Purpose: A Strategy Of Authenticity And Impact

Emmanuel ProbstDecember 3, 202050673 min

Consumers are quick to condemn brands that don’t do the right thing. In protest of President Trump’s travel ban on Muslim-majority countries, New York taxi drivers stopped picking passengers up at JFK airport for an hour. But ride-hailing company Uber broke the strike, by continuing to service the airport and enforcing its surge pricing during the strike. Within minutes, the hashtag #DeleteUber began trending. The following day, competitor Lyft announced a $1 million donation to the American Civil Liberties Union in defense of the American constitution. By Monday of the following week, Lyft became the fourth most downloaded app, ahead of Uber at thirteenth.

In 2016, foreign actors used Facebook and other social media platforms to spread false information for the upcoming general election. In the meantime, data consulting firm Cambridge Analytica used some data it had improperly obtained from Facebook to build and maintain voters’ profiles. This led to the outrage of users worldwide. Among many other initiatives, Facebook responded by establishing a “war room” to fight disinformation ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections. Facebook’s “civic engagement team” detects and deters actors that attempt to spread fake information and de-legitimize an election. Dashboards monitor unusual spikes in activity and other indicators of a surge in false information.

Consumers increasingly expect brands to take sides. Edelman’s 2018 Earned Brand study reveals that 67 percent of consumers will buy or boycott a brand based on its position on an issue. 85 percent of participants won’t buy a brand if it stays mute on an issue they expect the brand to address. And brands are feeling the pressure: The 4As conducted a study on value-based marketing; 67 percent of participating advertising agencies reported that their advertiser clients are more interested in value-based marketing and corporate responsibilities, because of changing American values.

Nike: A Case Study

Nike In September 2018, Nike enlisted former NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who arguably lost his NFL career by kneeling for the national anthem in protest over police brutality. Nike’s campaign, released during the NFL season opener features Kaepernick’s voice and the tagline “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything,” in reference to his protest. The campaign caused much political commotion, with some lighting their Nike sneakers on fire while others wore their Nike outfit as a mark of allegiance. We could argue that by taking a political stance against President Trump, Nike closed the door to a 150 million strong potential market, or half of the U.S. population. But Nike has been urging consumers to believe in themselves for 30 years, so this campaign is just its latest provocative iteration. A risky move, you would say? The reality is Nike was already a somewhat politically polarized brand. So are The New York Times, Starbucks, and CNN on the left and Trump hotels, Fox News, and Papa John’s on the right. In the end, Nike’s stance reinforced its brand purpose, increased its exposure through extensive press coverage and boosted its saliency.

A Word Of Caution On Implementing Brand Purpose

Purpose is not a one size fits all brand strategy. It only works for certain categories and companies that have the authenticity to back it up. Some brands, like National Geographic, were created around a strong purpose. NatGeo’s purpose rings true because it was founded on the fundamental belief that science, storytelling, and exploration can change the world. Other brands can adopt a purpose that is credible and believable. Walgreens is one of the nation’s largest pharmacies. It supports its local communities through supplier diversity, environmental responsibility, community service, and outreach. The last category is made of brands that cannot credibly adopt a purpose and/or are hypocritical. “You can’t reverse into a mission and values through marketing,” says Alex Weller, European Marketing Director for Patagonia. “The organizations that are struggling with this are probably the ones that are thinking about marketing first.”

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider By: Dr. Emmanuel Probst. More techniques for building brands can be found in his book Brand Hacks: How to Grow your Brand by Fulfilling the Human Quest for Meaning.

The Blake Project can help you define and develop your brand purpose.

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