While corporate social responsibility (CSR) can be a one-off initiative – a meaningful practice at best and a throwaway gesture at worst – brand purpose encompasses the entire company. It is the real driving force behind employee engagement and advocacy; it’s what makes people tick and, ultimately, it’s what make your business stand out.
CSR is one of several methods to attain a brand purpose, whereas the purpose itself is a higher mission, usually linking back to the brand’s core values and offering more beyond just profit. Purpose bestows human qualities upon a brand, and is promoted via conversation – both brand to consumer and consumer to consumer.
To succeed, conversation must be rooted in social value, not commerce. So purpose has to be made obvious in the brand’s DNA, so much so that people are swayed by it.
This itself will give employees a sense of pride, and it is a driving factor – 73 per cent of us see purpose and meaning as the personal principal driver for our work. This kind of feeling can’t really be achieved on a consistent scale with CSR.
While CSR is a great way of improving brand equity and shining a light on employees’ and employers’ selflessness, it remains a smaller offshoot of purpose’s umbrella, and can even damage brand purpose if executed halfheartedly. Purpose invokes pride within the customer and employee, and that can’t be achieved on a wide scale with initiatives that don’t link directly to the brand.
With that in mind, purpose doesn’t have to link directly with the product. It does have to link to the brand though. For example, one of Ariel’s main goals is to achieve gender equality. Ariel produces detergent, but by implementing CSR through its #ShareTheLoad and #JuanWash campaigns, its purpose as a gender equality campaigner is strengthened. This needs to be front and centre – it’s no good hiding a brand’s purpose under a “sustainability” tab on the website.
To be a truly influential brand, purpose must be used to drive business behaviour – it shouldn’t be about what you produce, rather why you produce it.
Ideally, any brand worth its salt should have purpose – it’s the red thread that ties marketing to a reason for existing. However, brands that try and shoehorn a social purpose when it’s not befitting can create accusations of “greenwashing” – only doing it at face value. Remember the Abercrombie & Fitch CSR fail?
To find purpose, brands must ideally build products and messaging around it, not the other way round – it’s a lot easier for new brands to do this. For existing brands to do a complete 360, real commitment to purpose is needed. Tokenism must be left at the door.
Purpose’s success should be measured by brand equity. It should be people realising that a certain brand’s purpose aligns with their personal beliefs, thus making it the obvious choice for purchase or employment.
The Harvard Business Review suggests that mission-driven brands can outperform the market 9:1, and with social media and today’s technology, consumers and potential employees know when they’re being hoodwinked. New customer pick-up and positive feedback are welcome indicators of a job well done, but this can’t always be linked to purpose working efficiently; Pepsi’s brand image improved by 44 per cent following the misguided Kendal Jenner ad.
So just as negative feedback (like Pepsi) doesn’t decrease sales and equity, the same can be said for praise boosting it. As more brands adopt purpose and truly excel with it, the method for measuring its success will then become more transparent and quantitative.
But if you make purpose a priority, it will benefit your business on both an internal and external level. It’s not about merely telling the story – it’s about living it.
Robert Green is managing partner at OLIVER