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Why is brand purpose important to your customers?

Today, more and more buyers expect brands to have not just functional benefits but a social purpose.

What is brand purpose?

An organization with a powerful brand purpose is one that has a higher reason for being than just making a profit. Brand purpose is a statement of the positive change a company plans to delivery in their community or the world. Companies who are driven by a brand with purpose lead with their values – their purpose is built onto the very DNA of the organization whether they are for-profit or not. Brand purpose provides a focal point for the business and guides everything it does. It should deliver a concrete benefit to people’s lives the the world around we live in. Ideally, it should promote breakthrough innovation that drives future growth. But, mostly, a company’s stated brand purpose should inspire employees and customers to act.



A study involving more than 7,000 consumers conducted by researchers at Harvard Business School revealed that 64% consumers who said they had a brand relationship cited shared values as the primary reason. Only 13% mentioned frequent interactions with the brand as a reason for having a relationship.

And when you look at buyer demographics, the imperative to lead with values becomes even more pressing. 87% of Millennials want to make purchases that have an environmental or social benefit. Considering that Millennials make up 87.5 million buyers, there is a tremendous opportunity for organizations to harness these buyers in the service of doing good.

Companies with a strong brand purpose tend to boast more engaged employees. According to a Deloitte study, 73 percent of employees who say they work at a company guided by a brand with purpose are engaged, compared to just 23 percent of those who don’t.

Other research supports the notion that employees are inspired if they get meaning from their company’s purpose and are inspired by leaders in their company. A study by Bain and Company partners Eric Garton and Michael Mankins, reveals that productivity among satisfied employees is 100%, while engaged employees hit 144%, and inspired employees deliver 225% productivity.

There is a strong argument to suggest that companies with brand with purpose also have a better case in engaging the customers who want to change the world with their wallets. That’s because, according to SAP’s Global CMO, Alicia Tillman, consumers are increasingly buying based on a company/brand’s purpose and how focused they are on the greater good. Tillman believes that buying with purpose will emerge as the sustainable differentiator that separates one company from another.

Apple’s brand purpose is revealing

Speaking in 1997, Apple CEO, Steve Jobs said:  “Marketing is about values.”  He was talking about how Apple was launching a new ad campaign that would answer the questions: Who is Apple? What does Apple stand for?  “Apple at the core, it’s core brand value…we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better,” Jobs explained. He went on to describe the new campaign theme: “Think different” and the rest is history.  Over the years, however, Apple’s brand purpose has evolved. Today, it is striving to empower creative exploration and self-expression

To drive engagement, companies need to make sure that their brand purpose aligns with their stakeholders’ values. People, in large numbers, can identify purpose that aligns with their own values within brands, and are willing to publicly support that purpose. Research by Edelman has identified a clear link between brands’ and leaders’ communicated purpose and trust in companies.


Clearly, it would be tempting for a company to hire consultants to craft a brand purpose statement and then only plaster it on their websites and across social media. In effect, this would be paying lip service to the idea of being purpose-driven to appease a key demographic without actually doing anything differently in the world.

What does it mean to be a purpose-driven company?

It’s simple: put purpose alongside profit to harness the potential of business as a force for good. A core value of a purpose-driven business is to find a need within society and work hard to meet it.

The key, however, is that a business needs to infuse its brand purpose in all that it does. Being a brand with purpose requires courage and a commitment to a new path. Consumer goods company, Seventh Generation, for example, uses their business to inspire a consumer revolution that nurtures the health of the next seven generations.

nike brand purpose


Companies which have crated brands with purpose span the gamut from upstart startups to Fortune 500 brands like Johnson & Johnson and SAP. Here are a few brand purpose examples:

  • Nike’s decision to use Colin Kaepernick as the face of the ad campaign celebrating the 30th anniversary of ‘Just Do It’ reflects a brave move by a brand to stand on the right side of history.

  • Starbucks brand purpose: From striving towards 100 percent ethically sourced coffee and participating in community service, to launching a climate change strategy, Starbucks has always had a reputation for pushing social and environmental issues.

  • Warby Parker committed to a familiar pay forward a pair of glasses, or the value of a pair of glasses with every pair purchased model with over 1 Million pairs paid forward so far.


  • Salesforce: The company’s commitment to social change is reflected in it’s 1-1-1 model – called Pledge 1% – whereby Salesforce contributes one percent of product, one percent of equity, and one percent of employee hours back to the communities it serves globally.

  • Largesse believes that corporate gifting can be a force for good. The company curates beautifully presented handmade, eco-conscious and/or fairly traded corporate gifts. In doing so, Largesse creates sustainable economic opportunities for marginalized and talented artisans across the world by giving them equal access to the global marketplace of corporate buyers. 

  • Icelandic Glacial is the world’s first certified carbon-neutral manufacturer of natural spring water, using green energy to deliver a premium product with a completely offset carbon footprint


  • Ecobalanza creates organic and sustainable upholstered furniture. The company uses only natural, non-toxic and 3rd party certified organic materials which are sourced locally whenever possible. A team of skilled artisans use old-world techniques to create each sofa, chair, ottoman or headboard to the highest quality standards.


  • cuddle+kind produces hand-knit, heirloom-quality dolls that not only help feed children around the world, but also provide women artisans in Peru with sustainable, fair trade income.


At the time of writing, the world is facing a health pandemic the likes of which most people have never experienced in their lifetimes. As the virus continues to spread, companies and brands are experiencing pressure and scrutiny of how they are responding from a well-being, economic and a values standpoint. Now, more than ever before, companies have to decide where the balance lies for them when it comes to prioritizing profit or purpose. That’s because COVID-19 elevates the social impact of every business and brings into focus the nature of companies and the character of their brands. 

It is critically important, however, that whatever action a brand chooses to take during this time is authentic – an extension of the brand’s values rather an an opportunistic strategy to profit from a global tragedy.  “It’s a tightrope,” said Ben Essen, chief strategy officer at Iris. “Any genuine attempts to help can appear disingenuous. On the other hand, any form of commercial activity can appear as profiteering.”

In a new study, Kantar and the ARF analyzed 45 purpose-driven campaigns, selected based on awards recognition and social listening, and found success is rooted in three principles:

  • Brand precedence, where an organization has an established history championing a cause or positioning

  • Partnerships with people outside of the organization who are passionate about the cause, which lends credibility

  • Commitments to offering tangible solutions over the long term versus a one-off stunt.

When the dust settles and some kind of new normal emerges, the lasting effects on marketing could be that brand purpose — which was already gaining traction pre-pandemic — becomes the new industry standard, a table stakes practice required for business success.

Companies who are walking the walk of brand purpose during the coronavirus pandemic include:

  •  Lyft launched Essential Deliveries, a program aimed at serving healthcare and government organizations and nonprofits.

  • Swim Across America teamed up with Speedo USA to donate 2,000 goggles for use as protective eyewear for hospital medical staff.

  • Cottonelle  urged people to, “Stock up on generosity,” and simultaneously launched a campaign called #ShareASquare, in partnership with the U.S.-based charity, United Way.

  • Family-owned grooming and personal care brand, Pacific Shaving Company, have donated 100 percent of their online sales to the CDC Foundation to help fund much needed medical supplies and emergency services and relief to vulnerable communities.

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More and more, consumers are also expecting brands to advocate for broad-based efforts to support systemic change benefiting society at large. What this really means is that activist brands have the opportunity to raise awareness for a social issue that brings greater value to society beyond increasing buy-in to the brand and the products manufactured. This is especially true in response to recent events surrounding police brutality and systemic racism, stemming from the tragic deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Jacob Blake and more.  The way brands can drive societal change is to engage with governments and cultural influencers, and bring along citizens in the hope of sparking a groundswell of support and collaboration that lasts for years.

Brands who choose to operate at the intersection of profit and purpose should stand for something before taking a stand. Examine the values of your organization and see how they respond to the current state of affairs. Do you need to reexamine them or are they a good launchpad for your new initiatives and foray into brand activism?

"The unfortunate part of that is that a lot of brands have discovered Black Lives Matter the summer of 2020, so they've scrambled around trying to figure out how to respond. Now, that is not to take any credit away from some brands, and unfortunately there aren't enough of them, who've really spent quite a bit of time focused on programs in the area of social justice and racial equity," said Forester's Dipanjan Chatterjee.

Ben and Jerry's (owned by Unilever) has been committed to fighting for racial justice for years.  "In the United States, we're primarily focused on issues around civil rights and racial justice broadly," says Ben & Jerry's Activism Manager, Chris Miller. "[We focus] on the need to reform our nation's criminal justice system and the way we approach policing. In Europe, we are focused on issues related to the refugee and asylum-seeker crisis there. And in many of our new markets, including Australia, we're focused on issues of climate change and climate justice."

Miller points out that for brands to create meaningful change in the world, it's not an exercise in Facebook posts or Instagram stories, but rather how a brand drives impact. 

Navigating the waters of social advocacy is far more difficult for brands than many want to acknowledge, and that the price of getting it wrong can be extreme. 

Look to Netflix as a positive example of brand activism in practice. The organization has increased its commitment to equity and inclusion in the last two years. In 2018, Netflix hired a head of diversity and inclusion who launched new programs, such as Strong Black Lead, which supports Black Americans in lead roles. It has also increased its number of Black employees and Black leaders over the last three years. Most recently, Netflix announced that it would move $100 million of its investments to Black-owned banks.  Because Black-owned banks are historically underfunded, Netflix made a deep impact by investing the capital needed to service more loans and attract more investment capital. 


Because customers expect companies and brands to do good in some way, SAP’s Tillman believes this presents marketers with an opportunity to help drive purpose driven strategy in their companies.


For most companies, articulating and communicating purpose can be challenging. “You have to really understand the essence of why you exist,” says Deloitte chairman Punit Renjen. In addition to crafting a mission statement, it also involves embedding the purpose into the entire organization and through leadership buying in to that system as well.

The challenge for marketers is that when communicating an organization’s purpose to employees, customers and stakeholders, words don’t matter nearly as much as actions do. Clearly, walking the walk is more critical than any intentional communications about a company’s purpose.


Once marketers are confident that their company’s purpose-driven mission is authentic and integrated throughout the organization’s operations, attention should be paid to developing messaging that effectively communicates the brand’s purpose to all key audiences.. This messaging should use sticky language to provide a foundation on which to build integrated marketing communications programs that differentiate the company or brand from its competitors.

A thoughtful and systematic approach to developing purpose-driven messaging delivers compelling results.


Storytelling is a key tool marketers have at their disposal to communicate their company’s purpose. Storytelling gets to the core of an organization’s purpose through narratives that simply and compellingly relate “the story” to customers, prospects, investors, media, employees and others in a way that motivates them to think or act favorably. Storytelling is an effective tool for communicating brand purpose because it unites an idea with an emotion.


Writing in FastCompany, Sherry Hakimi points out that an organization without purpose manages people and resources, while a brand with purpose mobilizes people and resources. Purpose is a key ingredient for a strong, sustainable, scalable organizational culture.

According to Hakimi, when a company demonstrates an authentic purpose, consumers feel a connection to the products and the company. They will choose the authentically purposeful company’s products, even if it’s not the cheapest offering.

And the research bears this out. Harvard Business School’s George Serafeim says that purpose-driven companies have been shown to outperform their peers over the long term. How: They enjoy higher employee productivity and customer loyalty and satisfaction.

This supported by work by Deloitte which found that brands with purpose have excellent financial performance, strong workplace cultures and highly satisfied customers.

Why do purpose-driven companies perform better? They have recognized the importance of having something that is unaffected by external forces as the foundation of their business. They have found a purpose.


Today’s companies have an incredible opportunity to leave a legacy that is more enduring than headline-grabbing profits. By balancing a social purpose with the goal of making a profit, they can help leave the world a better place for our children and their descendants.


  • Gen-Z overwhelmingly supports the Black Lives Matter cause: 90% of Gen-Z respondents to a recent poll strongly favor BLM and what they see as social justice.

  • 76% of executives acknowledge the role of business in perpetuating systemic racial inequality and are committing to action now more than ever. Porter Novelli’s 2020 Executive Purpose Study

  • 74% of respondents agree the way companies conduct themselves during these protests will impact whether they do business with those companies in the future. National Retail Federation’s 2020 The Evolving Conversation On Consumer Values

  • 80% say companies need to recognize their role in systemic racial inequality and the same amount (80%) say they wish more companies would be honest about their past mistakes or biases in addressing or talking about race. Porter-Novelli 2020 Business Imperative For Social Justice Today

  • Black young people believe companies or brands could have “a great deal” of influence on racial inequality, discrimination and social injustice. Cause And Social Influence’s Influencing Young Americans To Act 2020

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