Internationally-recognised purpose pioneer Thomas Kolster takes a hatchet to his earlier beliefs and warns brands about purpose in his latest book, “Hero Trap”. “Try to fly like a superman, and you will come down like a tin of soup,” he says. BR talked to several specialists and found out what they thought about purpose marketing and the best ways to win in today’s competitive market.
By Romanita Oprea
According to Sorina Mihai (main photo), managing partner at Porter Novelli Romania, when we talk about our work, most of us refer to it as our passion – doing what we’re passionate about. And she thinks that passion springs from two sources: interest and purpose. While our interests are more self-oriented, therefore easier to identify, purpose – our intention and effort to contribute to the well-being of others – is other-centred.
“Seeking and finding purpose is not an easy task, but at the other end of our resolution there’s always something bigger than ourselves. Ultimately, our efforts pay dividends to other people, to our community. Recent events unfolded a worrisome reality – one that we’re all sharing, globally. We can relate to the struggles of people at the other end of the world because we too are going through something similar. We are witnessing the changes and challenges the world is facing and we understand the urgency of putting our resources to good use,” she explains.
According to Thomas Kolster, most brands today are firmly on the social and environmental issues bandwagon like bees around a honey pot, from ocean plastic to diversity. People are increasingly distrustful towards these efforts, which are viewed as cheap marketing stunts meant to wow people into buying more. Drawing on top-line marketing case studies and in-depth interviews with the likes of P&G’s CMO Marc Pritchard, Kolster demonstrates how people are truly motivated to act when they’re in charge of their own life and happiness. One commissioned study comparing well-known commercials showed that by taking a people-first approach, people were 29.5 percent more motivated to act on the messaging than they were with the traditional purpose approach.
Consumers nowadays are increasingly reluctant to brand messages, as they’ve become irrelevant and superficial, communicating in the same patterns as they did years ago.
“To be heard by consumers today, brands must prove a true interest in their needs and lifestyles and bring forward, in a clear sentence, the answer to a basic question: why. Why should I buy you? Have you thought about the purpose your brand should play in my life? If there is no clear purpose in a brand’s mindset, then you are not trustworthy, and you will be ignored,” argues Andrei Dumitrascu, marketing & communication director at Secom, a brand that according to its representatives has a clear mission: to improve people’s quality of life. They have been pursuing this mission for the last 17 years, not just through their high-quality products, but also through education, promoting the concept of integrative medicine.
“We are constantly listening to our consumers’ needs in terms of a healthy lifestyle and we’re taking actions based on these insights. This is how projects like the Integrative Medicine Clinic or Perspective magazine came to life, that’s why we’re offering specialised consulting in our 13 own stores and last but not least, why we provide the most complex product portfolio on the market. The latest approach of our purpose was done by creating our own brand, Good Routine®, built from scratch and animated by our strong know-how of both scientific formulas and consumer needs,” said Dumitrascu.
Therefore, brands and companies are building purpose-centric cultures, a paradigm shift to which Porter Novelli committed from the very beginning. In fact, Porter Novelli is a founding member of the Brands for Good consortium, it has a wide network of sustainability and communications leaders, and brings over 25 years of research and insights about purpose, brand, social impact, and issues. We have a fully-integrated sustainability consultancy and communications practice, allowing us to seamlessly and efficiently service our clients.
Sticking to consultants’ perspectives, Cristina Blanaru, founder at Code Name & AdHugger.net and strategic advisor to international and local companies, said that purpose marketing is just the latest lens being used by companies to reach their customers. It started getting popular after advertisers realised that spending marketing budgets on “noise” was not generating value nor sales in the long term, whilst connecting with audiences on causes both parties believed in was more relevant and powerful. It is also part of a natural evolution of marketing; promoting a product’s virtues was replaced by a focus on the customer’s needs and now, by connecting with the customer’s values in a meaningful way.
“I will not be popular for saying this, but it’s just business. It is all connected. It is all about generating the best ROI and now the consumer wants brands that are purpose-driven. We, as consumers, want to connect on a higher level with the brands and the best way to do so is through emotions and common interests, and purpose provides both. Purpose Marketing is the extension of Content Marketing, and it has the ability to create content that consumers want to spend time on. So the choice is simple: you either have a great backstory you can tell or you have a great purpose, and it’s even better if you have both,” argued Anders Holmberg Lange, gamification strategist, senior marketing advisor, and start-up mentor at Venture Cup Denmark.
But one must wonder: how much of the success comes from purpose marketing versus the recent developments caused by the pandemic, other trends or the normal flow of business? According to Sorina Mihai, the pandemic may have “forced” some brands to shift gears and switch lanes, but it’s important to acknowledge that purpose has been at the core of businesses – whether big or small – for a long time now. For decades, passionate teams of people have served as drivers of change and have positively impacted issues such as education, climate change, human rights, public health, and social and racial inequality. “In my opinion, the pandemic created more opportunities for companies to recognise their purpose and publicly commit to it,” she explained.
Moreover, as the Secom representative points out, it is all about common sense – at least it should be so. “When your brand is true to itself in every way, has a clear vision and purpose and all its actions are on the same path, everybody will notice. On the other hand, if you try to have everything by doing everything, then your brand will lose its identity, and therefore its purpose. And everyone will notice that, too. So, when the brand’s look, feel, and discourse are all built around the same purpose, then I believe it would be a good time to claim this,” Andrei Dumitrascu added.
However, Cristina Blanaru is convinced that the pandemic was clearly a catalyst for the rise of purpose marketing. In her point of view, although there have always been companies that had it at the core of their strategies, the pandemic made it clearer that brands that support causes the customers care about are not only doing the right thing, but will also receive the approval of the wider public and, as a consequence, have a higher number of customers.
“The pandemic has shown us that the world is unsafe, and we have to change our lifestyles. But it is not telling us that the change has to be towards sustainable living; that is just your mind playing tricks. The sustainability trend we’re seeing is a matter of survival, as the next generation wants children and wants them to be born into a livable world. The big trends are Spaceflight and sustainable living – they are a call for survival. This will not change anytime soon, because it is direly needed. Business will always flow wherever the money and the consumers are, and that is way in which new business models come to light,” stated Anders Holmberg Lange.
What brands should do
Now that we know what Purpose Marketing looks like these days and why, we should also talk about what brands should do to make sure consumers really understand their intentions. Therefore, what kind of advice are specialists offering?
“Choose wisely! And, above all, be honest with yourself and the consumer when you choose to associate with and support a cause, no matter if it is related to health, the environment or communities. Do not jump onto a cause’s wagon just because it is the hit of that particular season; do it only if you really believe in it. In purpose marketing, fake it ‘til you make it is not a mantra and it doesn’t work. Purpose shouldn’t be a claimed title or trait, it should be earned and come as a consequence of long-term activities and involvement with certain causes that consumers resonate with as well,” Cristina Blanaru points out.
In turn, Anders Homberg Lange says that it is important not to try to be everything the market demands, but instead just do a few things better than everyone else and tell consumers about it.
“Your purpose should be what gets you up in the morning, and if that is changing the world, then great! If not, then just don’t do it. You must be able to look into your consumer’s eyes and not be afraid of them reading your CSR report too closely because you are hiding what you are really doing. It is a perspective from consumers, it is a matter of trust between consumers and brands. A brand should never claim it first – it should give its consumers the right to call it purpose-driven,” he explained.
Today’s turbulent global environment yearns for purposeful leadership. And as Sorina Mihai argues, if brands haven’t already found their purpose, they should commit to identifying what drives them and what impact they can have on the world around them. According to Porter Novelli’s managing partner, brands must speak out with empathy and authenticity. And that is because purpose provides direction and strength in this era of connected vulnerability. It aligns stakeholders’ expectations and needs with action.
“It focuses strategy, directs resources, galvanizes employees, wins loyal customers, earns the trust of partners, the faith of communities and investors’ belief in the company’s resilience in the face of change. Once a brand has found its authentic raison d’etre and identified the actions it needs to take to both increase profits and improve economic and social conditions in its community, it’s safe to say that it has found its purpose. And purposeful companies outperform their peers by 60 percent (in terms of YoY stock price appreciation),” Sorina Mihai concluded.