Purpose-Driven Brands

May 2020
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By Dalia Wahba, Cofounder and Chairperson of CID Consulting

A purposeful company is one that possesses grounded values, which are translated into its practices in a wholistic manner: their relationships with their employees, their customers, their partners among other stakeholders.

Purposeful based business practices have always produced outstanding performance.

They’ve always offered sustainable growth and triple-bottom line values to the companies’ shareholders, employees and helped the communities in which they operate.

A company’s purpose could be centered around transforming lives to become healthier, or more inclusive, for example. This is simple, but it should translate into relevant actions both internally and externally. These values should be reflected in a company’s actions with employees, as well as how the company interacts with its’ customers’ and in its growth strategy. For example, this could mean walking away from short term profits that would negatively impact their positioning and their identity. These values serve as inspiration for people within and outside of the company.

These business practices always offer a new narrative that allow the marketing and the communication executives to bring forward such content, and thus show the companies in a different light to its customers. The marketing and communication roles of any company have always been focused on practices that push sales and consumers to adopt the brand, as time has passed, this role has evolved, and the adoption of purposeful branding practices has become increasingly essential for business performance.

Purpose is very human-centric, thus driving it from the leadership and management of the companies is essential for the whole company to adopt.  It requires a strong belief that encourages the whole company to be motivated and act towards that common purpose.

Purposeful branding practices bring forward the values that protect the brand and reflect the relevant stories. It brings out the humanity and the heart out of a brand.

Examples of Purpose-Driven Brands

Coca Cola has been a pioneer in purposeful branding. Coca Cola’s purpose has been evident in times of crisis as well as times of good. In the US, after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the CEO acted quickly and offered support for MLK’s funeral, which contributed to managing the anger in Atlanta, thus less riots took place. In 1969, Coke produced its famous and courageous advertising, “Boys on a Bench”, depicting a group of friends both black and white friends enjoying a drink together, an ad that came out at the very end of the Civil Rights Movement era.

Coca Cola also ran an ad in March 2013 to showcase a connection between the Indian and Pakistani population, two nations with a long history of tension. The campaign promoted communication and human connection and showed how the brand could bring moments of happiness to the people from these two nations.

Additionally, Coke’s “America the Beautiful” campaign promoting diversity, which aired during the Super Bowl in 2013, gathered a lot of viewership and promoted a new face for America. Consequently, social media debates ensued, bringing forth more positivity than negativity. In 2017, Coke ran it again, gaining more appreciation as the US seemed more open to the ideas put forth.

Airbnb, many years after Coke, was another brand keen on showing its role in connecting people from all over the world, though they were questioned as to how anyone would be willing to receive strangers in their homes. Airbnb communicated with purposeful positioning: community trust and connection between different people. This approach introduced a new conversation about the brand and what it delivers.

In 2016, Airbnb faced an incident of racism, when some of its customers were discriminated against by homeowners once they had checked in.  The CEO of the company put operations on pause, as the company started to review all its practices, ensured declarations were signed by all homeowners regarding ethical practices. It conducted many internal reviews and further implemented business practices that supported the communication and marketing efforts to manage the crisis and put forward the values of the company.  

If companies do not align their actions with their declared purpose, then marketing will not get you anywhere. On the contrary, it’ll be the death of your brand.

Covid-19 Global Crisis

Times of crises put companies to the test, as those who have long-standing purpose-driven business practices stand strong and sometimes even thrive during trying times.

Expectations are high for companies to put forward their resources, to act and be part of the solution moving forward. This time puts forth the human aspect of a brand, forging stronger relationships with its customers, building a sense of community.

Brands showcase their purpose by designing conscious social programs that inspire and communicate values that are relevant during difficult times. Each company needs to assess the space it occupies and the role it can play, as well as the social dynamics it operates within and the relevant resources that it can provide.  The company’s purpose shines through and is the driver in such times.

Brands are there to solve social problems, show commitment to their partners and prove they are there for the long haul to support the economic, health, financial losses of their community.

A brand’s social contract needs to align with a given cause, authentically and sustainably. Be it leveraging media spend to help governments communicate their message like Coca-Cola did with a message about social distancing in Times Square, or fashion brands that moved out of their main line of business to serve the crisis situation in order to bring value in times of crisis (LVMH started the production of sanitizers, Ralph Lauren started the production of protective gears for healthcare workers). Brands are putting forth their resources during this time of crisis.

Accept the slow growth, in order to be stronger during the recovery phase. Trust is built through actions during rough times. Brands can endure crises and manage growth before acceleration.

Finally, it is important to mention that a sense of purpose is an individual trait. The values put forth, such as kindness and compassion, as well as our thinking and behavior, impact our contributions to a team. What is critical is the way this all ties together, an individual’s contribution to a team, which in turn contributes to a company’s ethos, impacting its larger message. Purpose-driven marketing is the evolution we are seeing in the world of marketing and communication.