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Marketers Are Confused Over Meaning and Focus of Brand Purpose

Consumers Want Brands to Make a Difference to Everyday Lives, Says WFA

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Consumers and marketers have conflicting ideas about brand purpose -- disagreeing on where brands should concentrate their efforts, and on which nationalities are most receptive -- according to new research from the World Federation of Advertisers.

Only 40% of marketers thought that listening to and acting on customer needs was important to brand purpose, but in a parallel study by pr agency Edelman, consumers chose "Listens to customer needs and feedback" as the number one attribute that builds brand trust.

Stephan Loerke, WFA Managing Director
Stephan Loerke, WFA Managing Director

Speaking from the WFA's Global Marketer Week in Sydney, Australia, Stephan Loerke, managing director of the WFA, said, "There is consensus that brand purpose is increasingly relevant, but people and marketers don't seem to agree on what it means. Marketers see it as the bigger picture, but people see it as what you do in daily life."

However, marketers are starting to make the transition, shifting away from big-picture concerns like improving the environment and other global issues, and towards efforts that have a more immediate impact on individual's lives. The survey found that programs supporting communities, and ethical business practices, are now seen as the two best ways to support brand purpose by 55% and 47% of respondents respectively.

In last year's survey, the environment scored 56% and global issues 52%, but they were down to 39% and 35% this year.

The WFA surveyed 828 brand marketers from 33 countries, representing more than 400 companies and together accounting for $170 billion in global marketing spend, via email. The Edelman consumer study, which surveyed 8,000 consumers in 16 markets, makes it clear that brand purpose in 2014 is more about customer relationship management than corporate social responsibility.

Mr Loerke added, "It becomes clear that purpose isn't necessarily about saving the planet. It doesn't have to be worthy per se; it can be about taking small and meaningful actions."

Marketers may be convinced that having purpose is crucial -- 88% agreed that it is increasingly important to building brands – but they struggle to work out how it benefits the bottom line. Only 51% of marketers believe that it is possible to identify clear metrics that prove the benefit of purpose to sales, and just 30% think you can assess the impact of purpose on share price.

Mr. Loerke also spoke about the "striking discrepancies" between marketers' expectations of their consumers around the world, and the reality of commitment to brand purpose. He said, "Marketers underestimate the interest in brand purpose outside Europe and the U.S. They think it's mostly relevant to Western markets, but the reality is a very different story -- there is a global appetite."

In China, 80% of consumers say they are willing to pay a premium for a product that supports good causes, compared with just 28% in the U.K. and 39% in the U.S. In India, it's 71%, while 55% of Brazilians and Malaysians are prepared to pay more.

In a poll to nominate a purpose leader for the industry, Procter & Gamble and Unilever -- well known for its Dove "Real Beauty" campaign, tied for the top spot, with 14% of the vote each, while Google (11%) and Apple (10%) also ranked high. [Respondents were asked to choose from Advertising Age's top 20 global marketers, or to nominate their own.]

In North America, Apple was perceived to be the purpose leader, while Coca-Cola won out in Latin America, and Unilever in Europe. Nestlé, though still controversial in Europe because of its promotion of formula milk for babies in developing countries, was voted Asia's most purposeful brand. Danone came top in Africa and the Middle East.

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