Is This Peak Purpose? Five Ways to Avoid Purpose Jeopardy…

Mike Foster, founder and strategic creative director at Straight Forward Design, explores why brands should always be true to themselves.

While so many brands decorate themselves with rainbows for Pride month, it’s easy to call out empty purpose, and to note the purpose fatigue that abounds in creative industries.

But we are not done with purpose – far from it.

For consumers, purpose still counts.

More than a third (42%) will only buy from brands that align with their values, found an EY study.

What’s more, they are up to six times more likely to buy from, trust, champion, and defend companies with a strong purpose – so says The Strength of Purpose, a Zeno study of 8,000 global consumers and 75 companies and brands. Globally, 94% of consumers said it’s important the companies they engage with have a strong purpose, while 83% said companies should only earn a profit if they also deliver a positive impact.

But paradoxically, only 37% believe that most companies today have a clear and strong purpose.

Since the pandemic, expectations have soared for corporations to play a leadership role. And there are strong business benefits for purposeful brands and their companies. Yet the route is also pitted with tales of catastrophe.

Here we explore five ways to get it right…

1. Don’t just make it up: is your purpose authentic?

One of the biggest risks is running before you can walk, putting marketing before solving the challenge. Rather than rushing to signal solidarity with a cause, brands should take meaningful action first, whether in policy, packaging, campaigning, or process. And then take the time to develop messaging that tells the story of their efforts. Countless studies have now reinforced the link between purpose-driven brands and business performance, including recent research by Deloitte where globally, 57% of consumers are more loyal to brands that commit to addressing social inequities in their actions.

2. Walk the talk: take employees with you

When purpose is embedded in the business and its leadership, it becomes the north star for strategy and direction. Gartner found that 68% of employees would consider leaving their current employer for one that has a stronger viewpoint on societal and cultural issues. And consumers need to see who is behind the brand in order to connect with it on a human level. The people who work together to create, sell, and market your products are the ones who bring your mission to life.

3. Emotional connection: create brand love

Consider the emotional connection your brand has with your audience – what’s the reason your brand exists? Is it to solve an existing problem or make the lives of your end users better or easier? Consider how your brand, product or service makes a real difference in the lives of the person who is using it… and you’ve found your brand’s purpose.

4. Get social: and meet GenZ

Especially via social media, people are increasingly challenging companies to take a stance beyond their products and services, and to share their broader social impact. And as consumers, particularly GenZ, search for solutions to the social, environmental, and political issues impacting the world, it’s important that brands are honest about their products and engender trust. Purpose-driven brands are particularly effective with GenZ, forming a major part of their purchasing consideration. Indeed, GfK Consumer Life research found 65% of GenZ women expect the brands they buy to support causes important to them.

5. Take a view: tell us what you really think

Consumers are searching for something bigger than just being sold to; they want to support values and ideologies. Marketers who address political concerns like BLM and the Ukraine war may secure a stronger sense of loyalty with their customers: a Brand Keys study revealed 85% of surveyed respondents would boycott Russian brands to show solidarity with Ukraine. And in the midst of the pandemic, the George Floyd protests gave brands perhaps the most profound glimpse yet into just how important it is to demonstrate genuine social responsibility. In a GfK Consumer Pulse study conducted at that time, 74% of Americans said how companies behaved would affect their desire to purchase from them.

Despite the strong proof of enduring benefits around brand purpose, if committing to a purpose-driven transformation doesn’t feel right for your brand, it probably isn’t. And just as with measuring marketing performance, the metrics of purpose must be multi-dimensional and take a long-term view of business impact.

The bottom line is that purpose engenders trust, which leads to brand loyalty. But only if it’s authentic.

About the Author

Mike Foster is the strategic creative director of brand design agency Straight Forward Design, which he founded in 2008.

Having worked to revive and drive established heritage brands, while also elevating scale-up and challenger brands, Mike always sees the bigger picture. He ensures that everything the agency does is rooted in creativity, integrity, and mutuality, while client collaboration leads the Straight Forward approach.

By operating in this way, Mike creates achievable long-term goals for brands including Skittles, Wrigley’s Extra, PepsiCo, Hostess, Lockets, Squirrel, and Danone.

Read more about our work here.