Posted in: Opinion

Purpose is power; causes change the world

Brands that do good as well as look good are those best positioned for growth, no matter the external factors or changing world.

23rd June 2021

James Bolton

James Bolton

James Bolton

Written by James Bolton,
Brand Strategist & Creative Copywriter

While every organisation has to be commercially viable, for some, their community or social impact is just as important.

Yet despite typical notions of these brands being rooted in industries like care, charity and the voluntary sector, businesses of all shapes and sizes can — and in fact should — be tapping into their social conscience, and balancing purpose with profit to build a better world, as well as a stronger, more informed brand.

And in 2021, the spotlight is on. Brands are being challenged from every angle. With the speed of technology, the awareness of consumers and the rise of social media; everything brands get right and everything they get wrong is now instantly broadcastable. This level of forensic behavioural analysis, previously reserved only for those investing in an organisation, is now coming from consumers and clients too. Hashtag movements are shifting brand behaviours just as much as high level boardroom decisions. Consumers want brands that align with their own beliefs and brands that fail to deliver are paying the price.

“Nearly half of Unilever’s top 40 brands focus on sustainability. These Sustainable Living brands, including Knorr, Dove and Lipton, are good for society. But they are even better for Unilever—growing 50 percent faster than the company’s other brands and delivering more than 60 percent of the company’s growth,” says Accenture Strategy in their ‘To Affinity & Beyond’ report. They go on to say:

“While purpose must be carefully honed and aligned to the values of the customers a company hopes to engage, intangible components of a brand’s essence such as culture, transparency and ethical values are particularly important.”

On the back of our recent post about the commercial impact a well-built and well-maintained brand can have, we’re looking at the crucial role ‘purpose’ plays in setting you apart, and building a brand that’s both authentic, meaningful and impactful. Sit back; this is a lengthy but important read.

It all starts with WHY

Inevitably the social focus will be tuned up and down depending on your sector, and for some it will be more of an undercurrent rather than a core mission statement. But the underlying message remains: brands with purpose have power. And the brands that have the most scope to empower communities, inspire change and have genuine, long-lasting impact are already one step ahead. That’s all because of their WHY.

In many cases, these brands will already have a defined mission that resonates with audiences. Armed with a clear and committed cause, they’re well placed to withstand and even flourish during uncertain times. Equally, they’re more likely to be authentically living by their values; even if they don’t know it yet.

Better Brand Agency - Find your why

Part of our job is to unearth and unpick these unwritten rules and deep-rooted personality traits, before translating them into core values and beliefs that your brand can be built around and ultimately live by. From the inside out, your WHY empowers everything you do and informs the way you do it. The more authentic and meaningful that is, the stronger, more robust and more resilient your brand will be. Before we start looking at colour palettes, wordmarks or type choices, it all starts with establishing your WHY.

Values add value

As we’ve seen over the past year, events like COVID-19, Black Lives Matters and the US election have seismically shifted our cultural norms. And in a fast-paced digital world, brands without moral values are at risk of being left behind; both by consumers and employees alike.

This relates to a growing trend coined by Mary Portas as ‘the kindness economy’. The theory essentially argues that people have fundamentally changed what they’re looking for in products and brands, and in extreme cases are even turning to companies to help solve societal issues. Where huge corporates and conglomerates were once king, there’s increasing demand for niche brands that reflect modern outlooks, lifestyles and more importantly values.

Yet moral values and a social conscience aren’t restricted to purely consumer facing brands, or even to charity organisations. There’s plenty of traditional businesses, rooted in their communities, who are giving back and making a difference. But doing good isn’t just about feeling good; it makes business sense. And 9 times out of 10, that’s informed by a purpose driven WHY, or at least, a morally-grounded undercurrent, that provides a clear point of difference.

For brands such as Equinox, their ‘everyone deserves a good drink’ mantra starts with its people and runs through to their products. Just as the famous NASA cleaner story goes, the very people who make Equinox believe in the brand and its cause — that’s a very powerful and authentic quality to have. As well as making affordable, organic, healthy, sustainable soft drinks, Equinox is committed to the planet and the very community it brews in.

This fits well with the findings of Accenture Strategy’s ‘To Affinity & Beyond’ report, that found:

“66% of consumers think transparency is one of a brand’s most attractive qualities.”

Equinox Kombucha - the brewing team

From reasonable pricing to giving back to local and global communities, Europe’s best selling kombucha believe that everything they do has a social and environmental opportunity. It’s this continuous cycle which drives sustainability and will help people, places and business prosper in the future.

While for Equinox, their purpose is their product, for others their cause or social commitments may be more of a quiet constant, bubbling away beneath the surface. Closer to home, sector-leading businesses such as PD Ports and Active are key players within their respective fields. And while they exist in a predominantly B2B or service-led world, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a community responsibility which is intrinsically part of their brand.

Where in the past these responsibilities were often perceived as ‘nice-to-haves’ with little commercial impact, today they should be at the heart of any forward-thinking organisation. The importance of ESG has grown so much that corporate strategy and decision making is directly influenced by its pillars of environment, social and governance.

Whether it’s shaping the future workforce, investing in people or protecting wildlife, an ESG framework can provide commercial and competitive advantages as well as social benefits.

It’s all about being active players in the communities you exist; and it’s through this real and genuine commitment to care that trust is built and loyalty grows. And we all know the commercial and internal benefits of those.

Don’t be surprised to see social impact soon catch-up with environmental legislations, governance and worker’s rights by being written into law, or at least as an increasingly important buying and investment factor. By being sustainably ahead of the curve in everything you do, you’ll be able to achieve greater community credibility, build brand loyalty, hire and retain better talent and attract bigger investment — the benefits are endless and intrinsic.

There’s never been a better time to lead with a social savvy strategy that protects your future, drives conversation and capitalises on shifting momentum. The alternative is standing still and waiting until such a framework is standard practice; by then you’ll have already being left behind.

Investing in causes

We’ve seen first hand how businesses with causes are attracting significant investment. Future focussed venture funds are investing in bold and sustainable, purpose-driven brands that positively impact their category as well as society and the planet. Alongside growth capital, these investment firms provide strategic expertise that can propel businesses from sector challengers to sector leaders.

We’ve worked alongside London and San Francisco based The Craftory, to eco-consciously refine and refresh the Dropps brand. As America’s leading non-toxic, plastic-free detergent company, Dropps put sustainability front and centre. Their mission to ‘eliminate the stupid, amplify the core’ sits at the heart of everything they do, informing how they talk, act, make decisions, and even how their brand looks.

As we touched on in the previous section, purpose and ESG commitments are increasingly coming into play during tender and investment processes. More and more, companies are being directly assessed on their corporate social responsibility, which sits side by side and in some cases merges with their business cause. Whether it’s eco-commitments or community investments, in a changing world, sustainability is widely being acknowledged as the only viable future for business; a future where companies work together to protect places, invest in people and reduce inequalities.

Causes are here to stay, find yours

One thing’s for certain: society’s most challenging problems can’t be solved by governments and nonprofits alone. That means the power of purpose will only grow stronger. As the lines between business and society continue to blur:

Having an authentic banner that your organisation can march behind is the only answer to building an authentic, well informed brand, as well as a more inclusive, sustainable and future-focussed world.

For us, that doesn’t just mean making brands better in a visual sense — it must run deeper than simply cosmetics or aesthetics — brands need to be challenged to do better and be better; to shift cultures and drive a global movement of people using business as a force for good.

But it’s not just the big corporations that hold the power and responsibility. Small and medium size businesses can be the change-makers too. There’s likely to be difficult decisions ahead, but if you’re shouting loud and proud about a cause that’s close to your heart and resonates with your audience, you’ll be in a good place.

Ultimately, it’s the brands that live by their values and clearly communicate their purpose, which will be best positioned for long-term success.

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