by Marisa Barber Mandolidis

2020 created “transformational disruption” in the business world and pushed companies to evolve, both immediately and in the long term. These changes range from modified and remote operations, increased focus on employee engagement and mental health, to reconsiderations of overall marcomm strategy. Within this evolution of business has been the move toward more purpose-driven branding.

What exactly is purpose-driven branding?

On the surface, purpose-driven branding is simply focusing your business’ brand around a purpose (or purposes). This may seem straightforward and easy to achieve, but it goes much deeper than a simple mission statement or financial donation to a cause.

A purpose-driven brand goes beyond the corporate bottom line and is fuelled and centred around a particular cause, mission, purpose, or vision.WSI World

Photo: Unsplash, Carl Heyerdahl

Purpose-driven branding requires a business to align its entire strategy (not just external communications) around a cause. Then they place this cause at the heart of operations, above revenues and profits. The cause becomes ingrained in the brand narrative and serves as a bridge to authentically connect to customers, rather than through transactions only.

An example of purpose-driven branding in action is Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t focus solely on taste, ingredients, or pricing to set itself apart from its competitors – their unique value lies in their advocacy and support for the issues that matter most within their company culture. Not only are consumers buying ice cream, but they’re also making a difference by supporting the causes that the brand supports.

Why is purpose-driven branding important?

2020 was a year of increasingly polarized social and environmental movements and consumers want businesses to do better. Companies can no longer sit idly by, quietly selling their products during times of social unrest – they are expected to have a voice and make a difference using their influence in the market.

The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer reports that 84% of Canadian consumers expect CEOs to publicly speak out on societal challenges. This means that a business’ impact on society is no longer a nicety or a secondary goal – customers expect it to be the focus of operations, with profits relinquishing their time in the spotlight.

Dani Reiss, CEO of Canada Goose, knows how important it is for businesses to place purpose at the forefront. The outerwear company exclusively manufactures its products in Canada and also sources materials sustainably, working with environmental groups like Polar Bears International. Canada Goose went beyond its original purpose of creating functional and fashionable winter wear and now also focuses on Canada’s environmental health.

“Consumers these days want to buy products from companies that are good for the planet. It’s fundamental.”

 Dani Reiss, Canada Goose, for Leadership in Action master class

This purpose-driven branding has shown to be very well received by consumers – the Canada Goose stock has almost tripled since their initial public offering in 2017.

While removing focus from profits might sound alarming, as evidenced by Canada Goose, purpose-driven businesses have proven to be more profitable than their counterparts. Statistics confirm that consumers are four times more likely to buy from a brand with a strong purpose, and these brands outperformed the stock market by 134%.

Shifting strategy is a heavy undertaking, but it’s easy to see this can lead to higher profits and deeper connections with customers while creating a greater impact on society and the planet.

How can your business become a purpose-driven brand?

1.  Find your brand purpose.

This may seem like an obvious step, but it is the most crucial.

Many companies were not established as purpose-driven brands, so the shift can be significant. Even companies with well-articulated mission statements may not be able to identify or connect to their actual purpose.

To find your brand’s purpose, ask yourself questions like, “Why should this company exist?”, “What impact does this brand want to have?”

A good resource for finding purpose in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which serve as “a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.” You can use the SDGs to help guide you in identifying the impact you want your business to have in the world.

2.  Start with employees.

 When uncovering your purpose, talk to your employees and ask them the above questions too, find out their values and what they’re passionate about. Aligning your company culture to your purpose is essential to success as a purpose-driven brand. Not only are employees the ambassadors of your brand, but a Deloitte study also found that 73% of employees who work for a purpose-driven company feel engaged at work. The benefits of tying purpose with culture are both internal and external, leading not only to employee satisfaction and brand advocacy but customer loyalty as well.

3.  Align your strategy, processes, and policies.

For purpose-driven branding to be successful, it must be integrated throughout the company. Inject your purpose into your policies, best practices, and procedures. Conduct audits of your communications and marketing strategies and materials to ensure they align with your purpose and are consistently circling back to it. This will take some time but becoming purpose-driven is not an overnight feat, nor is it meant to be associated with a temporary cause; it will be a long-term, impactful transformation for both a company and their community.

4.  Establish metrics for impact and evaluate regularly.

The goal of purpose-driven branding is to achieve impact in society. To know if your brand is creating impact, you should identify specific and actionable metrics, collect data regularly, and measure against your goals.

“Impact” has a different definition for each company, but if you start with your purpose and identify the key measurable metrics associated with it, you’ll be able to develop a unique framework for your impact measurement.

5.  Above all, be authentic!

Consumers are smart and their trust is hard to earn. If your company is not genuine in communicating and following through on its purpose, consumers may see this as an attempt to leverage societal issues for commercial benefit. Stay true to your purpose and don’t lose that connection.

While a refocusing strategy may lead to fundamental changes, the benefits are well worth the effort. Businesses can make this world a better place for everyone not just for pure profit.

Doing the right thing is the new bottom line.

This article was written by one of our talented IABC Calgary volunteers.

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