Purposeful brands and companies: the power to ignite

8 years, 2 months ago


Only brands with a strong purpose can really connect with today’s highly influential "citizen" consumers, says Carol L. Cone.

In a world of hyper transparency, 24/7 communications and limitless options, consumer preference has officially shifted towards brands and organizations that embrace Purpose --  a reason for being beyond making profits.  From our global goodpurpose research since 2008, we now declare "Purpose" the fifth "P", joining its four brethren (Product, Price, Place, and Promotion) as a critical part of the marketing mix. Beyond marketing, Purpose, when executed with honest intent and a long-term view, becomes an essential element of organizational culture, values and future success.

Think about it.  Work is hard today.  Really hard.  So working towards a greater cause, finding a way to impact society that utilizes core employee skills and organizational assets to ignite innovation as well as consumer, employee and community commitment and growth creates a more desirable, "Purposeful" workplace. 

Levis’ waterless jeans

Blue jeans are one of the most water-intensive products to manufacture, using an astonishing 41 liters of water per pair.  No longer.

Though extensive R&D efforts, Levis learned to make a pair of jeans using only 1 liter of water, thus the name "Waterless". But that was only the beginning. Next, they engaged purchasers in their journey to do less. Levis suggested cold water washing, and then hosted a global contest to design an air-drying system, won by a clever girl from Japan. But they didn’t stop there.

Levis partnered with the NGO Goodwill and created "Do Good, Donate" encouraging disposal of "gently worn" jeans to their thrift stores. Going further, Levis created a method to chop jeans into house insulation.  The last step in the waterless journey extended to cotton, the raw material for jeans.  Levis joined the Better Cotton Initiative, a group that educates millions of small farmers around the globe to use water-saving irrigation methods.

Waterless jeans are special. These "purposeful" products deliver a good-looking, well-fitting pant with an authentic, compelling narrative. They inspire employees and consumers alike.

Purpose-driven brands and companies are all around us: IBM provides innovative software solutions to create a "Smarter Planet." Dove helps girls build self-esteem via the "Campaign for Real Beauty."  PNC Financial Services partners with parents to help young children "Grow Up Great." BMW in China shines a spotlight on disappearing local art, through its "Cultural Tour" and American Express celebrates "Small Business Saturdays."

"Citizen" consumers emerge

These brands and companies understand that consumer expectation and demand has changed. Indeed, since 2008, we have seen in our research that 86% of consumers surveyed report that companies should place at least equal emphasis on social interests as on business’ interests. This increasingly aware "citizen consumer" is supporting brands and companies more than ever before by aligning with purposeful brands and companies through purchase, praise and/or advocacy.

The power of these citizen consumers must not be overlooked. Globally,

  • 72% would recommend a brand that supports a good cause over one that doesn’t; a 39% increase since 2008.
  • 71% would help a brand promote their products or services if there is a good cause behind them; a growth of 34% since 2008.
  • 73% of consumers would switch brands if a different brand of similar quality supported a good cause; a 9% increase since 2009.

With word of "mouse," tweets and Facebook ‘likes’ so critical to a brand's popularity and ultimate purchase, Purpose-driven brands are demonstrating their engagement power. It is no longer about "If" a brand or a company will embrace Purpose-- it is now about the "How".

From my three decades of experience, here are five critical steps to building Purpose into a brand/company:

  • Lead from the "C" suite, especially the CEO.
  • Engage a cross-functional senior team to build commitment and provide key resources.
  • Focus your Purpose based on the intersection of organizational core competencies, key audience needs and a relevant social issue.
  • Partner with key NGOs for credibility, content and grassroots engagement.
  • Measure from the beginning.

From our research and work, "citizen" consumers have spoken. Today, brands and companies cannot just be responsive, they must be responsible. Purpose is the new paradigm.



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The Author

Johanna McDowell

Johanna McDowell is IPRA President for 2012.

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