For brand purpose to work ‘marketers must take a broader perspective’

As custodians of the brand, marketers have a critical role to play in implementing purpose across organisations, says co-founder of brand substance agency Given London and former CSR manager at The Body Shop, Becky Willan.

While the purpose of marketing is the same as it has always been, the way in which brands engage with brands is fundamentally changing.

If consumers are to buy in to a brand, they need to buy in to the entire company. Never before has so much emphasis been put on brand purpose and doing right by staff and customers, as well as the environment and society as a whole.

Becky Willan, managing director and co-founder of sustainability-driven agency Given London, is no stranger to helping brands build on their purpose, responsibility and values. In a former life, she was environmental manager EMEA at The Body Shop and is co-creator of Place09, a project dedicated to capturing personal thoughts about climate change.

She tells Charlotte Rogers her views on how marketers today should behave.

Consumer expectations changing

Marketing is going through some fundamental changes driven by massive category disruption and the fact consumer expectations about how businesses should behave are greater than ever. Now it’s not just about getting people to like your products, it’s about getting them to love your entire company.

The days of brand image where you could say one thing and do another are over, and the task for a marketer today is about building brands that people can really believe in and that involves taking a much broader perspective than maybe people had to 10-15 years ago.

Purpose projects will stay small or be seen as box ticking, or even worse as somebody’s pet project, unless they get the brand and marketing team behind them.

One of the things that has happened over the past decade is that successful brand building has become more than just product marketing, it’s about having a point of view on the world. That idea has really started to crystallise among the marketing community. Today the conversation is not so much about why, but about how a brand can be better by doing good and that’s a pretty fundamental change in the narrative.

READ MORE: Brands struggle to sustain ‘purpose’ commitments

In the past there has been a misconception that purpose can’t coexist with other brand attributes. You’re either a purposeful brand or a fun brand. Purpose doesn’t replace everything else, it should just be another ingredient of the brand. So you have to really understand the nuances of how to bring different brand attributes together.

Clearly, your ability to do this depends on how marketing is seen within your organisation. If you’re in a marketing-driven business where you’ve got a helicopter view of the entire company and you can drive business strategy, then you’re in a really good position to think about purpose. But that’s much more difficult to do if marketing is seen as only being about messaging, tactics and sales.

Bringing people with you

Marketers must take the organisation with them on purpose projects

There’s a parallel between brands that are more customer driven and brands that are thinking about the purpose opportunities. I also think it’s true to say that more businesses are becoming genuinely customer centric.

We talk about the idea of purpose with substance, purpose that creates meaningful change in the world rather than purpose as a big marketing idea. So marketing can absolutely be a conduit for purpose to be operationalised, but it’s not the only place where purpose can live.

Purpose projects will stay small or be seen as box ticking, or even worse as somebody’s pet project, unless they get the brand and marketing team behind them. As custodians of the brand, marketers have a critical role to play but they can’t do it on their own. They need to be able to bring the rest of the organisation with them.

I think purpose with substance is ultimately about creating change and marketers can be a conduit for change. They have the routes in and the influence to do it, but they can’t do it on their own.

Long-term thinking

Short-termism is a big risk to purpose, because purpose has to be about long-term transformational change. I believe purpose will be as transformational as digital in its scope and reach, changing every aspect of business decision making.

One of the challenges we have at the moment is that purpose is a fairly nascent area and I’m not sure we have developed the right metrics to really be able to show the long-term, sustainable value creation of a more purposeful approach.

READ MORE: How to balance short-term impact with long-term results

I feel like the thing that would probably enable some counterpoint would be developing metrics that are able to show the long-term value of purpose within brands. But if I’m really honest, I don’t think we’re there yet. I’m sure these metrics go hand-in-hand with long-term value creation and brand building.

The critical element of purpose is authenticity, it’s probably the only thing that really matters. If you talk about substance and authenticity, it has to be relevant to consumers and that’s where some brands have gone wrong. They have thought about an issue that captures the imagination of consumers, but where actually from a business perspective they don’t have the credibility or capability to tangibly deliver.

What’s interesting is that delivering on a brand promise with integrity is actually a fundamental part of marketing, it’s not a new idea. Essentially, a brand is a promise to consumers that then gets delivered through the customer experience or the product, so if you don’t deliver against the promise it’s going to undermine your brand.

Purpose is another measure on which that becomes true. It’s no different from other aspects of marketing, but brands that don’t live up to purpose promises will be judged even more harshly because this is stuff that really matters. Ultimately, marketing has to be involved if you really want to unlock bigger opportunities.