The idea of “brand purpose” has been around for some time but in light of the events of the past year, it has been thrown into the spotlight even more so.
Where 20 years ago the brand-to-consumer communication was very much one way in favour of the brand, the rise of the digital age, and more recently Covid-19, has given consumers a strong voice with brands having no choice but to listen. Consumers have more power today than ever before.
In simple terms, brand purpose is a brand’s reason for being beyond just making money—but are brands really fulfilling this goal? Many are, but arguably many have failed, using it as either a marketing or advertising tool, a vision or a mission statement in corporate materials, or a method to satisfy the requirement of their Annual Reports.
It is no longer sustainable or acceptable for brands to work in this way as we see brand purpose move to the forefront of messaging.
Consumers Expectations are Higher Than Ever
Consumers are more alert than ever to the ways companies and brands go beyond advertising and marketing to make other positive contributions – or not. This has been more evident in light of the global pandemic where consumers wanted brands to tackle the pandemic head on and show how they had adjusted their approach & operations accordingly. In fact, 1 in 5 consumers stopped using a brand due to their response to Covid 19, and Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer found that trust in business is higher than NGOs, government or media.
Purpose Driven Companies See Measurable Growth
Consumers are shifting their values to the things that matter most to them: health, family, purpose--and they are looking to the brands to have purpose and values that line up with their own. Bringing those values to the forefront benefits the brands as well, with purpose-driven companies seeing higher market share gains, growth rates three times faster than competitors, all while achieving higher workforce and customer satisfaction.
A recent study found that consumers consider three areas when deciding about a brand:
- How they treat their employees (28%)
- How they treat the environment (20%)
- How the company supports the local community (19%)
The focus on these three areas is especially important for big box brands, many of which stayed open throughout the pandemic as essential retailers but also faced the challenge of keeping their customers and employees safe as Covid-19 spikes were linked to their stores.
Here are a few examples of how big box brands have worked to bring their values and purpose to the forefront of their messaging to better reach consumers.
Real Actions: How They Treat Their Employees
Although Covid-19 forced Best Buy to lay off 5,000 employees due to the new reality of shopping, they put forth new training resources for the remaining staff, including training more store-level staff to do multiple jobs so they could easily switch tasks or take shifts at several stores.
As vaccination availability increases, Target will provide additional pay to hourly workers who get their Covid-19 vaccine, as well as cover the cost of a Lyft ride, up to $15 each way, to their appointment. This message is especially important as essential workers and big box retailers were hit particularly hard by the crisis.
Real Actions: How They Treat the Environment
Ikea have pledged that all plastics used on their home furnishings range will be based on renewable or recycled materials by 2030, phasing out single use plastic and replacing their café crockery and utensils with disposables made from 100% reusable materials.
Tesco has begun a rollout of soft plastics recycling points in 171 stores in the UK, the first of its kind. Soft plastics are not currently collected as part of domestic recycling, ultimately ending up in landfills. This initiative will ensure soft plastic is washed, sorted and processed and turned into new packaging for food, household and beauty products.
Woolworths Group in Australia has pledged to power its entire operations with renewable electricity by 2025, on the road to net positive carbon emissions by at least 2050. The group has already reduced its carbon emissions by 24% from 2015 levels through initiative to improved energy efficiency.
Real Actions: How They Support Their Communities
To drive higher vaccination rates in vulnerable communities by improving access to the COVID-19 vaccine, Walmart created a series of community events to administer the COVID-19 vaccine across the US.
NTCU FairPrice in Singapore has had their Share-A-Textbook initiative since 1983 aimed at collecting used textbooks for distribution to those families and students in need. Since it was started, more than 5.5 million textbooks have been collected to help more than 280,000 students save on textbook expenses.
As we emerge from the pandemic and life returns to a ‘new normal’, it is inevitable that consumers will continue to observe the ethical and social credentials and the behaviours of a brand, using it as a benchmark for a long-term commitment.
Here are 4 ways to move your brand purpose to the forefront of your messaging today.
Be authentic. Tell a story and make it impactful, it should be a belief and reason that the organisation and the people who work in it, live for. Learn and understand your consumers and align with their needs and values.
Act upon it & be accountable. It should not just be a PR or advertising tool cited on your website or other corporate collateral. You must take action against your pledges, be transparent and show results to your consumers. This will go a long way to amplifying trust, loyalty and, long-term consumer commitment.
Let it evolve. As we have discovered over the last year, consumer demands and values have shifted and there is no doubt we will see this shift again in the future. Be proactive, listen to your consumers’ voices, understand their behavioural patterns, and seek to evolve and adapt your approach as it is needed.
Make it human-centric. As the issue of mental health and financial stability have been thrown into the spotlight over the last year, combined with the attention to Diversity & Inclusion as a result of socio-political events, organisations have been heeded to take action. Ensure that those actions always have people—your employees, recruits, and customers—at the centre.
So what is your brand’s purpose today? Does it speak to what’s important to your employees and consumers? As the world and marketplace changes rapidly, now is the perfect time to review, adjust and make changes that deliver value.
About Lian Stevenson
Lian brings 19 years of experience delivering strategic content for a large portfolio of UK blue-chip retail brands. As part of SGK's Consulting Team, she has delivered initiatives to help CPG clients such as Britvic, J&J, General Mills, and Iceland deliver improved supply chain workflows, increase speed to market, streamline resources, and reduce overall costs. Lian is Lean Six Sigma accredited and is a certified change management practitioner.