purpose-driven marketing

Consumers expect brands to walk the talk, not just talk the talk.

Whether you are a mom-and-pop shop on local Main Street or a multimillion dollar brand, having a purpose outside of making money has become an important part of the customer experience.

Today’s generation is more socially aware than ever before. Armed with instant information, consumers realize the power they have. They support brands that give back to the community. And they boycott brands that misstep.

Purpose-driven marketing represents a unique opportunity to give back to the community while earning customer loyalty and bolstering brand awareness.

What is purpose-driven marketing?

A purpose-driven brand is not solely about marketing; it’s a way of doing business.

Purpose-driven brands support causes that align with their corporate values. They often incorporate some sort of corporate social responsibility (CSR) — a process that enables businesses to be accountable to itself, to stakeholders and to the public. Common initiatives include environmental sustainability, direct philanthropic giving, ethical business practices and economic responsibility.

Purpose-driven marketing is often mistaken for cause marketing. They both share similar goals — giving back. However, they have different methodologies.

Cause marketing involves short-term campaigns that support a singular non-profit or other altruistic endeavors. Purpose-driven marketing involves a long-term communications plan that speaks more about how a brand does business, including corporate values, culture, business operations and long-term initiatives.

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What are examples of purpose-driven marketing?

Purpose-driven brands not only make their passion for giving back known, they make it an essential part of their brand identity. Their purpose informs every aspect of their business — operations, suppliers, employee benefits and marketing.

Patagonia’s mission statement, “We’re in business to save the planet,” is their business model. The 45-year-old American clothing business is well known for environmental activism and sustainable fulfillment set-up.

The Dove Self-Esteem Project aims to change the conversation of how girls worldwide see self-esteem and to help them realize their full potential. They offer free resources for parents, teachers and youth leaders on how to raise a child with confidence complete with workshops and activities. They reinvented their brand in 2004 with a real beauty marketing campaign that featured real women in the real world.

Nike is both a cautionary tale and the greatest success story for purpose-driven brands. They are best known for their activist campaign that featured Colin Kaepernick for the 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” campaign. This controversial ad campaign angered and inspired their customers. Ultimately, sticking true to their values led to a surge in sales. Kaepernick’s “True to 7” sneaker sold out in minutes.

What many people may not realize is that the shoe company has a long history of supporting athletes. Nike’s Social & Community Impact Team and the Nike Foundation focuses on empowering young girls, and youth in general, around the world. Their Made to Play program focuses on kids who face barriers. 

Does purpose-driven marketing work?

American consumers know they have power to influence brands — online reviews, live social media videos, crowdfunding and organized boycotts.

Nearly 90% of American consumers were prompted to boycott brands for irresponsible business practices and more than 85% buy products with a social environmental benefit in 2018. More than 80% of American consumers tell their friends and family about a brand’s good deeds, according to Statista.

Successful purpose-driven brands “see their customers as more than buyers,” says Bill Theofilou, senior managing director for Accenture Strategy, Advanced Customer Strategy and Competitiveness Center of Excellence, in an interview with Forbes. These brands take their customers’ feedback seriously and often involve them in creating new products and services.

Purpose-driven brands prioritize transparency and authenticity in how they do business — which allows them the flexibility to respond to trends and, ultimately, to thrive in a competitive marketplace.

“Purpose and profit are not mutually exclusive,” Thoefilou said. “Companies that stand for something bigger than just what they sell typically deliver higher levels of commercial success because they mean much more to their customers.”

How any brand can use purpose-driven marketing

Brands exist because they have purpose. Purpose is differentiation. It’s brand identity. It’s the mission and vision. And it’s how they do business.

Why does your brand exist?

What challenges does your brand solve?

How would the world be different without your brand?

When you identify and define your brand’s purpose, you’ll build stronger and more authentic relationships with your customers.

Define your values.

The origin of your business comes into play here.

Why did you start your business?

Next, define your core values — the fundamental beliefs that drive you in business and in life. Identifying your values will guide how you do business. Here are some tips on how to get started from Psychology Today:

  • Choose 6-8 values from a wide-ranging list.
  • Think of people you admire. Why are they important to you?
  • Seek out advice — from a career counselor, a business consultant, other business owners you trust.
  • Try a free values inventory, such as this one.
  • Examine your behavior and assign values to key decisions you’ve made in your life.
  • Consider the most painful and joyful events in your life. What are some key value takeaways?

Find your purpose and stick with it.

It’s important that once you find your purpose to keep in mind that is a long-term approach.

The benefits of purpose-driven marketing come into play when brands are consistent with how they use their core values in everything they do.

If you support a particular issue or cause, stick with it. For instance, throw annual fundraising events, continually donate a portion of proceeds to a non-profit, educate the community about your cause on your website or spotlight a charity in your social media. Your customers will appreciate it, and they’ll associate your brand with that purpose.

Jumping around from one mission to another will confuse people. Your audience will be more likely to respond to a consistent, long-running campaign. A singular cause shows people your dedication and commitment through repeated efforts. When they see this dedication, it’s more natural for them to identify your brand with that mission. 

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Develop a foundational strategy

Like any marketing idea, lay out a strategy that will keep your goals top of mind and keep your tasks on track. Ensure that your cause-based marketing flows naturally with your current values. It helps if there’s a direct connection with your services or products. Then, the association makes more sense in your customer’s minds.

Consider committing to a non-profit or cause for the long term. Results take time to get going, and it also takes awhile for customers to develop an association between your brand and the cause. However, don’t give up on new initiatives too early.

Show the world that you’re planning on making a difference in the world with your mission. Be transparent on why this cause means so much to your brand and how exactly you plan to support your purpose. Long-lasting customer relationships are built on authenticity. Let your customers participate and get involved so that they can help as much as possible.

Remember: It’s not about you. It’s about helping others.

The best way to approach purpose-driven marketing is with an open mind and a desire to help others. There’s a fine balance between being sanctimonious and being sincere.

It’s critical to level expectations for yourself, your team, your partners and your customers. Customers and partners need to understand timelines and terms. If you want to create a change, find ways that your business can work with influencers and partners who have a shared vision. Inspire and support those around you the best you can to create an impact that truly matters.

Avoid annoying your social media followers by flooding their news feed with too much information, false information or tasteless information. Be pointed with your messaging by crafting messages that are easily digestible and avoids confusion. Be authentic, transparent, honest and true to your word. Make your audience the hero of the story by offering them ways to help.

If your cause is controversial, do your homework. Don’t hitch your wagon to a trending or polarizing issue with a careless attitude. Don’t spread yourself too thin or commit to too many non-profits. This approach will dilute your efforts and weaken the storytelling in your marketing.

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Purpose-driven marketing quote by gary vaynerchuk, "The best marketing strategy ever: care."

Why purpose-driven marketing matters

The primary benefit of this form of marketing is that it signals your customers that your brand cares about more than turning a profit.

Cause marketing campaigns open partnership opportunities and introduce your brand to a broader audience. They help generate revenue, increase sales, and improve your current rate of customer loyalty.

Having a purpose results in many intangible benefits. Overall, purpose-driven marketing strengthens your brand authority and credibility. It also opens doors to new opportunities with companies, customers, collaborators, influencers and investors who share your values. Purpose attracts new customers and forms profitable alliances.

Above all else, having a purpose helps make the world better by making a positive, long-lasting impact. That’s a legacy all brands should get behind.

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