Brand purpose: Marketing bullsh*t or essential strategy?

By now you’ve probably all heard about Nike’s recent risky move and the headlines the footwear and sports giant made by placing NFL star Colin Kaepernick front and centre of its new Just Do It ad. H

e’s the American footballer who protested police brutality and racial inequality by kneeling during the US national anthem, and now the guy who has helped this company define the idea of brand purpose.

When the campaign went live there was widespread furore. Questions ranged from how the company could partner with this unpatriotic rebel, to whether Nike simply hates America. Shares fell, a social media backlash began— #NikeBoycott— and sales were predicted to drop.

The latter never happened, though. Instead, the company’s value surged by $6billion, with sales up by 61% in the weeks after the ads came out. By appearing to take a stand and support someone speaking out against injustice the firm has scored a boon, and made its feelings very clear with regard to these issues.

So why did the gamble pay off?

Purpose is fast becoming the key driver in consumer decision making. In saturated markets, and let’s face it, almost all markets are saturated, people want to buy into something more than simple price points and product ranges.

As our story on the similarities between brands and great fictional characters shows [LINK], companies benefit from becoming more human-like. We want to know not only their back stories, but what they believe in and how they think before we form an allegiance.

Brand purpose is the ‘why’ in ‘why does the brand exist beyond profit?’ And the why in ‘why should I give you my custom’. Motivational speaker and organisational consultant Simon Sinek’s TED Talk explains the huge benefits for businesses that focus on ‘why’.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.


As the millennial generation has risen to become the key consumer demographic of our time, so too has the importance of faith in brands.

The Edelman Trust Barometer shows that consumer trust in business has again declined this year. The common view is companies are usually negative forces. It’s up to organisations, and their marketing experts, to convince the public they can have a positive impact. If they do the results can be impressive .

It’s no surprise that the increasing importance of brand purpose has developed in tandem with the rise of millennials as dominant consumers.

At our event, The Millennial Mindset, business psychologist Robertson Cooper revealed just how vital purpose is to this demographic. One study found that 84% of those in the age group care more about making a difference than gaining professional recognition.

To quote Sinek once more, millennials say ‘we want to work in a place with purpose, we want to make an impact, we want free food and bean bag chairs’. In that order.

Here’s the rest of the clip.  

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It’s important to understand, though, that purpose does not always mean virtue, although clearly it’s great if it does. P&G CEO, Jim Stengel, identified five specific categories of purpose which all high-performing brands can fit into. These range from positively affecting the world to tapping into the effort = reward mindset of people:

*Impacting society —

Dove wants to inspire change by challenging perceptions of ‘normal beauty’

*Evoking pride—

Aspirational companies such as Maserati create feelings of achievement

*Inspiring exploration—

AirBnB helps us experience new things

*Enabling connections—

DHL give customers confidence everyday communications will work

*Eliciting happiness—

Coca-Cola’s philosophy centres on influencing moments of joy in life

blueprintforbusiness.org is a great charity website that has nothing to do with compliance or regulation, and instead is focussed on energising positive behavioural change. I recommend taking a look at the site, but you’ll find the organisation’s excellent free tool below to help you start building purpose into your communications.

And if that’s not enough, why not give me a call and we can take it from there?

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