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Why purpose is the great differentiator for brands

Why purpose is the great differentiator for brands

Roz Thomas

Managing Director

Hill+Knowlton Strategies South Africa




The world of communication is changing. Constantly. What is considered effective practice one month can easily be turned on its head by the next. The proliferation of different communication platforms, the relentless rise of social media, and the ascent to power of the man on the street makes it vital for companies to ensure that their messaging across platforms is consistent, relevant, and impactful.

As a result, global organisations have had to up their game considerably. Whereas before these companies relied on multiple agencies to craft and disseminate their communications, consolidation is now the name of the game. As consumers demand more, and the lines between PR, advertising, and marketing gradually blur and recede, organisations are increasingly engaging far fewer agencies to perform these vital functions. In addition, they are insisting on more than just blind execution; insights and proactivity are key.

This revised approach has meant that PR agencies have also had to evolve and accelerate. PR consultants need to be knowledgeable about all aspects of the ever-changing communications space and not just traditional PR. Communications should be aligned with companies’ overall business objectives. The PR consultant’s role as a strategic advisor at the boardroom table is now unquestionable.

Investigating future communication challenges

To explore how this mercurial environment will most likely impact brands, Hill+Knowlton Strategies recently conducted a global study that examined the projected future communication challenges and opportunities for international organisations. The in-depth research surveyed the opinions of communications practitioners who hold a senior regional or international role within their company.

One of the report’s key findings was that creating and maintaining a purpose-driven brand was a vital asset in this world of disruption where the consumer increasingly demands more from organisations. Having a purpose that is embodied in everything a company does is becoming more crucial; it goes beyond corporate social responsibility efforts and is not an adjunct or afterthought to the ‘real business’ of an organisation. Purpose is the reason why a company exists, why they do what they do, and their very reason for being.

Research from Havas Media’s Meaningful Brands in 2017, which surveyed 300,000 people globally, showed that brands that are perceived as meaningful have outperformed the stock market by 206%. Companies with a clearly defined purpose also attract and keep better talent, increase their chances of longevity, and tend to resonate more with consumers. A vital element of the communication expert’s new role is to assist brands in clearly defining their purpose and ensuring that this purpose is the true north of a company’s every action and interaction.

The strength of purpose

In order to achieve this, PR professionals need to have an in-depth understanding of their brands’ stakeholders, and be aware of nuances in the environment. Having access to relevant and recent data, as well as being able to gain perceptive insights from this data, is crucial.

A key challenge for the communication professional that was highlighted by the Hill+Knowlton study is knowing how to maintain an organisation’s purpose and narrative within a world that is increasingly unpredictable. Businesses need to ensure that their purpose will have longevity, be authentic yet dexterous, and resonate with consumers of the present and future.

Quality content becomes even more important in a purposeful age. Our always-on, 24/7 communication climate often means we are engaged in a content arms race, where the weapons have become volume, and not value. To win, the only way to break through the content clutter is to ensure that each engagement a brand has with its audience is authentic, relevant, and impactful. Creative storytelling is essential.

Purpose is also vital in helping companies maintain their reputation in times of crisis.

Hill+Knowlton’s study indicated that risk management was only likely to increase in the future. As the influence of social media will continue to rise, fake news will also continue to become more prolific, and consumer attitudes will change. In an environment where consumers demand accountability and responsibility from brands, having a defined purpose that seeps through each brand action and interaction gives organisations a firmer footing from which to address, and even turn around, crisis situations.

Finding stability in an unpredictable environment

Communications is right at the epicentre of many exciting changes that are currently shaping our present and our future.  In this climate, only brands with purpose will be able to stand the test of time, and it is the job of the communications expert to help clients navigate their way through this unstable terrain, and maintain relevance and impact, with purpose as their true north.