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Resuscitating Purpose

Resuscitating Purpose

Stina van Rooyen

Head of Brand



Brand purpose has run the full gamut from being the great savior to the villain and back again. Every now and then an article by a celebrity marketer will proclaim that “purpose has reached its peak” or that purpose has been relegated to “sh*t marketers don’t need to worry about". But to reference Mark Twain: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”. Purpose just doesn’t seem to want to go away. And it’s easy to see why: BrandZ™ shows that brands with a strong purpose grow their value at three times the average rate.

What is purpose?

Part of the problem has been that everyone has their own interpretation of what brand purpose is and how it should be implemented and executed. It is also difficult to distinguish between brand purpose, values, mission, and corporate social responsibility. At Kantar, we’ve taken brand purpose to mean very simply a brand that is seen by consumers to “make my life better". For a brand to answer the question of how it makes people’s lives better, Dr. Darren Coleman gives good direction: “Brand purpose concerns why a brand exists, its reason for being or fundamental premise”.

Philip Kotler identifies three types of marketing in his book Marketing 3.0: From Product to Customers to the Human Spirit. The first is Marketing 1.0. Companies at this stage do a good job, offer good quality products to people, and generate earnings. Marketing 2.0 is more evolved. Companies that operate here sell quality goods, but also learn more about their consumers or clients’ behavior and preferences in order to give them a differentiated offer. Lastly, there is Marketing 3.0. This involves companies that understand that people live in an unstable world with economic and ecological problems that should be remedied. They take this context into account and set a goal not only to sell their offer in the best possible way, but also make the world a better place.

It's not just about how you market your brand. True brand purpose should be at the core of your business. Some people starting companies begin with purpose at the center. They lead with purpose and ensure that it runs through every decision they make. Unfortunately, many brands don’t. So, what do you do if your brand wasn’t founded on a core principle? Don’t fake it.

What purpose isn’t

The majority of companies operate in a Marketing 1.0 space. Ideally, they should evolve their focus from products to consumers and then to humanity. The danger lies in adopting a cause that doesn’t fit your brand or isn’t fundamentally connected to it. Even if you manage to find a clearly defined purpose and organize your company around it, it will do little to build brand value if the brand doesn’t address a real need and build strong connections with consumers.

Much of purpose’s bad rap comes from using it in one-off campaigns and activations that are not rooted in ongoing commitment. There is nothing more inauthentic than a purpose that is manufactured just to be part of an advertising campaign. The democratization of technology means we have much better-informed consumers who are not easily fooled.  

Amplifying purpose

For purpose to drive brand growth consumers need to be aware of it and recognize the effort towards making their lives better. In 2019 Kantar and Affectiva analyzed 200,000 ads from our Link pre-test database. Results showed that ads with a message centered on purpose are no more effective on average than any other ad. How could this be? In the majority of cases people simply couldn’t understand why the brand was talking about purpose because the fit between the brand and its cause was unclear. However, ads that outperformed the average were those that clearly demonstrated how the brand alleviates a social tension and wrapped it in a compelling narrative.

If you are going to communicate what you believe and what you stand for, you need to do so clearly and consistently. Everything you say and do must be aligned.

Brand purpose resurgence

Much has been written in the past 2 years about the need for a closer link between businesses and society. Consumers have been calling for brands to contribute to public wellbeing. Kantar’s Purpose 2020 project showed that 84 percent of centennials expect companies to take a stand on important social issues. The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has accelerated this view. Never has Marketing 3.0 been more relevant than in an uncertain world faced with the biggest global economic crisis imaginable. In the midst of this, 90 percent of South Africans and global consumers said that brands should be helpful in the new everyday life. Societal purpose has shifted from a nice-to-have to an essential ingredient of brand growth. The question is how brands will react. Will they revert to cheap tactics and empty campaigns or will they rise to the challenge?