Brand purpose: Do it right to unleash its potential

Brand purpose is a relatively nascent business concept. There is still much confusion about its core definition and what it actually means in terms of delivery. Perhaps the most important thing to understand about brand purpose is its strategic weight and its potential to plant the work of sustainability teams firmly into the heart of a business.

Brand purpose: Do it right to unleash its potential

Purpose is a business idea rather than a CR tactic or piece of comms delivery. Done right it creates fundamental change within an organisation to connect with easily distracted customers, create value for transient employees and ultimately do good in the world.

So how can you ensure brand purpose is implemented correctly? How can sustainability teams position it accurately to the wider business and ensure its transformative potential is achieved?

A successful and authentic brand purpose is determined by three key elements – it needs to fit the business and brand, be relevant to the customers you are trying to reach and have leverage with the problem you are trying to solve.

1.Purpose must be integrated into the brand and be driving growth

Increasingly, ambitious sustainability professionals are using brand purpose as a way of influencing customers and challenging the businesses they work for to behave differently.

For example, Lynx launched a new brand positioning in 2016, supported by a campaign which spoke to young men about the changing nature of masculinity. ‘Is It Ok For Guys’ responded to a genuine customer need and Lynx recognized it had a platform for exploring the answers to ‘what it means to be a man’. The result was a bold campaign from a brand that had previously dealt almost exclusively in frivolity. The business saw a jump in sales and more importantly a reappraisal of the brand among an audience with changing needs and values. The campaign had impact because the work mattered to its customers.

Lynx is a Unilever brand, and the business recently reported that its purpose- led brands were driving growth for the business. These brands delivered 60% of the company’s growth in 2016 and are growing 30% faster than the rest of the portfolio. These brands have purpose integrated, rather than just work that’s done ‘on the side’. For help and advice in achieving buy-in within the business, please see my previous blog.

2. Purpose will be attracting the best talent

Getting purpose right will not only drive commercial growth, it will help protect one of its most important assets – talent. Research has shown how important purpose-led businesses are for young people when choosing their next employer. Research by LinkedIn uncovered that an organisation’s purpose is a deciding factor for more than half of UK professionals when they consider whether to take a job offer. That number rises to 56% among those aged 16 to 24. This means that purpose can help reduce costs for businesses – helping to attract and retain a workforce whose values fit the ethos of their employer.

3. Purpose will be driving innovation

Whether its creating new business models or reducing costs, purpose can increase business profit through behaviour change. Progressive businesses see purpose as an operational idea, rather than simply a brand marketing function or CR initiative.

Veolia, the waste management and services business has reorganized its operation around the idea of the circular economy. The brand positioning and purpose is one and the same – ‘resourcing the world’. This means that Veolia is creating new revenue streams from the by-products of its operation; encouraging team members to volunteer new ideas for how they could contribute and make the business more commercially resilient as well as more relevant.

Purpose is not a CR trend or new sustainability iteration. In a short time the discipline has moved from the margins of the business to a vital ingredient of many brands. Used effectively, and supported throughout the business, purpose can be a hugely effective platform for growth providing companies with a launchpad for innovation, more emotional impact amongst customers and driving positive change in the world at the same time.

This last point is critical. Purpose work must have substance – a clear view of the change businesses are trying to create in the world and a way of monitoring, measuring and evaluating this impact. Brands have the scale, reach and expertise to make real change happen and brand purpose has become a vital ingredient for building effective, relevant brands and smart, innovative operations. 

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