What social purpose means for brands

Aug 16, 2022
Brand Thought Leadership

It is seen as an ever-evolving landscape, but one thing is for certain: a brand’s purpose is an enabler and a core tenant of its value proposition – both internally and externally. If your purpose is engrained in your culture and in your business, it stands the test of time.

Purpose can be perceived as an organization’s soul and identity, and it can be used as a platform to convey a brand’s core values and align a brand to a social benefit or space they can claim. More and more, brands are using purpose as a core differentiator to create deeper connections with consumers. Those that are leading with purpose and integrating it within their overall marketing strategies, are the ones who are witnessing higher market share gains and achieving continued loyalty from their consumers. This has a considerable impact on sponsorship opportunities and potential partnerships.

Organizational impacts

So, how is purpose manifested within an organization? For one, it is used to attract and retain talent. Increasingly, people want to work for and support an organization whose purpose is focused on the greater good of society. As this Forbes article identifies, purpose-led companies have higher productivity and growth rates, along with a more satisfied workforce: 30 per cent higher levels of innovation and 40 per cent higher levels of retention compared to competitors, according to a 2020 report from Deloitte. The article also references findings from a Harvard Business Review study, which found that purpose helps companies open up new territories for growth and reshape a brand’s value proposition.

In the wake of an everchanging socio-cultural landscape, consumer expectations have shifted, and brands and organizations are taking stock to better identify and manage what matters most. A recent brand value study by the Havas Group uncovered a growing expectation gap with regards to consumers’ relationships with brands and businesses. In the current cultural landscape, consumer priorities and behaviours are different. From a global perspective, brand trust is at an all time low, while consumer expectation is at an all time high. Seventy-three per cent of people think brands need to act now for the good of society and the planet. People not only expect better behaviour, but they are willing to pay more for it. This is why brands are integrating their social purpose into their marketing strategies and outputs, and it is being executed in all shapes and forms.

A number of brands have integrated social purpose within their marketing strategy to unlock value and strengthen brand attributes, brand reputation and perception as well as stakeholder acceptance. By extension, many brands have leaned in on their sponsorships and partnerships to champion social impact storytelling through innovative and leading-edge campaigns. A great example is Canadian Tire’s We All Play for Canada campaign.

Real world examples

Below are a couple of examples which can help to paint a picture of the significant influence social purpose has on brands.
In 2014, Vaseline was experiencing stagnant growth in the marketplace. They had to realign and refocus their value proposition to engage the next generation of consumers, and felt that the solution was to lean in on social purpose. They garnered a number of key insights through market research to frame their social purpose position, and realized the value in their tagline, “The healing power of Vaseline.” Further research uncovered a number of global touchpoints where healing power was urgently needed. The company conducted interviews with third-party organizations and The Healing Project was born. When the campaign launched, it outperformed all of the brand’s existing marketing programs. It demonstrated how the brand’s core attributes informed their underlining purpose strategy and helped position the brand for success.

Up until 2005, Brita primarily sold tap water filters, and it had slow growth over time. They were known as being an environmentally conscious brand, however, to build on this reputation and perception, Brita entered a new territory to propel growth; the bottled water market. This allowed the brand to lean deeper into a social need – waste reduction – to push into a relevant market. Brita combined the reusable water bottle with its filter technology to expand the brand’s market presence and position itself as both a filter and a water brand. This strategy helped Brita secure a strong competitive position and use its enhanced purpose to further build brand reputation and perception. Three years after Brita entered this adjacent market, its revenues had grown by 47 per cent.

When it comes to sports-oriented brands, they are breaking through. Some are leading with purpose as the cornerstone of their brand voice. Nike is a great example of a brand that has used its legacy platform – an athlete brand – as a launchpad for its purpose. Specifically, through the PLAY pillar, Nike is working to address girls’ sport participation at its earliest stages and accelerate change from the grassroots level. The brand launched an initiative called the Nike Athlete Think Tank. They partnered with 13 member athletes and leaned in on their advocacy and insights to develop the program and identify organizations around the world to either fund or partner with. Nike spent one year soliciting feedback from athletes such as Serena Williams, Simone Manuel and Sabrina Ionescu, on how they believed Nike could help break barriers for women through sport.

Key takeaways

Stakeholder acceptance is at the core of successfully integrating purpose. When brands are competing on purpose, it’s important to keep in mind that there is a potential for criticism. As we know, all of the social issues we face have advocates and detractors. Brands need to take their key stakeholders into account and consider whether they will accept or support their position.

When competing on social purpose, brands must ensure any inconsistencies between brand outputs and what it claims in social consciousness are avoided or resolved quickly.

Overall, things have changed in the post-pandemic world, and standards are different. Here are some key considerations we must be mindful of:

  1. Purpose-driven brands are now the norm
    • While a company’s purpose does not have to directly impact society, authenticity is paramount. This helps the brand forge a deeper connection with its consumers and stakeholders regardless of who they are and where they are from.
    • Social impact marketing will unlock brand value, create adjacencies to increase growth and perception, and strengthen brand attributes and stakeholder acceptance.
    • Brands who are leaning into their sponsorships and partnerships are amplifying and extending their purpose narrative to further unlock value and strengthen marketplace reputation.
  2. You must walk the walk
    • It is vital for brands to be transparent and accountable for everything they do. Brands need to be relevant and must promote social good – not just good products. Customers expect better behaviour and are willing to pay more in return.
  3. Listening to your customers is crucial
    • Younger consumers are more acutely aware, therefore listening is very important. The more listening a brand does, the better it can adapt and pivot. As changes continue to happen quickly, agility will help brands stay ahead.
    • Learn how to speak to your consumer base in ways that resonate and forge that connection. Build on that brand equity and make sure it becomes a foundational element in your marketing campaigns going forward.

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Manpreet Pandha

Senior Manager, Sponsorship and Loyalty Marketing Initiatives BMO Financial Group




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