Thought Leadership

How has brand purpose been redefined and reimagined, and what are the implications for the creative industries?

In the midst of a global pandemic, the case for brand purpose has fundamentally shifted.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director

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Brand purpose has long been one of the most overused but misunderstood terms in marketing. In a world in which brands are judged by actions, marketers face challenging questions about what brand purpose really means. Far from being just about marketing in isolation, brand purpose must be lived and breathed across everything from employee rights, representation in marketing campaigns and boardrooms alike, to supply chains. 

It's all too easy to dismiss brand purpose, but research continually reveals that consumers want to buy from brands that are serving a greater good, whether that’s the environment, gender equality or racial representation.

The Kantar Purpose 2020 study found that purposeful brands grow twice as fast as their competition. But that same study also revealed that while 76% of marketing leaders believe their organisation has a defined purpose, only one in ten actually have a corporate purpose statement backed by a meaningful activation plan. There is still an enormous amount of talk being talked without the walk to back it up.

But what of the current global crisis; how has that shifted the way the term brand purpose is both interpreted and realised? As many brands stepped up to use their factories to make protective clothing, their delivery vans to drop off groceries to the vulnerable and their breweries to make hand sanitiser, the question hangs heavy in the air: what will happen next?

With that in mind, we asked a selection of industry experts, how has brand purpose been redefined and reimagined, and what are the implications for the creative industries?

Purpose is never a brand opportunity, and never can be, but a brand responsibility for those who choose to step up and take it.

Tony Quinn

Tony Quinn

Tony Quinn, BBD Perfect Storm.png

Chief Strategy Officer

BBD Perfect Storm

Redefined or reimagined? Probably neither. In fact, definitely neither.

It’s all too easy to think of brand purpose as some kind of transitory consideration, one that ebbs and flows with the marketing wind.

However, purpose is never a brand opportunity, and never can be, but a brand responsibility for those who choose to step up and take it.

If there has been even a sliver of silver lining to this COVID-19 era that we are living through it has been that some of the challenges we face in our world today have been drawn into sharper focus than perhaps ever before, challenges of prejudice and fairness, challenges of behaviour with regards what is right and not so right for the planet and its people.

That brands can and should lend their weight to such challenges, authentically, from the inside out, is, for us, beyond question.

However, not simply in reaction to what people want but to help inspire what people should demand, setting the bar higher and higher for brand and organisational behaviour.

That is why we set up, to build and grow brands for which the whole world benefits. It was a choice we made. It would be quite lovely if others, if more, within our creative industry chose to make a similar choice.

The basis for making your brand purpose consumer facing should not be a result of your marketing team learning how to not get found out.

Leigh Herbert

Leigh Herbert

Leigh Headshot.JPG

Director of Client Services

Republic of Media

Let’s be honest, brand purpose over the last couple of years sits at or close to the top of most ‘how to be a successful brand’ textbooks. I don’t really know that it has been wholly re-defined or re-imagined though. As I flick through the numerous column inches given to endless opinions and examples of more brands ‘doing brand purpose’, it feels like more are starting to understand it and maybe ‘do it’ better. But the basis for making your brand purpose consumer facing should not be a result of your marketing team learning how to not get found out.

A genuine brand purpose should be truly embedded throughout any business and culture from top to bottom, which for many established organisations who fall on ‘creating a purpose’ out of a marketing away day, is just never going to happen. It can’t just be a shiny veneer masking a false reality. I work with one particular client now who donate a double-digit percentage of profit to charity every single year and have been doing so for the past eight to ten years. They don’t shout about it and have resisted their agencies’ suggestions to let this ‘fact’ go anywhere near consumer facing comms. If they ever decide to do so, that’s purpose that has a place. They’ve earnt the right to talk about it and it should only have the power to enhance their brand and business.

The overall reality for the creative industries and agencies in particular is that brand purpose briefs are set to become more commonplace and so we need to better educate ourselves if we’re to advise our clients on best approach. Sometimes this may require bravery to have difficult conversations if we sense a potential issue on the horizon that could cause brand or business damage, but we need to be willing to challenge. We’ve also got to have our finger on the pulse more than ever when it comes to consumer attitudes. If recent history has shown us anything it’s that these can change rapidly, overnight in some instances. In negotiating the best approach to brand purpose campaigns, sweeping generalisations about how a group of people think or feel, as too many agency folk will often do, is lazy and at worst dangerous for the brands you work on, with and for.

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