The alliance of b-to-b brands with a higher purpose has been going on for a long time, though you might not realize it from all the emphasis that it's been receiving of late.
Consider the case of DuPont. In the mid-1930s, the chemical giant's brand was on the ropes, hit hard by anti-Big Business attidudes of the Great Depression and the lingering effect of the characterization of DuPont as “merchants of death” by congressional investigators looking into World War I profiteering. Among DuPont's responses to the branding crisis was the tagline “Better things for better living ... through chemistry.” Introduced in October 1935, it would remain in use until 1999, carrying DuPont through the remainder of the Depression, another world war, the post-war expansion, and a few more booms and busts.
General Electric Co., too, hit a similar theme with its classic slogan “We bring good things to life,” which debuted in 1979.
It's clear, though, that purpose-based marketing has been gaining momentum in recent years. Cisco Systems' “The Human Network” and Dow Chemical's “The Human Element” are part of this trend. So, too, IBM's “Smarter Planet.”
There's been plenty of discussion of purpose-based marketing at recent industry events. The Business Marketing Association opened its annual conference last month in Chicago with “scene-setting remarks” from Roy Spence, co-founder and chairman of advertising agency GSD&M, Austin, Texas, and author of “It's Not What You Sell, It's What You Stand for: Why Every Extraordinary Business Is Driven by Purpose.”
Marketers, Spence said, need to move beyond the “four Ps”—product, price, place and promotion—and emphasize “purpose” if they want to attract customers. “They're not going to do business with companies that aren't in the business to make their lives better,” he said.
Spence cited several purpose-inspired clients of his agency, including Motorola Solutions and Southwest Airlines. In Motorola's case, the purpose is succinctly stated: “We help people be the best they can be in the moments that matter most.”
As for Southwest, Spence said the carrier made good on its slogan—“We give people the freedom to fly”—in its response to competitors' decision to charge for checked bags. Southwest opted to pass up this additional revenue stream because it flew in the face of the airline's purpose, Spence said. Instead, it launched its “Bags Fly Free” campaign, created by GSD&M. The move paid off handsomely, Spence said, as the decision not to charge for checked bags resulted in $1.2 billion in new revenue for the airline.
At ad:tech San Francisco in March, Arianna Huffington cited the rise of “cause marketing” among the three major trends she sees affecting media and marketing. Huffington, president and editor in chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, said this was even evident in a recent TV spot she'd seen for a consumer brand long appreciated in b-to-b circles—Chivas Regal scotch. She said the ad helped bring home to her that if “humanity is not just good for humanity but for the bottom line, something is happening. There is something very profound happening.”
John Obrecht is editor of BtoB and BtoB's Media Business. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.