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What’s the purpose of brand purpose?

Defining your brand’s purpose, its reason for existing beyond profit, has become a priority for companies worldwide. Research shows that purpose-driven brands achieve better business results, attract talent easier and build trust in the marketplace. But what value does brand purpose really offer in today’s cynical world?

Does brand purpose really add value?

According to research, 57% of UK consumers want businesses to focus on societal issues. A study by Berkeley Research Group showed that companies ranked highest for their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) record yielded over four times the profit. And Millennials and Gen Z consumers will make up 58% of global consumption within the next decade. For these generations, it is a given that brands should make a difference beyond their bottom line.

Rapidan Group CEO and brand marketing expert, Chris Ramey, says “Purpose is no longer optional, it is now a business imperative. Consumers want to buy from, work for, and invest in companies that reflect their values.” Ramey notes that consumers around the world expect brands “to take a stand to make the world a better place.”

Brand purpose is also viewed as a strategic business tool. According to Kantar’s CMO Growth Council, 87% of marketing leaders cite purpose as an opportunity for business growth. It provides guardrails to guide decision making and helps attract top talent who want to work for companies focused on more than profit.

As Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever, remarks, “Having a long-term perspective and purpose-led mission made us resilient through storms like the financial crisis. It made us attract talent, save costs. Ultimately it leads to better returns.” Under Polman’s leadership, Unilever’s focus on sustainability led to a 300% stock return over a decade.

Brand purpose matters in today’s marketplace, but how can companies define an authentic, meaningful purpose that resonates?

Ramey advises asking tough questions first. “Why does your brand exist? What tensions does your brand resolve? What change does your brand aspire to make?” Companies also need to “create a movement” by inviting consumers to participate in purpose initiatives.

Companies perceived as “purpose washing” making superficial ESG claims, face backlash. “Authenticity is key,” says Ramey. “Purpose must be woven into internal culture and business practices.” From Patagonia protecting public lands, to Ben & Jerry’s on social justice issues, brand purpose rings true when aligned with corporate values and actions.

The companies leading their industries today have realised an essential truth – brand purpose is no longer a “nice to have” but a key business asset. Defining societal goals beyond profits, communicating purpose authentically and embedding it throughout the organisation leads to better financial results.

But does brand purpose always need to have an environmental focus?

‘A great brand purpose needs to have a cause simple enough for all stakeholders to understand and connect with, but it doesn’t necessarily need to focus on specific ESG issues. Purpose statements defined by social or environmental subjects can often seem unrelated to company objectives’ states Adam Arnold, Founder and Chief Brand Consultant at Brandality. ‘Purpose needs to act as a north star guiding decisions, product roadmaps, and workplace culture toward positive impact.’

Broadly defined purpose creates space for diverse audiences and partners to buy in. Universal themes of health, community and empowerment can resonate just as powerfully with consumers and employees. Arnold continues ‘Ultimately, brand purpose is about discovering your authentic “why” beyond profits – one sparking genuine conviction across stakeholders to ignite enthusiasm and drive growth. Each brand’s path to purpose is unique. The key is authenticity.’

Conclusion – the way forward with purpose

Realising brand purpose’s potential requires transformational thinking – re-examining why a company exists and how it operates at a fundamental level. This means identifying your authentic reason for being – your central “why” going beyond profits. 

The path of purpose takes courage, starting with honest reflections on how to uplift yourself and the world around you. But for companies embracing this seismic shift, with brand purpose at the helm, the rewards can be great – more committed teams, loyal customers, patient investors, and sustained outperformance. Just as crucially, these purpose-powered organisations can reshape entire industries to humanise capitalism.

Brand purpose is no quick fix, but a total realignment of strategy and values. The companies that rediscover their “why” in order to serve the world and its people stand to become the defining corporate leaders of the 21st century.

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