2022, instead of marking the light at the end of the tunnel as many hoped it would, has already had more than its fair share of significant cultural moments that have shaken us all: more than six million lives have been lost as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic; ahead of the G20 Summit, we watched in horror as the Ukraine war unfolded and continues to have far reaching and devastating consequences; and the US supreme court overturned Roe v Wade and, with it, nearly 50 years of women’s abortion rights in America.
Against this backdrop, some commentators claim that purpose is more important than ever, while others believe that the brand purpose ‘fad’ is over, offering nothing more than a thin veneer of platitudes rather than real action to these pressing challenges.
Is brand purpose a powerful rallying cry?
Brand purpose is herald as many things including a ‘raison d’être’, a ‘North Star’, a ‘rallying cry’ and a ‘powerful connective tissue between a brand, its employees and customers’.
Popularised by Jim Stengel in his book, Grow, and Simon Sinek’s, Start With Why, purpose is not a new topic. Based on the idea that brands must solve a problem or meet a human or world need, a brand purpose is the ‘why’ behind an organisation or a brand. It sits at the centre of a brand’s vision and values, informing business decisions and galvanising employees to get out of bed every day.
Bill Theofilou, Senior Managing Director for Accenture Strategy, Advanced Customer Strategy and Competitiveness Center of Excellence, says that “How well it does that, and how well it creates loyalty, affinity and connections with its customers determines the winners from the losers.”
Purpose proponents believe that purpose-driven brands form relationships with their audience beyond a transaction. According to Accenture, nearly two-thirds (63%) of global consumers prefer to purchase products and services from companies that stand for a purpose that reflects their own values and beliefs, and will avoid companies that don’t.
This pressure to be authentic and transparent isn’t going anywhere any time soon; in fact, demand for brands to step up is growing
Or is brand purpose dead?
However, brand purpose has been at the centre of a hotly contested debate for some years now. The biggest problem people have with purpose is that it’s all talk, little action. This buzzword, discussed and debated by marketers the world over, has lost its meaning.
Critics of brand purpose believe that the term has been overused, and even abused, by brands that seek to leverage its benefits without putting in the hard work required to make it meaningful and authentic.
Too often, developing a brand purpose has become a disingenuous box-checking exercise. To make matters worse, even when the motives for purpose-branding are genuine, the final output can be generic or so aspirational that it loses momentum and meaning.
Too often, a brand’s purpose becomes an empty tag line, paraded around in presentation decks, and ends up never being activated in the real world.
People need to experience your purpose
It’s time to evolve or risk being left behind.
We have the largest youth population in our planet’s history and it is this generation that passionately joins, and drives, action-oriented movements. According to Deloitte, globally, 57% of people aged 25 and under indicated that, in general, they are more loyal to brands that commit to addressing social inequities. Young people in particular are calling for brands to do more: to walk the walk, not simply talk the talk. Purpose will be dead unless we can effectively activate it.
The future of brand purpose is experience purpose. The tangible manifestation of a brand purpose. An experience that people – sensorial creatures – can see, hear, touch, taste and smell. This kind of experience does more than shift mindsets and perceptions, it can inspire behaviour change.
A powerful experience purpose, activated authentically, can motivate trust, passion and creativity among employees and can inspire and mobilise customers.
It doesn’t matter what business you’re in or what brand you are, being purpose-driven isn’t enough any more. You need to invite people to experience your purpose for themselves, and then decide if they want to join your community.