Graham Staplehurst, Global Strategy Director from BrandZ at Kantar, states that over the last decade, consumers have become more aware of what businesses take out of the system and how this impacts society and the environment, with the result that the definition of purpose as perceived by consumers is changing.

Evolving purpose

BrandZ first added a measure of purpose in 2014 because of the shift – observable across many brands – towards a focus on wider benefits. Since then, its impact has only grown. A brand that wants to evolve its purpose in the eyes of consumers needs to identify the level of purpose that would fit with their brand and then commit to delivering against this on all levels – from product formula and delivery to brand communication. Such communication matters, not least because Warc’s Effective Use of Brand Purpose Report shows that purpose campaigns often operate with lower budgets.

As brands start to promote their actions, every business decision must be made with a long-term view in mind. Each must be backed up by the way a brand consistently talks about itself and is intrinsically linked to its brand purpose.

In particular, brands shouldn’t expect much of an impact from their first action alone. Consumers will judge them on the coherency of the behaviours and actions they have taken over the long term in support of their newly, publicised purpose. The role of purpose and responsibility has been changing for the last decade. Brand perceptions are hard to build and slow to change, but in 2020 all brands have been challenged on their social contributions, by both Black Lives Matter and Coronavirus.

Many have tried to respond with messages of support and understanding. Consumers, however, look beyond what is being said and match the slogan with the long-term commitment and action that sits behind it. No brand can solve all the world’s challenges, but the precious commodity of trust is built by addressing and applying a purpose consistently, honestly and inclusively.

A receptive audience

A key factor driving brands to pay greater attention to purpose is the fact that more people care about how responsible brands are – to their employees, suppliers, the environment and society as a whole. In fact, being responsible is nearly half (49%) of the contribution to corporate reputation compared to being successful (11%) fair pricing (8%) and leading the way (32%).

Being responsible for the environment is now the number one factor in corporate reputation and has grown threefold over the last decade.

Four types of purposeful brands

Analysis of consumer perceptions around purpose and corporate reputation highlight that there are four types of brands:

  • Big Ideal: brands such as Ikea, Toyota and Amazon score well on both purpose and reputation and thus can be said to be truly purpose-driven.
  • Good Citizens: score well for corporate reputation but are not perceived to have a strong purpose. Examples include luxury brands like Rolex and Prada, and Enterprise car rental.
  • Little Helpers: score high on purpose but less well on reputation and are seen to act more on an individual level. Brands like Wikipedia and E45 are strong on delivering benefits aligned to their core purpose but consumers aren’t generally familiar with their ‘corporate’ background.
  • The remaining brands do not score highly on either dimension – for these, purpose represents an opportunity to define themselves through values that their potential consumers will appreciate.

Communicating purpose

There is a framework for communicating purpose smartly. In late 2019, Kantar and the ARF published Cracking Purpose, an analysis of 45 diverse purpose campaigns, including some that were less successful or had a negative outcome for the brand involved.

It identified three key elements to a powerful purpose campaign: You, Them and The World. ‘You’ defines the nature of the brand’s purpose, which has to be authentic. Brands with a history of working for a cause have a right-to-play when activating a purpose-driven campaign that connects to it, for example.

The outcome of a strong purpose and reputation is consumer trust, the instinctive belief that the brand is ‘right’ for me. Companies with purpose at their very core are those that make life better for people through a better product or a higher ideal. And that drives growth for the brand and business.