You may have heard terms like ‘purpose-led’ and ‘purpose-driven’ brands being thrown around in brand marketing lingo a lot over the last few years, but what actually are they, and why do they matter?
So what is ‘brand purpose’?
The term itself may feel like a buzzword, but the concept of brand purpose is actually nothing new. Put simply, it’s what a brand does, stands for, or aims for, beyond its basic business objective of making money. It’s the brand’s meaningful reason for being, the why, rather than the what.
Brand purpose isn’t necessarily straight-up philanthropy, though. A brand may donate a certain portion of its profits to charity, run community projects, or allow its employees to donate time to worthy causes, but those things don’t make it a purpose-driven brand.
Purpose needs to go deeper than that. It’s something that’s weaved into the very fabric of the brand itself, influencing messaging, business operations and decisions. It’s usually – when done well – explicitly connected to its products or services. For example, an internet service provider that seeks to alleviate digital poverty, or a cosmetics company that wishes to end animal testing. It’s this clear connection between purpose & product that solidifies a purpose-driven brand’s identity.
Why is there so much focus on purpose-driven brands?
While purpose-led brands aren’t anything new, the current, supercharged focus on brand purpose is relatively new. The reasons for this become clear when you picture the world we all live in today. Environmental, social, economic & political systems are in crisis, and consumers – in an age of information and cancel culture – are increasingly aware of the impact of their choices. As such, consumers are increasingly choosing brands whose mission and values align with their own.
And the stats back this up – a report by First Insight found that 62% of Millennial & Gen Z consumers prefer to buy from sustainable and purpose-driven brands. And while this trend proved to be more prevalent among younger generations, the research also showed that every generation factor in sustainability to their purchasing decisions.
This demand for planet-conscious choices has seen a rise in sustainability-championing corporate networks, such as 1% for the Planet and B Corp. Consumers want to know that their hard-earned money isn’t simply lining shareholders’ pockets, but that it’s being used as a force for good in whatever small way, to support people, wildlife and planet – if not all three.
Do purpose-led brands perform better?
Well, the stats certainly seem to suggest so. A global study of 8,000 consumers across eight markets (including the UK), found that when a brand has a strong purpose, consumers were four times more likely to purchase from the brand, 4.1 times more likely to trust the brand, six times more likely to protect that brand in a challenging moment and 4.5 times more likely to recommend the brand to others.
While research by Deloitte found that purpose-driven companies witness higher market share gains and grow on average three times faster than their competitors, while simultaneously achieving higher workforce and customer satisfaction.
Brand purpose examples
For 17 years, Unilever’s personal care brand has focused on making beauty a positive and accessible experience for all women. Dove’s brand purpose challenges unrealistic standards set by the beauty industry, instead championing authenticity, inclusivity and body positivity in its ‘real beauty’ campaigns, regardless of women’s shape, size or colour. Dove features real women – not models – in its adverts and further to this, never digitally doctors those that feature in them.
In 2004, Dove took its purpose a step further by launching the Dove Self-Esteem Project. This project delivers self-esteem education to young people in schools, workshops for youth groups and online resources for parents. It nurtures body confidence in children, building the foundations for a happy relationship with themselves and their body from a young age – allowing them to reach their full potential. The project has already reached over 60 million people in over 139 countries and aims to reach a quarter of a billion by 2030.
Apple’s brand purpose, “To bring the best user experience to customers through innovative hardware, software, and services”, perhaps isn’t the most inspiring of brand purpose examples in our list, but as one of the world’s best-known tech giants, it’s worth exploring.
The quote, taken from Apple’s Mission Statement, is certainly more of a practical and functional pledge to its customers, than a lofty commitment to doing social or environmental good. However, in Apple’s Vision Statement, it pledges to, “Make the best products on earth and leave the world better than we found it”.
While a little vague, Apple does pay particular focus to accessibility and education in the technology space. By implementing Braille display support into its products, it allows vision-impaired customers to enjoy Apple products free of stigma and insecurity. Additionally, Apple’s programme with ConnectEd provides underserved schools with products, support and education – so far with over $100 million worth of equipment and software specifically designed to help these students succeed. It also has ambitious environmental and EDI targets.
Considering the above, I’m not sure we can class Apple as a true purpose-led brand, though. Despite its significant contributions to social inequities, this purpose doesn’t run through the fabric of its very identity, the why they do what they do.
Dettol’s focus on making hygiene accessible to all has undoubtedly saved lives across the world. Its brand purpose, ‘to create a healthier world built on the foundation of good hygiene’, is realised through its work in education, research and innovation in hygiene products and healthy hygiene habits.
Its hygiene education focuses children, new mothers, frontline workers, community leaders and more, as well as partnering with government, public authorities and NGOs to focus on the hygiene in schools and health centres, vital to their communities. Its hygiene education schools programme has already reached millions of children globally (aiming to reach 100 million by the end of 2026), building long-lasting hygiene habits that quite literally save lives.
Vivobarefoot aims to completely revolutionise the footwear industry. Based on principles of science, anatomy and nature, it challenges the over-cushioned, rigid and unfeeling footwear of mainstream shoemakers with the free, flexible, natural movement principles of our barefoot ancestors. This, combined with its eco materials and often radical approach to sustainability, it says, can regenerate both human and planetary health – and it has the science to prove it.
Committed to a healthy planet and guided by a fundamental belief in nature and its integral connection to health, Vivobarefoot goes beyond just striving for sustainability. It’s currently on the path to becoming a regenerative business, where it doesn’t simply negate its impact on the planet, it actively creates a positive one. It’s already a certified B Corp, like us!
Its ReVivo service restores and repairs Vivo footwear, giving it a new lease of life and closing the loop on waste, while its Livebarefoot Fund invests in innovation, research and action in footwear, experiences and community engagement, such as indigenous shoemaking, regenerative materials and barefoot education.
You can see our work on Vivobarefoot’s VivoHealth courses, here.
Colgate has long been at the forefront of making oral care products, awareness and education more accessible. In fact, in its mission to eliminate preventable and treatable oral health problems, it launched Bright Smiles, Bright Futures – an initiative that has been running for almost 30 years.
Through this, the brand provides children around the world with free dental screenings and oral health education. The programme has impacted the lives of over one billion children in 80 countries, and aims to double that number by 2025.
Tips on honing your brand’s purpose
Don’t try to be everything to everyone, you’ll only dilute your message and meaning. Take time to focus on your brand’s values and what makes it unique – what causes would align with it in a meaningful, authentic and sensical way?
Set goals and by all means be ambitious, but ensure you keep them attainable, or else you might be setting yourself up to fail. There’s nothing worse than having to quietly or sheepishly admit that you didn’t reach your goal or target and risk damaging your brand’s credibility.
Consumers look to purposeful brands for transparency and trust. Be honest about your mission and goals, even when things don’t fully go to plan. Whatever you put out in public needs to be able to stand up to scrutiny, so don’t be afraid to emphasise when you don’t have the answers yet or something is part of an ongoing journey – consumers are more likely to appreciate the honesty than feeling like they’re having the wool pulled over their eyes.
Experts in helping brands navigate purpose, our team has years of experience communicating a wide range of complex, challenging and sensitive world issues – from deforestation to poverty – nurturing audiences through education and solutions-focused action.
We understand that it can be daunting for organisations to tackle these potentially sensitive topics in a way that feels authentic and drives engagement. That’s where we come in – we specialise in driving positive, long-lasting behaviour change through language everyone can understand, and content that everyone can enjoy. Got a purpose-led campaign in mind, or want to talk through the roots of your brand purpose? Get in touch to see how we could collaborate.