Purpose is no longer an adjacent marketing strategy: it needs to form the core of a brand’s essence and behaviour
In recent years we’ve witnessed the rise and rise of purpose-led marketing and, in 2017 – a year when half of the Grand Prix winners at Cannes were purpose-led – we have reached the cusp of the revolution. Purpose is no longer a nice-to-have, adjacent marketing strategy; for a brand to succeed, purpose must now form the core of a brand’s essence and behaviour, thus informing all communications.
Why are we seeing this shift? As ever, it comes down to the consumer, who is increasingly aware of the impact their decisions can have on the world. According to Nielsen, 66% are willing to spend more on a product from a sustainable brand, rising to 73% of millennials. This clearly means that ‘responsible consumption brands’ will enjoy sustained growth – a LinkedIn study showed that 58% of companies with a clearly articulated purpose enjoyed growth of more than 10% over a three-year period. Unilever’s ‘sustainable living brands’ like Ben & Jerry’s and Dove grew 60% faster than the rest of the business in 2016 – CMO Keith Weed says ‘to succeed globally…brands must act quickly to prove their social and environmental credentials and show consumers they can be trusted with the future of the planet and communities’. Doing good is cool and there is huge opportunity for brands who understand and enable this.
It’s not just the bottom line that benefits from putting purpose at the core of brand essence: workforce happiness and efficiency improve too. There is increasing demand from workers that their employers demonstrate a higher purpose than just profit. According to a Deloitte study, 90% of millennials want to use their skills for good, while more than 50% would take a pay cut to find work that matches their values. This translates into efficiency for the employer: 53% of workers would work harder if they felt their organisation was making a difference. As we approach 2025, when millennials will account for 75% of the workforce, focusing on keeping them fulfilled is crucial.
So it’s crucial to keep purpose at the heart of your brand behaviour – but it’s also crucial that the resultant marketing campaigns are executed in the right way. The key here is authenticity: consumers see right through ‘purpose washing’. Of course, it’s easy for brands like Toms or Warby Parker with social profit as their raison d’être to have authentic, purpose-led storytelling driving their communications, but any brand can be authentic in this space: credibility is found at the overlap of what society needs and what a brand is best at. The Bank of Aland’s Grand Prix-winning Aland Index project and OMD Ireland’s Pure Love campaign for Water Wipes are great examples of meaningful communications resulting from total alignment of purpose, brand personality and values.
Delivering on promises is also crucial; a Trinity Mirror survey revealed that 58% of adults do not trust a brand until they have seen proof that it has kept its promises, while 40% would stop using a brand because of its behaviour. US brand Boost’s Boost Your Voice campaign, another Grand-Prix winner, delivered on its pledge to increase equal voting access by turning their stores into voting booths in the 2016 presidential election: Boost precincts saw 23% higher voter turnout than in 2012.
To ensure authenticity, we need to plan for the human and what they want from brands, not the consumer. Harnessing data to inform rich insight is the only way to do this, and it’s why OMD’s dedicated purpose unit puts human data and insight at the heart of all its work. It enabled us to forge the partnership between our client Cisco and National Geographic. We fully leveraged mutual beliefs and each brand’s assets and equity, creating the Emerging Explorer campaign which demonstrated how technology can improve people’s wellbeing. Data also allows us to deliver localised campaigns – highly desirable in a globalised and sometimes impersonal world. And, of course, it enables us to measure how purpose affects a brand and to make informed decisions.
Pairing data-fuelled insights with the latest technological innovations will inform the future of purpose marketing. Brands are already looking at new ways to harness their data creatively to strengthen their social impact: Whirlpool’s US Care Counts campaign collected data from its washing machines in schools to help teachers understand the effect of clean clothes on pupil attendance, winning them the Creative Data Grand Prix at Cannes.
Using VR as a tool for empathy is also an exciting opportunity – careful use of the technology, perhaps to enable consumers to ‘live’ in a post-climate change world or to experience life as a refugee, could increase engagement with the cause a brand is championing. According to a YuMe survey, VR received a 27% higher emotional reaction than 2D and engaged the viewer for 34% longer.
As marketers we can no longer afford to overlook the potential of artificial intelligence to help us optimise marketing activity and ultimately ensure healthy growth for our brands into the future. This has been the focus of major research at OMD over the last year, with learnings incorporated into our clients’ campaigns. As more brands put purpose at the heart of their communications, it is inevitable AI will have an impact on purpose-led marketing too. We’re just at the beginning of the AI revolution and the possibilities are endless.
It is evident that there is a huge opportunity to engage consumers and talent in a meaningful way by making purpose the core of the brand’s essence. Authenticity must be the mantra, achieved by aligning that purpose with core values and delivering on promises. The wealth of data at our fingertips and the power of new technologies can only enhance the power of these campaigns and our ability to understand the positive impact they have on society and brand equity. With purpose at the heart of authentic marketing, the future is bright – for both brands and society.