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Keeping it real

Keeping it real

How communications help build purposeful brands

Thomas Deneke
Director Business Development

The role of brands and companies in society is being scrutinized more than ever, and not just as a result of the growing success of the Fridays for Future movement. “Brand purpose” has become one of the buzzwords in marketing – and many marketeers have been jumping on the bandwagon for fear of being left behind.

This is a mistake, as has become evident when brands have launched Facebook pages without any visible strategy for this new channel, to the detriment of their reputation.

The same will happen to brands that suddenly start being “purposeful”, but that look a lot like they are greenwashing. Like social media, brand purpose needs a dedicated strategy.

Marketing Guru Mark Ritson puts it quite graphically: “Do customers want purpose-filled brands? Sometimes. In some categories. Depending on how it is done. A lot of the time they don’t give a f*ck. And usually, most segments will not pay more for the purpose-filled privilege, even if they are theoretically in favor of it.”

First of all, brands need to be sure that they really want to build a brand purpose. They need to check the pros and cons, the possible gains and the risks. A brand purpose often requires boldness. You will appeal to new target groups, but you will quite likely offend some of your existing clients. Take Nike. The Colin Kaepernick ad generated a lot of buzz, went viral, and brought in new customers – but it also led to Nike boycotts. Gillette’s recent “The best a man can be” campaign led to weeks-long discussions about “toxic masculinity” and led thousands of people to post online their plans to boycott the brand.  

If you’re still prepared to commit to a purpose, despite the risks, how do you then identify the right purpose for your brand?

A strong purpose is built on a big idea. An idea that is being based on human truth and insight. And, most of all, an idea that fits the brand. Ideally, a purpose that is rooted in the offer.

When you find a purpose that fits with your brand, you need to make people aware of it. That’s where communication fits in. And often this is where brands make another big mistake: many purpose-led campaigns leave us with the impression that the purpose is something that the brand has created just for its advertising; it doesn’t really reflect the product or company. Gillette’s ad triggered an important discussion, but many critics said that the brand didn’t really deliver a solution or answer to the issue.

So, your campaigns need to show how your brand delivers on purpose. The good thing about focusing on a purpose that is built on human insight is that it often leads easily to stories. Showing, not telling, is critical to landing the intended message, and to build support within the target group.

We have analyzed the Link database, Kantar’s bank of over 80,000 ads from around the world, and found that campaigns promoting a purpose tend to perform better than the average. When the purpose is clearly connected to what the brand does, the advertising’s performance is even better across all important KPIs. But what boosts creative performance to new levels is adding high emotional power.

When communicating brand purpose, one thing is crucial: authenticity. Your purpose should be something that people value and it has to be something that you can deliver. Ideally, it is something that only you can deliver!