Purpose is pointless without an end goal

Six Reasons brands should have one purposeful brand ambition.

Sara-Jane Stenson

Account Director MullenLowe salt


Purpose as a brand and business accelerator is no longer “new news”, even more so since the global pandemic has made us all reconsider our values and the impact we want to have on the world. It has become the hot commodity of the brand world, bringing with it a tide of good, bad and ugly. Marketing commentators can roll their eyes at the industry’s favourite buzzword, often because purpose lives in brand slogans and empty words, rather than business objectives.

While we believe that the sky's the limit for purpose-led business, it’s essential to interrogate every purpose’s true value. So, we began to ask ourselves some important questions:

How will brands know if their purpose is impactful? Is there any point to purpose without a tangible and measurable goal? How can brands prove that they are taking their purpose seriously?

We’re all used to reading reams of corporate commitments in lengthy company impact reports, but these pledges often fall short at a brand level. A missed opportunity in our opinion.

That’s why we’ve been working with our clients to power up purpose, helping them to galvanise each brand behind a single brand ambition. A public, multi-year commitment that helps brands set an ambition for the impact they want to have on the world, whether that be societally or environmentally. The result? Jump-starting change in big organisations by providing new levels of ownership and accountability to individual brands.

Six reasons to have one purposeful brand ambition:

1. It’s the North Star: Clients often ask us how they can drive consistency and get all of their sustainability or societal impact actions funnelling in the same direction. A brand ambition becomes the red thread to drive action around a single shared metric and codifies where you act (and where you don’t). We recently helped Unilever’s Knorr brand define its North Star. The brand’s purpose is to reinvent food for humanity and it is taking many actions across the globe via various on-the-ground, digital, retailer and product innovation programmes. But we faced the challenge of disparate programmes with no cohesive link. The brand also needed a simple message to galvanise consumers into action too. We developed the Eat for Good campaign, with one simple call to action: “change the world by changing what’s on your plate.” Using the plate as the central mechanic for driving change, to develop its brand ambition - get food that is good for people and the planet on 7bn plates by 2025. A simple but tangible and measurable ambition that reorients the brand to deliver on this through multiple work streams such as product reformulations and innovation, a consumer behaviour change movement and multi-channel impact strategies to hit the 7bn plates ambition.

2. It joins global and local: One overarching ambition provides the full brand community something to rally behind and pushes everyone to embed purpose if they haven’t already. Local market teams can often be demotivated by feeling a lack of contribution to the higher purpose of the brand and doubting the impact of individual market actions. With one ambition and clear guidance for how to contribute, global and local teams merge as one. While also driving efficiencies across functions to refocus resources.

3. It powers strategic vision and creativity: Purpose unlocks some of the most forward-thinking, exciting and impactful work. Once we cracked Knorr’s brand ambition, our job to be done was crystal clear and allowed ideation to be laser-focused. Laddering up to a public and stretching commitment also challenges strategists and creatives to aspire to the type of work that will build a movement. 

4. It’s a powerful tool for communications: It is rare to see a brand putting their name on the line, publicly committing to an ambition. But it sets you apart from competitors, carves out a white space for you to own and allows a brand to get tighter on its narrative. Bringing credibility and long-term weight to whatever your mission is.  Tesco’s “A Little Help Is…” campaign provides some inspiration for how we could see the results coming to life.

5. It gives you permission to ask consumers to act too: The first rule is to  always get your house in order before you invite others in. A brand ambition reassures people that you are taking genuine action against your purpose, allowing you to credibly call on people to change their behaviour for the better too.

We’ve recently worked with Corona US to define an impactful, multi-year, public commitment to invest meaning into their ‘Protect our Beaches’ initiative. We landed on “to clean up 100 beaches and eliminate 1 million pounds of plastic from our business and beaches by 2025”, which has been unveiled this month. As part of this, we developed an actionable delivery framework to underpin the brand ambition, mapping the key milestones leading up to 2025 across three areas – on the beach, through the business and with communities.

By addressing plastic waste within their own business and with partners, it proves the brand is walking the talk and allows them to call on their community of consumers to join in on the beach clean-ups.

6. It provides measurable value: The biggest criticism against purpose is the lack of measurement. A brand ambition will fuel your measurement approach (ensuring the right data is captured from the outset) and provides a clear framework that prioritises quality-based outcomes).

While we’re starting to see more of these public commitments from brands, we believe there is huge untapped opportunity to dial purpose up a notch. Whether that’s strengthening already genuinely change-making work (like LEGO’s “Everyone is Awesome”, Bodyform’s “Project V” or AirBnb’s “Belong Anywhere”) or defining future strategies for companies in need of a transformational shift.

5 questions to ask yourself to get started:

1.     What is the brand relevant but unique space you want to create change? You need to define your fight and have a right to play.

2.     How will you engage partners to make it happen credibly? It can’t be a sole mission, lean on experts to bring greater scale, knowledge and funding.

3.     What exactly and how are you measuring? The unit of change, validation and a robust measurement framework will be key to doing it authentically.

4.     Is it stretching enough from an impact and time length point of view? Balance stretch with reality, while seeing how you can connect to a higher agenda (i.e. UN SDGs).

5.     Is it compelling enough and will people actually care? It doesn’t need to be boring and tightly aligned with corporate. How can it help you send a rallying cry to brand consumers, the industry and beyond?

Guest Author

Sara-Jane Stenson

Account Director MullenLowe salt


Sara is a brand purpose and sustainability specialist. Sara-Jane is passionate about brands’ and businesses’ ability to drive positive change for society and the environment. Her work at Salt has involved working with multiple Unilever brands, including Knorr to influence tangible steps against its purpose to reinvent food for humanity, as well as work with the LEGO Foundation and the Real Play Coalition to develop a 3-5 year strategy and PepsiCo brands such as Lay’s to plan sustainability and people-led initiatives.

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