Why brand purpose requires more than just a snappy slogan

Consumers increasingly want organisations to demonstrate a purpose beyond profit and prove a business commitment to making the world a better place, but it requires more than a snappy slogan, with brands needing to set out their objectives and prove they are in it for the long term.

Whether it’s focusing on sustainability or promoting diversity, brand purpose has become increasingly important to consumers and that means that it is taking on a bigger role in the boardroom too.

“Purpose is about what you do and not what you say, and within the board room it has become a business transformation idea rather than a loose wrap-around at a brand level,” said John Rudaizky, partner and global brand and external communications leader at Ernst and Young, speaking at the Marketing Society’s ‘Profit through purpose’ event.

There are clear benefits to having a strong brand purpose. A 2015 study by Harvard Business Review and Ernst and Young showed that companies with a strong sense of purpose are able to transform and innovate better, as well as improving employee satisfaction.

“Purpose is about galvanising and driving people forward. What we found is that overall if people have a greater sense of purpose, profit will follow,” Rudaizky said.

The importance of marketing

Marketers have an important role to play when it comes to explaining this purpose. Roisin Donnelly, brand director for Northern Europe at Procter and Gamble (P&G), explained: “Marketer’s campaigns can be seen by millions of people. Your brands are a positive force for good – both for people and profit. But changing the world starts with your purpose.”

P&G has put brand purpose at the heart of the business since its inception 179 years ago. Its brand mission, “touching and improving lives”, is central to everything the company does. One of the most recent examples is the 2014 ‘Like a Girl’ campaign for feminine hygiene brand Always, which aimed to empower women and girls.

“Before people saw the ad, 19% thought ‘like a girl’ was a positive phrase, while afterwards 76% thought it was a positive statement, which is hugely empowering. It has built trust that girls and women have in themselves and could make a huge difference to the planet in future,” Donnelly said.

Living purpose internally and externally

But for purpose to make a noticeable impact on a business, brands have to prove they are committed.

Donnelly explained: “My advice to brands would be to revisit their purpose. Purpose isn’t about having one tactical plan with a charity or an agency – it has to be big, inspiring, simple and memorable. It has to inspire every single person in your company, as well as shareholders, stakeholders and agencies.”

Incorporating purpose into a business can do more than inspire consumers and stakeholders, it also works towards attracting and retaining talent within the business.

According to Unilever, which topped consultancy Radley Yeldar’s index of the most successful brands incorporating brand purpose, it is the third most sought-after employer globally on LinkedIn, with half of graduate entrants citing the company’s ethical and sustainability policies as the primary reason for wanting to join Unilever.

In addition, more than 76% of all Unilever employees feel their role at work enables them to contribute to delivering the sustainability agenda.

Donnelly adds: “Nowadays, people aren’t loyal to companies. Post-millennials aren’t waking up every morning thinking they want to work for the same company for the next 42 years – they want a lot of different things in life. So they want to work for a company they can relate to.”

Pick your partners carefully

Innocent recently launched its 'Sow and Grow' campaign, aimed at teaching children where their food comes from.
Innocent recently launched its ‘Sow and Grow’ campaign, aimed at teaching children where their food comes from.

It can be difficult for businesses to achieve purpose on their own, which is why partnerships can be so important. Innocent recently partnered with charity Grow it Yourself in a bid to teach children where their food comes from.

The campaign fits into Innocent’s wider brand mission, which aims to improve the world. Besides donating 10% of its profit to charity, it also uses green electricity at its headquarters and use fruit from sustainable sources.

But to ensure that they prove successful, Donnelly said brands should have fewer partners for a longer time and not get distracted by short-term trends.

“The worst thing is to just dip in and dip out. You should look at it like a marriage – that you’re in it together for the medium to long-term.”

Roisin Donnelly, brand director for Northern Europe, Procter and Gamble

“Don’t just pick something that you think is trendy or cool or talkable today, it should be something that is still there in 20 years time as well. It can be big or small, but it has to be the right partnership.”

Authenticity has to be at the core

Despite the benefits, there is a risk that purpose can be misused by brands – thereby weakening its impact.

Nigel Gilbert, CMO of bank TSB, explains: “I think the most important thing around brand purpose is integrity. If you believe in why you’re doing something, and not just starting an initiative to spin it, then it’s an incredibly powerful thing. But it can easily be misused, and it often is.”

Misappropriating brand purpose could also cause a consumer backlash if revealed. Tom Rainsford, brand director at mobile network Giffgaff, concludes: “If your customers don’t view you as having a purpose, [your brand] doesn’t matter. It’s about placing authenticity at the heart of everything you do.”


Roisin Donnelly, brand director, Northern Europe, Procter & Gamble

Brands that really connect with consumers will become bigger and more successful and will last over time. Purpose is really important to consumers now, as they want to relate to brands. We’ve certainly seen with campaigns such as ‘Like a girl’ for Always, where people can really see discrimination against women and can connect with that. Campaigns like that make a real difference to the world.

To measure how profit is generated through purpose, we look at the basic KPIs such as sales, shares and also our equity, which explores what consumers think about the brand and the strengths of the brand.

P&G’s purpose is about touching and improving lives, so with every product we design and every marketing communication, we ask that question. If it is, it’s on strategy and we’ll launch, if it’s not we’ll go back to the drawing board and improve it.

Purpose has become trendier over the last couple of years because consumers want to know more and it’s about building consumer trust. In the UK and around the world, consumer trust is not high in business. The brand is a visible part of business, and advertising is the most visible part, so we’re just trying to respond to the questions that we’re getting every day from our consumers.

For any brand, purpose has to be big enough and embracive enough to suit your portfolio and to last over time. Purpose isn’t a tactic, it’s a strategy and it should be a long-term strategy. It isn’t just a short-term tactic with a not-for-profit charity or agency, it should be in your DNA and at the heart of your brands.

Everybody has to look at how they can make purpose work for them. They need to make sure their purpose is simple, memorable and inspires consumers, employees, shareholders and stakeholders. If your purpose is something that people can relate to and engage with then you have a strong purpose. You then need to put it into practice.

P&G’s purpose is very much one that can last over time. We don’t have any plans to change that and we just continue to stick with what we’re already doing; to understand consumers, see how they are changing and to finally put purpose into practice brand by brand.

  • ‘Purpose beyond profit’ is one of the categories for this year’s Marketing Week Awards. To find out more, head over to the Awards page.
Hide Comments2 Show Comments
  • Austin Brailey 16 Feb 2016 at 2:33 pm

    The point about there being “a risk that purpose can be misused by brands – thereby weakening its impact” is important. I know I’m not the target exactly, but although I’ve seen #LikeAGirl everywhere, it was only when reading this article that I realised Always was behind it. Perhaps the brands decision to not plaster their branding over everything #LikeAGirl related helped this be a success… but then some old schoolers may say “if you don’t immediately know the brand behind the campaign then what’s the point?” It’s a balance. I think Always has got the balance right here.

  • Ben Hayman 17 Feb 2017 at 3:34 pm

    If purpose lives either in the sustainability or CR team, or simply becomes a marketing hook, it will never have the traction to deliver meaningful change. The idea of delivering purpose with real substance provides businesses an amazing opportunity to create value for staff, customers and the world. This is obviously easier said than done, and the business who have nailed it have done so because it is being driven from the top. The question then for people who are passionate about this, but don’t have a seat at the top table, is how do create a case for change, buy-in, momentum, an irresistible argument and an achievable plan that ensures something changes?

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