We’ve stopped what we are doing and creating your personalized BrandZ™ report, which will appear in your inbox soon.

The Hardy Boys - Is your brand purpose making your consumers’ hearts beat faster

Thobeka Sibiya

Senior Strategist

The Hardy Boys


Is your brand purpose making your consumers’ hearts beat faster?

Every brandbig or smallstrives to have a relevant, meaningful role in their consumers’ lives; over and above what they sell. Known as a brand’s purpose, some define it as “a higher order reason for a brand to exist than just making a profit” (Medium.com); others as “how a company intends to change the world for the better” (Brand Strategy Insider). Regardless of the wording, the hype surrounding this term has hit South Africa’s marketing industry hard. Unfortunately, despite advertisers zoomed-in attention on it, a sad reality remains. Although there’s a clear understanding as to why brands should have a brand purpose, there’s very limited knowledge as to how to define one.

In today’s climate of social and political upheaval, consumers’ expectations of brands and companies are changing. More than ever, people want companies to address some of the challenging issues of our times, such as inequality, racial discrimination, pollution, and fair compensation. In the past, these responsibilities rested on the shoulders of governments to solve, but today, that duty has shifted to brands. This new dynamic is mostly due to consumers who are more ‘woke’ than ever about unethical corporate practices and the duplicity of greenwashing these issues away. Brands must understand that the modern consumer now buys into what a company believes, not just what it sells. And therein lies the crucial importance of having a purpose.

Some brands confuse their purpose with their brand promise, which is the first mistake. Your brand’s purpose should be ingrained in what your brand makes, says, and behaves. It’s involves much more than making your brand competitive; it’s about adding real value to the lives of people who buy your products. This is why a well-thought-out purpose should have the consumer in mind at every step. Without that focus, brands won’t be able to create a strong emotional connection with consumers and motivate them to choose one brand over and above considerations like value and price.

Purpose leads to profit
A recent Edelman study, in which 8 000 people in eight countries participated, found that a company’s position on social issues can drive purchase intent just as much as product features. Almost 40 percent said they bought a product for the first time solely because they appreciated the brand’s position on a topical societal or political issue, with 64 percent choosing to switch, avoid, or boycott a brand based on its stand on an issue.

This clearly shows that consumers are more socially conscious than ever. Armed with the megaphone of social media, consumers can now publicly demand that corporations weigh in on political or social topics as they arise. In turn, consumers are also more sceptical towards advertising; questioning every aspect of it. They understand that their buying power is powerful. With the ability to make a brand thrive or fail, consumers are very willing to exercise this power when they feel a brand is exploiting social challenges for profit or are being dishonest or insincere.

This is not only true for global brands, but for South African ones especially. A good example is Unilever’s Sustainable Living Brands (USLP). Six years into its ambitious USLP initiative, the company announced its progress: the brands in this portfolio grew over 50 percent faster than the rest of the business, delivering more than 60 percent of Unilever’s growth in 2016. Currently, there are 18 Sustainable Living Brands in the top 40 Unilever brands. Of this achievement, CEO Paul Polman said: “There is no doubt that the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan is making us more competitive by helping us to build our brands and spur innovation, strengthen our supply chain, and reduce our risks, lower our costs, and build trust in our business. It is helping Unilever to serve society and our many consumers, and in doing so, create value for shareholders.”

Sunlight gets it right
A brand purpose that connects with the consumer in an authentic way is extremely effective. Look at Sunlight, for example. After identifying that women redistribute 90 percent of their income to their families and community (while men only redistribute 45 percent), Sunlight took a stand on female empowerment. Because the success of women is closely linked to the success of communities, Sunlight decided to champion the upliftment of women (and communities) across Africa by providing them with opportunities to thrive.

During South Africa’s 2016/2017 water crisis, they erected a billboard on a prominent freeway using 80 JoJo water tanks, which were later donated to communities around the country. In 2018, Sunlight announced the installation of 250 push taps in the Tembisa community. This followed the announcement that Tembisa was in desperate need of water conservation due to a large number of leaking taps. Along with installing the push taps, Sunlight also kicked off a door-to-door campaign in Tembisa, communicating and educating the residents on the importance of saving water. Residents were showed how they could use the push taps efficiently in order to save water on a daily basis.

As a way to involve the public in the campaign, the brand created a competition where consumers could join the nationwide conversation and tell them what they do to conserve water on #SunlightSavesWater. The results? The campaign gained wide press coverage and was shortlisted for the 2017 Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

Show consumers you care
Consumer studies and brand case studies such as these clearly show that there is a purpose to having a brand purpose. If your brand only has one for the sake of jumping on the bandwagon or being in-tune with your consumers, then you are wasting your time and money. In fact, you might even hurt your bottom line. Without an authentic brand purpose, you will be seen as a brand with no heartbeat; a clinical, cold profit-making machine. The only way to successfully create a brand purpose is to live it, internally and externally,
 and above all—make a real, positive impact on society.