‘Purpose’ branding as a way to build consumer loyalty has gained substantial currency in the last decade. Yet confusion still surrounds the idea and I often find myself clarifying to clients what it is and what it is not. Here are some common misconceptions.
Myth No: 1: ‘Purpose Driven’ Branding is about investing in CSR (one would have thought this would be sorted out by now !)
Reality: It’s about making ‘purpose’ an integral part of your brand position.
CSR is an investment by companies who want to be acknowledged as ‘responsible’ corporates. Not a bad thing at all, and in itself a laudable effort and there are many good and inspiring programs out there.
However CSR activities usually operate in a silo and are not consciously integrated into the marketing function. Hence they often remain in the background and the ‘average’ consumer may not even be aware of them.
‘Purpose’ branding on the other hand makes ‘doing good’ an integral part of its business model and the chosen ideal becomes the brand’s point of view and positioning. The ‘purpose’ or fight must therefore have a natural association with the category for consumers to see it as authentic. Dove took ‘inner beauty’ and raising women’s self esteem as its brand purpose. Lifebuoy’s ‘purpose’ became to raise mass awareness on the importance of washing hands to save lives particularly in poorer communities.
A ‘disconnected’ cause on the other hand, like a bank supporting a clean water campaign, lacks authenticity and may engage consumers for a short period only. By stridently building purpose into the brand narrative in an inspiring way, consumers are invited to buy into the idea for life.
Myth No 2: Purpose Driven Branding is for revitalising ageing brands and not relevant for new brands or categories.
Reality: Categorically no!
To be sure we see many historical and iconic brands adopting ‘purpose’ marketing to revitalise their connection with the people they serve.
And yes, traditional category related marketing is still here and continues to be relevant particularly if there is a disruptive innovation or a new category entrant in an untapped market. The focus would then be to make consumers aware of the features and benefits on offer.
But innovation can be ‘purpose led’ and the potential is immense. Warby Parker, makers of hip eyewear, disrupted the spectacles market in the US. Its founders were driven one by single purpose- to make fashionable eyewear available at affordable prices in an industry dominated by a few manufacturers who controlled prices artificially. Circumventing the traditional distribution model they went online to sell their glasses at $100 or less a piece, where normal prices ranged from $300-$400! They also associated themselves with a non- profit committed to sourcing and selling cheap spectacles to ‘Bottom of Pyramid’ populations under the well publicised ‘one for one’ model. The engagement with consumers has been immense and they are proud to be associated with a hip brand with a ‘purpose’.
Emerging markets are fertile grounds for ‘purpose led’ innovation as they fight malnutrition, unsafe water, poor sanitation and poverty among many other battles. Companies need to make a paradigm shift in their outlook and move from targeting ‘consumers’ to targeting ‘eco-systems’, innovating products that are really needed rather than spend time and R&D efforts on incremental innovation to gain market share.
Myth No 3: Purpose Driven Branding focuses on solving a societal problem or takes up a fight ‘against’ an issue.
Reality: Purpose Driven Branding is a much bigger idea and advocates one single ideal the brand wants to believe in- which may be rooted in societal, cultural or human themes.
TOM’s shoes fights poverty by donating one pair of shoes to the underprivileged for every pair it sells. TATA Tea’s ‘Power of 49’ is an inspirational campaign aimed at female empowerment. Coca Cola believes ‘there is more that unites us than divides us’ and has developed powerful cross-border campaigns to activate this cultural idea. Magnum celebrates pleasure with an implicit social message on sexuality. Nike inspires us to push ourselves further.
What is common among these examples is the strong inspirational content and the belief that one of the deepest needs of human beings is to have a sense of purpose. People love to do things they feel are meaningful, and brands that tap into this need are able to build a base of inspired, committed and loyal consumers, who want to actively participate and contribute to the chosen ideal.
And it doesn’t matter if it is a mass or luxury brand. The same principles apply!