Brand Purpose: What it is and why all brands need it

Your brand’s purpose is more than a mission statement. It should not be fueled by jargon and oozing with marketing speak. Brand purpose fully reflects how your brand – and all of its people – show up in the world.

Now more than ever, your consumers are looking for businesses to make a bold statement, whether it be through their products, services, marketing, or community-driven initiatives about their purpose.

What is brand purpose?
Brand purpose is a brand’s authentic, consumer- and employee-relevant “reason for being.” It is not your company’s vision or mission. These are strategic and tactical elements that drive your business based on its specific industry or category. Purpose reflects the “why.” Specifically, purpose reflects the underlying societal need your brand was created to address. 

Why is brand purpose important?

Purpose-led brands have been the PR darlings of the business world for the past decade. From TOMS to Warby Parker, even Tesla, these companies have resonated with consumers and Wall Street by offering the general public something much deeper than the right products, at the right price, at the right time. 

These companies are big players in the “purpose-driven retail” era for a reason: Millennials and Gen Zers have acquired more market share over this time and they are undoubtedly the loudest about their expectations. In its “Strength of Purpose” study, which gathered insights from 8,000 global consumers and 75 companies, media firm Zeno Group found that 92% of Gen Z and 90% of millennial respondents would act in support of a purposeful brand – a noticeable increase from Gen X (81%) and Baby Boomers (73%).

Ironically, these consumers have access to more brand and product options than ever before. They can buy an entire season’s wardrobe for less than $100 and outfit their apartments for a bargain. But more often than not, these consumers are looking to do business with brands that are intentional, reflect their values, and make a tangible impact on the world.

Now is the time for your leadership team to take a hard look at your brand purpose. What is your company’s ideology and how do you all plan to express it through everything you do? Everything means everything. Beyond your promotional activities, it also includes the remaining 5 P’s of marketing including your product, pricing, place (distribution), and your people. 

How to discover your true brand purpose
To uncover your true brand purpose, think about why the world needs your brand. Some foundational questions you can use to identify your purpose include: 

* What value do your products, services, and experiences offer your consumers? Why do you matter to them?

* Why do your employees feel engaged at work? What makes them feel connected to your business, the leadership team, and their colleagues?

* How do you contribute to the world at large? What economic, social, and environmental issues drive the work you do?

* How do you choose to communicate with your internal and external community? Why do you use these specific channels, strategies, and tactics?

Answering these questions is an invaluable exercise to ensure that your leadership team and all employees are rallying around the same things and have a unified front. After all, this alignment impacts everything you do when you activate your purpose across marketing, product, operations, customer success and other divisions. 

How to activate your purpose with the BERA purpose activation framework 

After you discover your brand purpose, it’s time to bring it to life! Jim Stengel Company has used decades of work with 75+ companies to develop the Purpose Activation Framework, which encompasses five core areas that allow organizations of all sizes and across industries to put their purpose into action. 

Consumer engagement
Some brands do an incredible job of using their purpose to drive user participation and interaction. Instead of simply selling products and services, they create lively ecosystem of brand advocates and users who help amplify the mission further. For example, PayPal has brought its mission to democratize financial services to the next level through a 10-year partnership with Kiva. Through this partnership individuals can loan money to people and entrepreneurs who represent their values.

Employee engagement
In a survey of more than 1,200 managers and frontline employees in the U.S., 72% felt that purpose should come before profits. However, only 42% said their company’s stated “purpose” had an effect.

Companies that activate their purpose through employee engagement are laser-focused on culture. They not only want to acquire the right talent; they want to keep this talent, nurture it and ensure their employees are also committed to the purpose every day. Rallying your people around your company’s purpose means they’re passionate about the collective brand and the work they do. For example, Truist, formerly known as SunTrust, had an annual “day of purpose” that allowed employees to take a day to focus on their own financial literacy and well-being.

Your brand purpose should drive everything your team does. Products and services are a big part of that. Companies like Volvo use their purpose to inspire innovation across the organization, and it helps reaffirm their differentiation and drive customer loyalty. The auto brand is dedicated to helping people (especially families) get from place to place in a safe and sustainable way. When the company invented the three-point seatbelt in 1959, it brought its purpose to the next level by not only using the technology in its own cars, but giving the patent away for free for other manufacturers to use. This is an extremely powerful example of a company replacing ROI with bettering the world.

There are many companies that try to communicate their purpose through branding, but Patagonia is arguably one that does it best. These companies integrate their purpose into every brand interaction, from logos, to social media posts, taglines, colors, packages and even their store spaces. Everywhere you look and every channel you use to interact and engage with the Patagonia brand, you see its commitment to protecting the planet.

Societal contribution
More companies are looking at their business from the inside-out and thinking critically about the impact they want to make on the world. While some want to contribute to local communities, others establish more large-scale partnerships with nonprofits that support specific social and environmental issues. For example, Pampers, which is dedicated to helping caretakers ensure babies’ happy, healthy development, has partnered with UNICEF to protect newborns worldwide from maternal and neonatal tetanus.

How to measure the impact of brand purpose 

As companies bring their brand purpose to life, they need to incrementally measure the impact they are making. Are they resonating with consumers? Are they seeing a shift in employee engagement and retention? Are their products and marketing campaigns “stickier” among key audiences?

Brands can useBERA’s Purpose Composite Score to see how purposeful their brand is seen by consumers. The BERA Purpose Composite Score is based on the above five activation areas and uncovers four consumer-observable outcomes that have been validated as business drivers:

* Consistent focus

* Protagonism

* Social impact

* Universal connection

Within these outcomes are 13 total attributes, which represent all the ways consumers recognize your purpose.

Used in conjunction with the BERA Score, marketing and brand leaders can quantify and visualize how these purpose-driven actions impact brand perception, product positioning and overall business performance. Our research has found that companies with both high BERA scores and Brand Purpose Composite Scores generate more than 30% higher value creation, 12X more consumer loyalty, 4X more pricing power and 5X faster enterprise growth.