Purpose to the People

January 11, 2016 | Robert Schermers

How brands can turn crowds of consumers into movements of change

Purpose brands that are authentic in creating a positive contribution to society while focusing on the delivery of great products and services are outgrowing other competitors. A clear purpose drives consumer preference and motivates employees, accelerating business results and positive change. Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman and the ex-global marketing officer of competitor P&G Jim Stengel (amongst others) have repeatedly shared how brands with a purpose out-perform the rest. So, how does one accelerate impact and growth of purpose-brands further?

Our research on the economically powerful millennials and upcoming generation Z indicate that the growth of purpose brands will continue, as these generations have a serious affinity toward brands with purpose. However, the opportunity lies in the acceleration through further involvement of these generations in the role that the brand takes: they want to actively contribute to a more inclusive, sustainable society and want to see the relevant results of their actions.

I identify three levels of purpose-brands:

    1. Those that share views
      Coca-Cola, Always, and Magnum all drive a positive cultural idea at the core of their brand. They tap into a societal issues as a campaign-tool and use their views on the issue to create brand-differentiation and following.


    1. Those that change behaviour
      Lifebuoy, Dove, and Budweiser take a positive role in changing behaviour towards a purpose or product related societal issue.


  1. Those that deliver part of a solution
    One of the best examples available in my opinion is Toms, but other brands like Chipotle and those connected to organizations such as Fairtrade and the Marine Stewardship Council have also embedded part of their solution to a societal issue into their business-model.


Empowerment and Measurability

The examples from Level 1 and 2 above provide opportunities for massive societal impact however, measuring such brand impact as well as the subsequent sense of consumer empowerment is difficult. As such, communicating this to the people they serve is also tricky.

So, you may feel very inspired by Magnum and its campaign and share the view the brand vocalizes, but you exist as an anonymous individual in a seemingly motionless crowd.

Interestingly, the examples mentioned under Level 3 above give you clear and measurable points of action. You can actively contribute to part of the solution for the societal issue the brand supports by acting with your wallet. Every time you buy a brand in one of these examples, you make a statement whilst contributing to the brand’s cause… And so, Toms does more: they create communities of change.

Exponential growth of “goodsumption”

Because of the measurability of results and because of the sense of empowerment, I see the exponential growth of purpose-driven brands in the third category.

We’ve noticed the growth of energy-labels over the years and soon we’ll see the labelling of societal impact gain just as much relevance, with organizations such as BCorp taking a more prominent accreditation role.
Labelling will help consumers to take conscious action.

Technology helps by allowing consumers to make purpose and ideology-based buying-decisions (think of apps such as Buypartisan and Buycott).

Business-models where positive societal impact and positive business-results are directly linked (so, the more I buy, the more I directly impact) will provide consumers with a feeling of empowerment and contribution.

From voting with your wallet to co-creating

Technology will soon take consumer-empowerment even further. I have recently had several meetings with Amar Sharany, the inspiring founder of in/PACT. The software and programs his team have developed allow consumers and employees of businesses to participate in the allocation of “Goodcoins”, the monetary expression in/PACT uses for budgets available to brands to drive purpose. With this, consumers and employees do not only act through their wallet; they co-create and co-decide with the brand and get information about their individual contribution for the causes and the ideologies they support.

Creating movement-brands

I see purpose-brands turning into movement-brands that inspire and empower consumers to join their cause, accelerating their positive impact on society and their growth potential, when:

  1. They touch a primary individual emotion broadly recognised in society. These emotions are based on feelings of fear (for social exclusion, rejection, loss of loved ones, health, environment), resentment or injustice.
  2. Their purpose –the change the brand envisions and acts upon- addresses this primary emotion and is relevant for their business. The closer the link between target-audience, purpose and business, the easier it will be to create traction.
  3. They stage and dramatize the societal issues they want to address in their campaigns. They take a stand.
  4. They contribute to the solution of a societal issue, using their business model as lever for change, sharing a view and/or changing behaviours.
  5. They empower consumers and employees to participate and actively contribute to the purpose the brand supports. They make them part of the solution to injustice, social exclusion, ecological and environmental issues etc. and actively create communities.
  6. They create visibility of results and impact created by the brand and the people it serves. They will in the near future use technology to create customized-connections about the individual consumer-contribution, inspiring consumers and increasing the sense of impact and empowerment.

Taking the above to heart, brands can turn crowds into movements that are united in their common purpose and actions. Business can become an even more impactful contributor to positive change. Isn’t that an inspiring thought to start 2016?

First published by Sustainable Brands; read the full article here.

(For more on our view on doing marketing and building brands, please visit Innate Motion.)


Posted By Robert Schermers

Robert has a bachelor´s degree in business administration and a master´s in law. He started his career in the Netherlands and built his expertise over 18 years at Unilever. He worked in challenging marketing and business positions in various European countries as well as in South Africa and in Brazil. Robert knows from experience the massive positive impact on both business results and society of really putting people first in brands and teams, and is a true ambassador for humanizing business in the widest sense of the term. He loves exploring new cultures, leaving the beaten track. He has spent months traveling India and Malaysia; he has climbed Aconcagua (the highest mountain in the Americas at about 7,000 meters); he has spent weeks with indigenous families in the jungle of Colombia; and he loves to take the more adventurous routes when skiing, hiking, or diving. As a student, he already felt strongly attracted by the positive spirit, culture, beauty, and opportunities of Latin America, and his stay in Brazil made him decide to make this beautiful country his home. He currently lives with his wife in São Paulo, Brazil.

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