The Purpose Imperative: True Values Matter More Than Ever in Marketing

By Paul Hirsch, Chief Creative Officer, Doremus

Everything that has happened in the past year, from the pandemic to the exasperating made-for-bad-TV drama of the recent election, has shown that we have entered a new era in American life. Rules, beliefs, and practices that existed for decades have been upended. A divided and exhausted country longs for an extended period of hope and stability.

While it would be a big stretch to suggest that brands can fix society’s problems, who’s better suited than marketers to offer messages of reassurance—or even joy. To shift the conversation to what’s next and how we’ll get there, we’ll need brand leadership, rooted in something besides platitudes.

Values-based messages reflect what companies do and what brands stand for, from B2B marketing that preaches the importance of resilience to Apple’s gentle reminder that, yes, “Creativity Goes On.” The best messages are not only moving and enduring but suggest how a company—and its employees—can make the world a better place.

In a great old clip, Steve Jobs told a group of suppliers that people don’t remember much about a company. In a complicated noisy world, he explained, it’s important to be clear about what we want people to know. “Marketing is about values,” Jobs said. And that’s as important now as it was a generation ago.

While not curled up in a fetal position worrying about a looming civil war, I’ve been thinking about his remarks a lot. In a noisy and complex year, how can brands add meaning while communicating their values? I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a few thoughts:

Take A Stand

As much as we value what we do, nobody is sitting at home waiting for our next piece of marketing. If you’re going to spend your hard-earned (and shrinking) ad budget makes it worthwhile. Encourage people to rebuild the world, be more resilient, and create change.

Values-based marketing is all about resonating truthfully with what’s happening right now. And while it’s easy to say nobody does it better than Nike and Wieden+Kennedy, it’s true. Remember when we all got locked down? And remember when every brand in the world ran a video with what seemed like the same copy? What did Nike do? It took their values and purpose and reframed them, asking people to “Don’t do it.” The timing was right, and the marketing was sincere and authentic.

But if trotting out Nike is too expected, how about listening to Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock. In a recent survey about How Purpose Powers Business-to-Business Growth, he said, “Without a sense of purpose, no company, either public or private, can achieve its full potential.” 

Speak To A Large(R) Audience

B2B marketers are often about finding a niche within a niche within a niche, but there’s a time and place for that. This may get me kicked out of the B2B marketing club, but I’m convinced it’s not all about ABM.

While customers are a key audience, they aren’t the only ones. Investors, business partners, and potential recruits are watching and listening, too. Employees who continue to work from home (and who no longer get free cans of LaCroix Pamplemousse) need to feel proud of their employer and tethered to a purpose. And prospective employees will take notice: Studies have shown that strong, purpose-oriented positioning with values-based messaging at its core is a strong recruiting tool.

Find Joy

People often refer to B2B marketing as B2Boring but having worked on consumer brands for years I’d argue that there is plenty of boring to go around. There is a reason the most loved brands in the world ARE the most loved brands in the world. And it’s not because of speeds and feeds and $5 footlongs. It’s about emotions. It’s about heart. Instead of giving people a reason to turn away when they see your ad, give them a reason to love your brand. I recently felt this way when I saw the latest from Burberry. Aside from being an exquisite piece of filmmaking, at its core, it has a sense of optimism and cheer that is hard to beat. My only regret is watching this on constant repeat is that I wished I looked better in their plaid.

It will take a long time to put the singular experience of 2020 behind us, but the new era of value-based marketing is not a fad or a temporary solution. It’s here to stay. And marketers owe it to themselves—and to their audiences—to keep values and purpose front and center in their messaging.