ANA members recently selected brand purpose as the 2018 Marketing Word of the Year, yet many companies are still watching this fast-growing trend unfold from the sidelines. For marketing leaders looking to embrace the purpose-led marketing movement, it’s important to separate fact from fiction and to understand how purpose can help brands deepen customer relationships.

Myth: Consumers may say they want to buy from brands that have purpose, but when it comes down to it, they still buy on price.

group of hip, young people holding shopping bags

Busted: It’s well established that people pay more for products that inspire them personally. Whether that’s Florida orange juice or a watch designed to last generations, people respond to what’s relevant to their individual needs in the moment. While yesterday’s battleground may have been about product features and specifications, today it’s increasingly about values and purpose. The spec wars have largely resulted in parity, and products generally are of high quality and meet people’s needs. The social and political climate makes purpose a meaningful differentiator for consumers seeking other reasons to buy.

Myth: Purposeful marketing means taking a controversial political stand.

Busted: Few companies would be well-advised to take a head-on approach to thorny and divisive issues. In fact, most studies show that consumers want brands to stay away from politics. What people do want, however, is for companies to demonstrate a commitment to something beyond their own bottom line—to be responsible stewards of the environment, to respect workers and to operate with integrity.

This leaves plentiful opportunities for brands to claim and demonstrate heart. The best place to begin is where you’ve already been. Chances are, your most authentic and strongest positions are related to concerns and issues that have benefited from your attention in the past. This is what we call provenance. And precisely because you have history with a particular issue, it softens charges of being political, even if the topic is making headlines at the moment. Just remember to tell stories that are human, as people are far less judgmental if they see themselves in your narrative.

Myth: We’re B2B, so being purposeful doesn’t matter.

Busted: Nothing could be further from the truth, if only because purpose matters a lot to your employees. Even if your current employees are happy, future ones are increasingly basing their career decisions on whether a company has a demonstrable sense of purpose. In a tight job market, you need every advantage you can get to win the talent wars.

Beyond that, buyers are looking to suppliers and partners that can boost their own standing. By raising your customers’ game, you can leapfrog the competition.

Smart companies are taking it one step further: They are looking at their purpose as a strategic lever for growth and innovation, and exploring opportunities to engage employees, inspire customers and beat competitors.

Myth: Focusing on purpose will draw unwanted attention to other parts of our business.

Busted: Two things:

First, thanks to social media, everyone now has a megaphone. It’s only a matter of time before the ticking bombs lying in the dark corners of your business go off. Start defusing them now.

Second, the best defense is an offense. Be proactive and shape your own story. Give people something that inspires and engages them. It will occupy their interest and build goodwill should something unfortunate come to light down the road. In the event of a stumble, having a strategically designed purpose platform can:

  • Position your company as having well-reasoned priorities that are being carried out and may change over time as other information emerges
  • Improve your ability to pivot or redirect questions or concerns back to the message you want to convey

A strong purpose orientation today allows you to make headway against vulnerabilities while earning positive attention—a hedge against a problem tomorrow. Done after the fact, those same good efforts look like restitution and don’t earn the same kind of goodwill.

Myth: The investment community doesn’t care.

Busted: Investor interest in ESG (environmental, social and governance) factors has exploded in the past year, according to numerous client- and agency-side sources. Investors are rapidly realizing the positive impact a strong purpose or ESG profile can have, as well as the risks of not having one. Some point to proactive efforts by Larry Fink, CEO at BlackRock, who has predicted that “within five years, all investors will be using ESG metrics.”

What’s also true is that investors will likely pooh-pooh companies that try to promote their latest brand campaign as a magic bullet. Companies must speak to investors about their social impact work differently than how they talk to consumers. Investment analysts will want access to data, benchmarks and scorecards related to topics material to your company’s operation.

This article originally appeared on the Association of National Advertisers’ Marketing Maestros blog.

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