Purpose: it’s all the rage these days.
Whether it’s the headline-grabbing efforts of companies like Patagonia and Toms, the rise of community membership groups such as B-Corp and Business for Good, or the recent statement by the influential Business Roundtable that business is about more than shareholder value – it seems purpose is the talk of the town.
Even the Queen joined the fray during her recent Christmas speech, hailing the “sense of purpose” shown by young people in responding to the climate crisis.
By all accounts, purpose is here to stay – and looks set to play an increasingly important role in how brands relate to their audience.
A tale of two purposes
At this point you could be forgiven for assuming that – as a brand agency – this article is all about expounding the virtues of what is known as ‘brand purpose’. It isn’t. In fact, we would go as far as saying we don’t really believe in ‘brand purpose’.
Before we unpack why, here’s a very potted history of this now popular marketing concept…
Boosted by the 2012 arrival of ‘Grow’, Former P&G CMO Jim Stengel’s seminal piece on how purposeful brands outperform non-purposeful ones – and buoyed by research showing positive consumer response to brands that wear their commitment to social or environmental issues on their sleeve – the idea of ‘brand purpose’ came into being.
Today, agencies like ours are often tasked with finding new ‘purpose’ for long-standing brands – usually captured in a pithy purpose statement and series of feel good ads. The result is consumers across a wide range of sectors (both B2C and B2B) are regularly persuaded to choose brands that align with their values, and encouraged to feel good about doing so.
Yet there’s a danger that the brand horse ends up pulling the purpose cart. And why is that a problem? In a world where purpose is everywhere, it matters even more that those words really mean something; that there’s more to a company’s purpose than a pithy statement or misty-eyed ad.
At ABA, we believe purpose belongs to the company – not the brand.