Article | 18 Feb 2019

The what, why and how of a purpose-driven marketing strategy

Posted in Industry news, Top tips, Tools & Advice, Learning,

Many brands are shaping themselves around a higher ‘purpose’,to differentiate themselves from the herd and provide an appeal beyond pure consumerism. With the rise of the conscientious consumer, ethical appeal is gaining importance.

So it’s not surprising that there’s a lot of chat around ‘marketing with purpose’ right now. Bringing out your brand’s values in your marketing is no bad thing, giving you a means to connect more closely with your customers. However, if you want to market with purpose, you really do have to get it right. Forced, overbearing, or inconsistent attempts can backfire - hard – so it’s vital that you take the time to weave purpose into your marketing strategy with integrity, authenticity, and respect for your customers.

What is it?

Your brand ‘purpose’ is your organisation’s major aim, beyond making money. How does your brand want to influence the world? How do you want to change the lives of your customers?

Here are some examples of purpose from leading household names:

  • Google – “To organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
  • Nike – “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. If you have a body, you are an athlete.”
  • The Body Shop – “To enrich, not exploit.”

Much modern discussion of brand purpose seems to revolve around ethical crusading. However, you’ll notice that the above examples aren’t necessarily tied in to specific issues. This is important. It’s very easy for brands to pick a pressing societal issue and launch themselves at it in the hope of winning customer approval. However, a true purpose has to be intrinsic to what your brand stands for and what your product actually does. Unless you’re a charity or organisation whose job specifically targets a certain problem, it’s vital to keep your purpose statement relevant to your brand and product.

What are the benefits?

If you can get it right, the benefits of marketing with purpose are immense.

  • Builds trust. Jaded by data scandals and bombarded with pop-ups, consumers’ patience with brand marketing is at an all time low. Building trust is hugely important for any brand – and that can only be done if you can display some integrity. Defining your purpose gives you a solid, non money-focused anchor around which you can build an honourable, trustworthy brand.
  • Brings in conscientious consumers. Conscientious consumerism is on the rise. While your brand purpose shouldn’t be built entirely around one flashpoint issue, the process of finding your purpose usually provides some moral direction. Thinking hard about your ecological, social, and political values will help to align your brand with the things which most concern your customers. Modern consumers support brands which pull their moral weight. Marketing with purpose will help you to do that.
  • Separates you from the herd. These days, the savvy consumer can find more or less anything they could ever want with a simple Google search. So, it’s no longer enough just to sell a great product. You need to have an appeal which differentiates you from other brands. Stating and visibly working towards a wider purpose sends a powerful message about what makes you different to your competitors.

What to avoid

  • Don’t just pay lip service. Remember that infamous Pepsi advert with Kendall Jenner? It was pulled by the company after just one day, but lives on as a terrible warning of what can happen if brands try and jump onto social justice bandwagons without authentic purpose to power their message. Pepsi’s advert (which, according to their spokesperson, “was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding”) was heavily criticised for exploiting serious protest imagery in order to sell cold drinks. If you’re going to tackle social issues in your marketing, be sure that you’re coming from an authentic and honest place (and don’t, like Pepsi did, try to portray your product as the answer to the world’s problems...).
  • Don’t try to be all things to all people. Getting behind your purpose isn’t going to make you universally popular. But it will lend integrity to your brand, and enhance the loyalty of your key demographics. When you’re driven by passion and purpose, you are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. That’s OK. If you’re on the same wavelength as your key consumers, your purpose will inspire trust and loyalty where it matters. You can’t be all things to all people, but you can be a really great thing to the people who matter.
  • Engage, don’t preach. Let’s compare Gillette’s recent #MeToo advert with an earlier, similar attempt by Lynx. In 2017, Lynx launched their #itsokforguys marketing campaign, which featured celebrities and influencers discussing the most googled questions about men (for example “Is it OK for men to cry?”) The campaign gently deconstructed toxic masculinity without attacking or preaching at its male customer base. Gillette’s well-meaning attempt to work similar magic, by contrast, raised the hackles of many male viewers. The Gillette advert featured a number of men engaging in ‘toxic masculine’ behaviours such as bullying and sexual harassment. It then demonstrated how men could work together to stop this kind of thing. However, rather than identifying with the ‘good guys’ in the video, many identified with the ‘toxic’ guys, and consequently felt attacked. While Lynx invited young men to join a global conversation in a non-threatening, engaging, and relevant manner, Gillette exhorted them to hold one another accountable. The difference between the two may seem slight, but the fallout Gillette experienced shows just how important the distinction between engaging with and preaching at an audience can be.

How to get it right

  • Match up purpose and product. Adidas has done this brilliantly recently with its new product range in partnership with the environmental design consultancy, Parley, creating a range of sportswear made from ocean plastic. The initiative ties in with their purpose around collaboration and innovation, as well as its drive to tap into the issues that city-dwellers care about, while also creating desirable products.  It shows that the company is taking its environmental responsibilities seriously, fostering a deeper and more meaningful relationship with the brand. By contrast, that notorious Kendall Jenner Pepsi advert essentially used its social protest scenario as a macguffin. It had no real relevance to Pepsi’s product at all, and therefore felt forced and exploitative.
  • Be consistent. Don’t be like Nivea, who in 2017 ran a campaign promoting racial equality in the West while simultaneously targeting adverts with the tagline “White is purity” at the Middle East. Instead, be like Lush, who have fostered incredible brand loyalty by sticking firmly and consistently to their purpose. Everything Lush does has a firmly organic, grassroots feel. Their frontline employees are their brand advocates, local stores base their own marketing around local issues, and so on. It all fits in with their central message (‘by people, for people’), and has served them amazingly well. This organic approach feels inclusive to their key demographic and helps Lush shoppers feel as though they are directly involved in helping the brand achieve global change.
  • Make sure your brand purpose is sustainable. You need to be following your purpose through in every area of your business. In this age of enhanced scrutiny, any anti-purpose hypocrisy in your operation will be sniffed out swiftly. Take note of the State Street Corporation, who underpaid women working on the supposedly feminist ‘Fearless Girl’ statue on Wall Street.
  • Look deep into what’s important to both your consumers and your own brand team. To get this right, you need a purpose which is authentic and heartfelt. Something which you, your team and your consumers can all get behind and mean it. This means doing a lot of research into the kinds of things all of you feel your brand stands for, or could be standing for. Don’t hesitate to ask the searching questions.

All in all, marketing with purpose can be a great way to get consumers behind your brand, reconnect with your customers, and stand out from the crowd. However, your purpose has to be authentic and your marketing powered by genuine passion, or you run the risk of looking insincere and exploitative.

If you’re looking for advice on developing your brand purpose, or need help promoting your purpose-driven initiatives, then an experienced communications freelancer could be the solution you’re looking for. The Work Crowd is a community of highly experienced independent communications professionals, across a whole range of specialisms. Find out how it works here, or drop us a line at or on 020 3828 8440.


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