Finding Purpose: Where Is Your Brand Taking A Stand?

Brand Purpose is one of the hottest topics in marketing. Jordan Siff, from our NYC team, was inspired by an Ad Week 2018 event to think about how brands can harness it.

In today’s culturally and politically charged society, consumers demand brands that care more than ever before. Not only is it important to provide a high quality and distinctive product or service, but almost equally paramount is establishing a sense of identity and purpose that permeates your company. This needs to extend beyond corporate social responsibility or a siloed function limited to a specific department or a certain time of year. Rather, a true brand purpose needs to be a consistent ethos ingrained across your entire organization, reflected in how you do business, how you treat your employees, and how you engage your customers.


One important aspect of purpose is that it has to be believable. Brands can achieve this by making sure that their values are somehow either tied to the product, or draw on a connection with some other element of their business. This also ties into System1’s principle of Fluent Innovation: just like new product development, brand purpose needs to seem familiar enough to feel like it’s coming from a genuine place. Otherwise, you risk alienating consumers by taking on a cause that may feel disingenuous or solely driven by optics.

It also needs to ladder up to a higher level emotion or value that inspires your consumer audience. Although many would describe Planned Parenthood as a purpose-driven organization, for example, it’s not just about abortions, contraception, and the myriad other services they provide. Instead, it’s about something bigger, said EVP and Chief Brand Officer Dawn Laguens during a 2018 Ad Week session on brand purpose. It’s about claiming control of your body so you can go out and live your dreams.

In terms of our FFF (Fame-Feeling-Fluency) brand building model, creating this deeper sense of purpose can drive positive emotion, strengthening our “middle F,” feeling. We also know that heightened levels of feeling relative to market share lead to a boost in fame, ultimately contributing to long-term growth. Furthermore, a particular purpose or set of values can drive fluency by acting as a distinctive asset: the fact that Dove promotes self-esteem and positive body image can act as a heuristic to help the brand stand out more within its category.

Getting to know both your employees and customers can also go a long way in finding your purpose. Using internal research, OK Cupid discovered that the organization that their employees care about most is Planned Parenthood. From there, they also went on to find out how important that organization is to their users. As a result, OK Cupid created a profile badge that lets users indicate their support for Planned Parenthood. Match rates for those who adopted the badge went up five times, and according to Laguens, one user said she’d “rather date a guy wearing socks with sandals than one without the Planned Parenthood badge.”

Even brands in categories that don’t seem ostensibly purpose-driven can embrace values to connect with their consumers. Take Diageo for example: how is an international alcohol conglomerate imbuing its brands with purpose, much less doing a great job of it? As a parent company, Diageo’s master brand purpose is “celebrating life every day, everywhere, and for everyone,” smartly connecting the celebratory aspect of drinking with a positive message that extends beyond alcohol to more worldly or emotional themes such as social progress and generosity.

According to Sophie Kelly, SVP of North American Whiskeys Portfolio, each brand has its own purpose that fits within the Diageo hierarchy. Johnnie Walker Scotch whiskey is all about progress, and taps into timely cultural moments to engage customers. Their “Keep Walking America” campaign has continually encouraged Americans to keep their heads up in spite of trying times, and for the recent midterm elections, they partnered with Lyft to offer free rides to poll locations. As an added bonus, an alcohol brand paired with a ride-sharing service sounds like a match made in heaven, so it’s not hard to imagine other opportunities for their partnership down the road.

As another example, Diageo’s Crown Royal whiskey embodies the virtue of generosity, which is deeply intertwined with the brand’s history: it originated in 1939 as a gift from Canada to the king and queen of England. Since then, marketing for the brand has adopted the idea of generosity for the greater good in many creative ways. The Purple Bag project leverages the brand’s generous spirit and distinctive packaging to send “purple bag” care packages to both US military members and those affected by natural disasters. In recent years, Crown Royal also came through with another spin on generosity: their “Hydrate Generously” campaign has been reminding NFL fans at stadiums, bars, and at home to drink plenty of water while imbibing during the game.

Ultimately, whether you’re offering contraception or whiskey, consumers are more likely to turn their heads in your direction if you can also show them what you stand for. As long as the cause feels genuine, people feel good supporting an organization that’s committed to paying it forward – and at System1, we know emotion is the first step on the path to growth.


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