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Ideas Marketing strategy

The evolution of brand purpose: toward concrete promises

Magda Wolder photo

Magda Wolder

The world is waking up to the need for those in power to use it more wisely; commit to bigger aspirations than their own bank balances. The truth is, having clear brand purpose these days gives more than just social currency - it can be the making of a brand.

Brand purpose has been around for years but has evolved - it’s had to. A decade ago, it used to be enough to have a big vision and media dollars to put behind an epic brand video, such as Apple's 'Think Different' ad from 1997. Brands that aspired to win the hearts of the public spent months indulging in lengthy conversations, polishing their brand purpose and mission statements and paying agencies hefty sums to craft that killer one-liner.

The role and importance of brand purpose is continuously called into question, but its popularity with younger generations means it’s unlikely to be knocked off marketing agendas anytime soon. 61% of Gen Z and Millennials like brands that stand for something and take a point of view on social issues. Gen Z audiences, in particular, have been raised in a more unpredictable world than their predecessors, where trust is hard-earned and easily broken. Whilst they care about vision, they crave concreteness even more. So, what are the everyday ways marketers can incorporate brand purpose and what are purpose’s pitfalls?

Gen Z want vision, so long as it’s not lazy.

While visions are easily set, it can be difficult to keep up with acceptable brand purpose parameters and even harder to integrate them into a brand’s makeup. A notable example of brand authenticity being called into question is with recent Pride brand associations. Rainbow flags appeared in brand logos across the UK and around the world as a show of support for the LBGTQ+ community. But delving deeper, we hear that for many brands, it is just that - a show - with no year-round program to back up their promises, follow-through on product profit donations, hiring of LGBTQ+ internally or, in advertising, development of truly representative creative executions.

Brand purpose doesn’t need to be a dramatic statement. A company that applies brand purpose well is beauty retailer, Glossier who exists to empower individuality through personal choice and lives this out by encouraging individuals (not masses) to curate their own, personal style. Glossier focuses on engaging and growing a ‘superfan’ base through Instagram, talking to their audiences first, then influencers - asking questions and listening to the answers.

Another company staying true to its beliefs is outdoor clothing company, Patagonia, who since 1985, has donated 1% of sales to the preservation of natural environments. They stay clear of vanity advertising, always working on the product side first and building a strong community with a sense of purpose through social channels and physical activations. When they advertise, they don’t push their new product lines, instead choosing images of the outdoors to infer brand principles of simple living and environmental consideration; every opportunity is a chance to fight for the environment. These are the brands that live out what they stand for.

Purpose-driven audiences need brands to create purposeful products, meaningful content and advertising that celebrates their view of the world - in that order.

What does this mean for today’s brand builders?

When it comes to marketing to Millennials and Gen Z, everyone knows that digital must be included in a plan if you want to get in front of this audience; it is the most intimate place for brands to nurture their relationships with their audience, one on one. But all too often - even today - digital creative is being treated as a secondary opportunity to repeat what is shown on TV.

Google is an example of a brand that carries its brand purpose to digital creative effortlessly. Google’s purpose is grounded in the idea of being accessible and helpful - in everything it does, from the A.I in its apps, fueling how their products are developed, to their digital advertising. Essence’s partnership with Google as their agency of record, gives us the license to experiment and innovate in digital creative, endlessly testing dynamic media formats to create helpful digital ads which illuminate the products’ usefulness in everyday situations and bring the products to life. This can be done in a number of ways, such as to promote Google Maps, using location data to show an ad with live traffic in your area, or for Google Search, featuring tonight’s cinema showtimes for The Lion King near you. These are not just contextualized ads, they are mini brand experiences demonstrating helpfulness.

Every day is an opportunity to hold ourselves accountable by asking the question of what your brand is genuinely committed to. Every ad, piece of content, experience or product is an opportunity to realize brand purpose. It is the cumulative effect of concrete, committed and focused activations across all channels that build trust with purpose-driven younger generations. A lofty one-liner on its own is simply not enough.

This article was originally published in BrandZ.