issue an apology and explanation for the campaign, leaving a wave of angry people in its wake. On the other end of the scale, in 2018 The Body Shop teamed up with Cruelty Free International to launch their Forever Against Animal Testing campaign. This was not aimed at driving sales for the brand but was intended to launch a petition to gather 8 million signatures to end animal testing in cosmetics across the globe. Reiterating the brand’s continued battle to end animal testing, they were able to collect a record-breaking 8.3 million signatures for the petition, which they took to the United Nations. There is no question that this campaign was authentic, true to The Body Shop’s purpose and struck the right tone to galvanise support for this cause – the proof is in the incredible number of signatures they received.

Using storytelling to convey your beliefs

Storytelling is a powerful tool that can be used to convey your purpose in an authentic way. Telling the story of your brand – why you exist and what you believe in – will help to showcase your values and drive deeper connections with consumers. And authenticity is key. When it comes to brand purpose, anything that feels dishonest or disingenuous will be rejected immediately. So, when you’re telling the story of your brand, it needs to be honest.

Whether you stand against social injustice or you just want to make quality products that make people feel happy or improve their lives, conveying that in an authentic is what will really resonate. Of course, creativity comes in to play here and being able to tell that story in a creative way will also help to drive those connections. But, as we keep mentioning, staying true to your core reason for being and not being side tracked by the latest trending topics will stand you in good stead.

Staying true to your purpose

If you hadn’t already guessed, this is something we cannot advocate enough. And while it may be the one thing that divides opinion, it’s also the way to strengthen loyalty with your customers. When it comes to speaking out on particular social issues or building campaigns around a specific cause, you are bound to divide opinion. But if you are staying true to your purpose and you get the tone right, it can have a direct impact on your engagement and sales. Take Nike’s controversial Colin Kaepernick campaign, which saw those on the opposing side of the issue burn their Nike shoes and claim the brand was ‘anti-American’. However, as much as it divided people, it also strengthened the appeal of the brand for its core followers, and it achieved a 31% increase in sales the weekend after it launched. You can’t please everyone and sitting on the fence will only get you so far. If you are staying true to your brand purpose, you have to accept that this won’t always appeal to the masses – but by remaining authentic, you will build loyalty with your core fanbase and potentially attract new customers. And be wary of trying to appeal to the masses by speaking out on every trending topic – you will be called out for being disingenuous and you will lose the trust of your audience.

Your checklist for authentic brand purpose

  • Establishing why your brand exists
  • Making sure you follow through on your values – actions speak louder than words
  • Choose your partners wisely – only work with people that share your brand’s values
  • Only speak up if a topic is relevant to your purpose and beliefs and make sure you get the tone right
  • Use the power of story to showcase your brand’s values
  • Stay true to your core beliefs and making sure they are at the heart of all your branding