Why Customers Are Supporting ‘Purpose-Driven’ Brands

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Earlier this month, I went to the Hubspot Inbound 19 conference in Boston. Between all of the thought-provoking presentations and workshops, I noticed an interesting trend: pretty much every brand was talking about being ‘purpose-driven’ or ‘purpose-led.’

This focus on purposeful culture comes as the Business Roundtable is reconsidering the role of business in society. In August, nearly 200 chief executives wrote that delivering shareholder value shouldn’t be their only goal. Instead, companies owe a broader commitment to society.

So, why are customers and CEOs getting behind the idea of ‘purpose-driven’ brands? Why does doing the right thing matter so much in today’s market, and what does this idea mean in practice?

Let’s start by taking a closer look at consumer expectations around brand purpose.

(Young) consumers are more informed than ever

Through the Internet, social media, and globalization, customers have access to more reliable information about how companies operate, source and produce products, or treat their employees.

Social media has democratized information-sharing, and given everyone the ability to communicate with other customers. Increasingly, consumers (particularly millennials and Gen Zers) are holding companies to a much higher ethical standard regarding social and political issues such as environmental sustainability, LGBTQ rights, gender inequality, and transparent production.

7 values that matter most to millennials. Source: Linkfluence social data research

Every purchase is a vote

Informed and aware consumers are looking to businesses to make progress on the big issues facing the world. A Unilever study showed that 33% of American consumers are more likely to support brands aligned with a worthy cause.

As TEDx speaker Shaun Frankson explains in his talk on responsible consumerism,

“Every purchase you make is a vote for how a product is made, and a vote for the company who made it. You have the power to reward what you want repeated through your purchases.”

As highlighted in this video on How Doing Good Has Become Part of the Buying Process, 87% of consumers said they would buy a product or a service based on the company’s support for a social matter:

Can you imagine a world where the majority of companies offer not just a great product or experience, but also do social good?

If that sounds too good to be true, you may be surprised to learn how many businesses are already on board with the idea.

Brands are redefining business purpose

As chief executives on the Business Roundtable have noted, the modern understanding of the role of corporations in society is in need of a fundamental shift.

Instead of advancing only the interests of shareholders, the group says companies should invest in their employees, protect the environment, and deal fairly and ethically with their suppliers. These commitments will help boost consumer confidence in companies.

CEOs of some of the world’s biggest companies have argued for a new definition of purpose-led business. Source: NY Times

“While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders,” the group says. “We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.”

Though this may sound radical, in fact the idea is nothing new. Back in early 2018, BlackRock founder (and Business Roundtable member) Larry Fink issued a similar challenge.

“Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose,” said Fink. “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.”

Purpose-led brands: case studies

So, what does this positive contribution look like in practice?

The best way to answer that question is to take a look at a couple of exciting startups presenting at the Inbound19 conference: Once Upon a Farm and Ellevest.

Once Upon a Farm: healthier children and planet

Founded by Jennifer Garner, Once Upon a Farm offers organic, home-style food for babies, toddlers, and children. As stated in their mission, the brand talks about nurturing children, the planet, and each other.

More than just a great product, the brand includes a focus on transparent production, environmental sustainability, and equitable supplier relationships.

As Jennifer Garner said herself at Inbound 19, the goal of Once Upon a Farm is to make good-quality organic food accessible and affordable for all customers. The brand also gives Garner a great platform to spread her own messages about health and wellbeing.

Another key tip about purpose-driven business from Once Upon a Farm? Always write down your mission, and make it a barometer for the long-term success of your brand.

Once Upon a Farm’s commitment to sustainability, transparency, and accessibility is a great example of what it means for a brand to be driven by a clear and distinct social purpose. It’s also a real point of difference setting its products apart from the competition.

Now, let’s move from baby food to something a little different: investment advice.

Ellevest: make investment accessible to women

Investment advisory firm Ellevest aims to address a specific gap in the financial services market: empowering women to make decisions to support their own prosperity.

As the firm points out, there’s a real shortage of investment services and publications targeted to women. On the contrary, popular culture only promotes the outdated trope of women being bad with money (think Carrie in ‘Sex and the City’). Ellevest founder Sallie Lee Krawcheck wants to change that.

That’s why Ellevest offers investment advice and services tailored specifically for women, offering suggestions based on each investor’s circumstances, values, and investment goals.

Beyond this core purpose, Ellevest is also working to draw attention to long-term issues of gender discrimination and equity, including the gender pay gap and, more specifically, the gender investment gap.

Ellevest also walks the talk on diversity and inclusive workplaces, and is winning recognition from Linkedin as one of the top startups to work for right now.

Unsurprisingly, this progressive focus and strong brand purpose have earned Ellevest a lot of enthusiastic fans on social, as well as glowing coverage in mainstream media.

As Ellevest shows, addressing market gaps in a bold, purpose-driven way can earn a company a lot of dedicated fans and customers.

Being purpose-driven isn’t just a question for emerging startups, however. As Smirnoff and Diageo demonstrate, even major brands can still demonstrate their commitment to doing good on a global scale.

How established brands incorporate purpose into their campaigns

Not every brand in the world - particularly larger or more established brands - is built from the ground up with purpose in mind quite like these two startups. However, even if you work in an established brand with an existing market presence, it isn’t too late to join the party.

For known brands, investing in innovative advertising campaigns is an excellent way to demonstrate your purpose-driven approach to business and communicate your commitment to progressive issues like gender representation in advertising.

As the examples of Smirnoff and Diageo show, even global market leaders can incorporate purpose into their marketing campaigns.

Smirnoff: Equalizing gender representation in music

As a lot of media commentators have pointed out, the music industry has a major problem with an unequal representation of women. According to a study analyzing 600 popular songs from 2012-2017, women represented only 22.4% of artists, and a mere 12.3% of songwriters.

This lack of representation is behind Smirnoff’s ‘Equalizing Music’ campaign, which aims to foster an inclusive and representative culture of music appreciation.

In partnership with Spotify, users can analyze their music playlists for gender balance, and can discover amazing music from women artists based on their own distinct listening habits.

Smirnoff’s Equalizer campaign. Source: The Drum

Smirnoff’s global senior brand manager Neil Shah explains the thinking behind the initiative: “We believe in bringing inclusive good times to more people, and music is something we’ve been inextricably linked with for a very long time. Music is better when it’s equal.”

As an alcohol brand, Smirnoff may not be the first example of purpose-driven business that comes to mind. However, by taking a stand for equality in the music industry, Smirnoff can boost awareness of gender representation and build brand equity at the same time.

In this case, the ‘Equalizing Music’ initiative combines a number of the brand’s values: gender equality, a celebration of music, and above all else, fun. That’s why the initiative has won the brand so much praise from around the world. That’s purpose in action.

Diageo: Promoting positive gender portrayal in alcohol advertising

Drinks brand Diageo is also doing its part to diversify gender representation, and has rolled out a useful framework to support the positive portrayal of women in alcohol advertisements.

Traditionally, a lot of advertising for alcohol products have painted a very male-dominated view of the world, with women featured mostly as passive objects to be conquered or attained. At best, this advertising is boorish and outdated; at worst, it’s harmful to women.

That’s why Diageo has developed a detailed gender balance framework to help guide advertising production, focusing on questions of the representation, perspective, agency, and characterization of women.

This focus on telling diverse stories isn’t just a question of doing the right thing: it has also boosted Diageo’s advertising ROI by as much as 70%.

As Diageo’s example shows, leading with purpose can have a positive effect on brand performance, as well as winning a lot of new consumers and fans. If one of the biggest beverage brands in the world can do it, there’s no excuse for any smaller startups!

Drive your purpose; find your tribes

The world is shifting, and consumers are looking to businesses to act on the most pressing issues we all face, including threats to the environment, gender discrimination, and harmful conditions in the workplace.

It’s no longer enough for brands to deliver great products and experiences. Instead, consumers are demanding for brands to be more proactive and conscious in delivering value to society as a whole.

As the examples of Once Upon a Farm and Ellevest show us, emerging brands don’t have to choose between being profitable and doing good. For established brands like Smirnoff and Diageo, focusing on the issues people care about can change your brand equity, and open your brand up to new tribes.

By engaging with these tribes, you can benefit from a committed group of fans championing your cause and your brand. That way, you don’t have to tell customers about your core values and purpose - your dedicated fans will do it for you.

The hard part is knowing how to find your tribes, and engaging with them according to their values and preferences. This is where social listening can make all the difference.

If you’d like to talk to us about how we can help you find your key tribes, then get in touch - we’d love to chat!

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