Purpose-driven marketing has quickly become a defining issue in the world of branding. During Super Bowl LIII alone, advertisers shelled out $5 million each for 30-second spots that connected their brands to a higher purpose. Anheuser-Busch talked about sustainability with its “Wind Never Felt Better” ad, for instance, and Bumble, with the help of Serena Williams, spoke of female empowerment.
Businesses that embrace purpose-driven marketing can forge deeper connections with customers, shareholders, and employees—connections that outlast any temporary pleasure we experience when we enjoy a cold beer or a satisfying shave with an anti-friction blade. According to an Accenture survey of 30,000 consumers across 35 countries, 62 percent of customers want companies to take a stand on current and broadly relevant issues such sustainability and fair-employment practices.
But companies need to be careful when they travel down the path of purpose-driven marketing. These campaigns can backfire easily. When businesses treat causes as nothing more than marketing statements, they risk cheapening the importance of the very issues they draw attention to.
Here are three ways businesses can rally around a purpose in a meaningful way:
Connect your actions to your purpose
Patagonia’s updated mission statement reads: “We’re in business to save our home planet.” Those are strong words—and they're credible coming from Patagonia, which delivers on the mission. For example, years ago, Patagonia replaced the conventional cotton in its clothing with 100 percent organic cotton because growing conventional cotton entails using materials that harm the earth.
Now compare this to Procter & Gamble. With its high-profile “We Believe” video in January, Gillette tackled the topic of toxic masculinity. The company committed itself to supporting values such as respect, accountability and role modeling. But the video felt to many observers like it came out of left field, and was criticized for being disingenuous. Had Gillette laid the groundwork with public actions, the video might have been perceived as an expression of its culture rather than a one-shot ad.
Make a long-term commitment
Purpose-driven marketing is more than a one-off ad—it takes time to forge an emotional bond. Look at Estee Lauder Companies, which has rallied around breast cancer awareness since 1992. Estee Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Campaign seeks to create a breast cancer-free world, an initiative now active in more than 70 countries and which has raised more than $76 million to support global research, education and medical services.
Share a narrative
To have an impact people need to know what you’re doing. It’s important that businesses create a compelling narrative about their commitments to causes. The Body Shop, for instance, for years has been telling a compelling story about the personal-care retailer’s commitment to sustainability and female empowerment.
On its corporate website, for instance, you’ll learn about a female farmer in England who provides roses for the company’s British Rose collection. The Body Shop’s YouTube channel has a video that tells the incredible story of the Tungteiya Women’s Shea Butter Association in Ghana which sources shea butter for the company while uplifting women in Ghana. Those are just two examples of how this company employs digital to tell the story of its commitment.
Businesses have barely scratched the surface of what they can accomplish with purpose-driven marketing. By being authentic, making a long-term commitment, and using digital to create a narrative, brands can win financially and do good at the same time.