Brand purpose marketing done right is more than 360º
In 2018 the Association of National Advertisers, the leading U.S. marketing trade association, voted “Brand Purpose” the “term of the year”. Today nearly every brand feels they must have a brand purpose and communicate it throughout all their marketing, to maximize the good that can be accomplished and enhance their brand image. Brand purpose now extends further than ever before, to include how the CEO visibly lives the mission, how employees are treated and encouraged to take action to make a difference, how the firm works with suppliers and agencies, and new and creative ways the brand purpose is communicated to consumers.
Unilever’s CEO, Alan Jope recently stated that “At Unilever, brands that don’t stand for something will be disposed of”. Procter & Gamble, another large multinational, fast moving consumer goods firm, recently launched Activate, a six-part documentary series on the National Geographic Channel, co-produced by Global Citizen. It features music celebrities and actors sharing the work of local activists in global causes such as ending cash bail, eliminating plastic pollution, or encouraging women to stay in school. A goal of the series is to inspire others to take meaningful action. Each episode includes information about how P&G is tackling the problem depicted. For example, Always, Whisper and Orkid, P&G’s sanitary protection brands provide puberty education to keep girls in school in emerging markets. P&G is striving to make social good the center of their business model and this is a new, creative and break through way of doing it.
“The cause the company chooses to champion must relate logically to the brand and be communicated repeatedly over time or it will not be remembered”
In New York, retailers and coffee shops prominently display their brand purpose in hashtags on their windows, on clothing tags and on in-store technology. The coffee shop Think Coffee rotates the causes on its windows with hashtags like #menstrualactivism for “Empowering Girls in Ethiopia” and #socialprojectcoffee and #workerhousing for “Restoring Farm Workers Homes in Nicaragua”.
The fast-casual chain & Pizza, that wants to become the most progressive fast-food employer in the U.S., is committed to pay fair wages: $14 per hour, which is considerably above the industry average of $9.84. & Pizza also encourages its workers to take paid time off for activism. The CEO, Michael Lastoria, visibly works to change government laws to help workers in different ways. He is a role model who embodies his company’s values and inspires others.
REI, the outdoor clothing retailer, permanently closed on the Friday after Thanksgiving, the biggest U.S. shopping day of the year. Their stores and marketing communication prominently convey the hashtag #optoutside, encouraging people to enjoy nature rather than consuming more on Black Friday. The initiative garnered a great deal of earned media and symbolically shows REI is willing to sacrifice sales and profits to get their brand purpose message out and change consumer behavior for the good.
Tom’s, the shoe brand that pioneered the one for one giving model that many others have emulated, has now expanded to include coffee that gives one week of safe, clean water for every bag of coffee purchased, handbags that support safe childbirth, backpacks that contribute to ending cyberbullying, and eyeglasses that give glasses to those in need. Tom’s recently completely embraced ending gun violence, a major problem in the United States. Beyond expressing what the company is doing, Tom’s is actively encouraging consumers to take action by signing petitions in-store to end gun violence, and to share messages in store, through social media and on their website using the hashtag #endgunviolencetogether.
The take-away for brands is that brand purpose marketing involves not just a one off, short-term marketing effort or sponsorship, as in days past. Rather today, the values of the firm must be communicated to all stakeholders, sincerely, and all the time: to employees through internal programs and the ways they are treated and supported, externally to consumers by highlighting the work Tom’s is doing to further the causes they believe in, and laterally to the suppliers and agencies they do business with. The cause the company chooses to champion must relate logically to the brand and be communicated repeatedly over time or it will not be remembered and associated with it. Consumers need to feel they are making a difference by supporting the cause or taking action. Importantly, CEO’s must also role model the company’s values.
As Zenith Media’s head of innovation, Tom Goodwin, said, “The sad truth is that most young people are too crippled by student debt and other concerns to think about whether a brand of bleach helps build schools in Sub-Saharan Africa.” It’s not an easy task to make a brand’s values meaningful and noticeable, especially as more and more brands dial up the communication of their own brand values.
QUESTIONS CHIEF MARKETING OFFICERS SHOULD ASK THEMSELVES
1) Is the cause the brand is getting behind a logical fit with the business?
2) Is it something consumers can care about and feel they can make a difference if they support?
3) Will the brand’s association with the cause be memorable?
4) Can it be supported by the firm in different ways, consistently over time to make the association more indelible in consumers’ minds?
5) Is the firm’s leadership role modelling the behavior, or could it open the firm up to being viewed as hypocritical and insincere?
6) Is the firm communicating the cause in creative new and multifaceted ways to get the message out and engage all stakeholders?
The risk of not executing brand purpose initiatives authentically, sincerely, thoroughly and consistently, is that in this day and age of viral social media, the brand can quickly lose credibility. Done well, however, everyone benefits: consumers, society, the planet, employees, and business partners.