When advertising agency Strawberry Frog and reputation management firm RepTrak published their first Purpose Power Index in 2019, the list was dominated by "social good" brands including Seventh Generation, Ben & Jerry's and REI. After the pandemic upended business as usual, a more diverse crop of companies are being recognized this year, including innovators such as SpaceX and Tesla, big pharma companies GSK and Pfizer and essentials brands including Clorox and 3M.
"There's just a broader purpose landscape today," said Chip Walker, head of strategy at StrawberryFrog, during the Purpose Power Summit 2021."There are more ways people are giving brands credit for being purposeful, not just limited to a few smaller social good brands."
Index rankings are based on an analysis of four brand qualities: The extent to which they have a higher purpose beyond profits, benefit the lives of people and communities, improve society as a whole and change the world for the better. The results are based on more than 20,000 ratings from more than 6,500 responses across the U.S. about more than 200 brands in January.
Key takeaways include:
Pharmaceutical companies, which as an industry ranked 11th in terms of brand purpose in 2019, rose to No. 1 in 2021. "We had some entire industries that went from zero to hero over 2019 going into 2021," said Walker. "Big Pharma, in particular, some people would've viewed as a villain, almost anti-purposeful, went from almost the bottom of industries to being the number one industry. You can imagine why."
Industry giants (those with $10 billion or more in revenue), one of which ranked in the top 10 in 2019, got more credit for brand purpose, with eight making the list. Brands like 3M, Kimberly-Clark and Clorox were seen as helping society by supplying essentials like masks, toilet paper and disinfectants during the pandemic. "Purpose has broadened way beyond social good," said Walker.
The link between a company's reputation and purpose has grown stronger, as the events of 2020 amplified the link between social good and the role of product in society. "You can't lose yourselves in the esoterics of high purpose," says Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, global executive VP, reputation intelligence and enterprise growth, RepTrak, during the summit. "It can't just be a statement that resides on the wall of the boardroom, you've really got to find a way to identify with the movement and activate in a tangible, authentic way."
The index also identified what it says are the five elements of a brand's purpose activation:
Drives positive change for social justice through social activism, as represented by brands including UPS, Nike, Ben & Jerry's and Patagonia.
Cares for the health and well-being of employees and their communities, with USAA, Target, SAP, Starbucks and Chick-fil-A noted as examples.
Actively innovates solutions to advance mankind, such as the work of Tesla, SpaceX, 3M and Zoom.
Makes products and services sustainably and is environmentally responsible in how it operates; examples include Seventh Generation, Tesla, REI, Allbirds, Method and Lego.
Makes products and services that make everyday life better and positively contribute to society, as do Warby Parker, Toms, Etsy, Kimberly-Clark and Clorox.