To Build a Purpose-Driven Brand, Start with Belief
By Cali Pitchel Schmidt, Creative Director
Consumers are demanding something greater from their brands: purpose. (And it’s not just those avocado-toast-eating Millennials who want brands that care about something.) All consumers—in every category, all over the world—want more from the companies from which they shop for goods and services. Marketers are scrambling to respond; to find their purpose and stay relevant. But starting with your purpose is like hitting the trail without a compass. How will you know north from south? Your belief is your compass; it’s what drives you. It’s your differentiation in the market and the foundation upon which your purpose lives. If you know what you believe, your purpose will become clear—it’s the most logical expression of your belief. In essence: your belief leads to your purpose, and your purpose leads to your actions.
According to a report from eMarketer, nearly 60 percent of Americans thought brands should take a position on controversial issues no matter what. The 2018 Edelman “Earned Brand” report suggests something similar: 64 percent of people worldwide say a company’s stand on societal issues affects their patronage. Millennials, in particular, are leading this shift in market expectations. A Deloitte Survey shows that 84 percent of Millennials believe it is their duty to change the world. And they’re making more conscious decisions than the generations before them, not just about what they purchase, but also about where and how they work, too.
“Sixty percent of consumers are likely to switch brands if a company isn’t socially responsible.”
Not only are consumers calling on brands to work toward a better future, purpose-driven brands outperform, by both internal and external measures, brands without a purpose. Put simply: having a purpose is good business. In the 2016 Gartenberg Study, researchers found that “firms with employees that maintain strong beliefs in the meaning of their work experience better performance.” What kind of performance? “Systematically higher future accounting and stock market performance.”
Belief-driven vs. purpose-driven
“Purpose-driven marketing is on the minds of more marketers,” which means a lot of marketers are on a search for purpose for their brands. As the research suggests, their businesses depend on it. If you’re a marketer, you might ask, How do I find my brand’s purpose? But let’s put first things first: Purpose-driven is not a strategy—and you’ll find yourself in a world of trouble if you think you can smack a purpose on your brand like a sticker. Remember Pepsi and the Kendall Jenner commercial? Or Dodge and their MLK Super Bowl spot? If your strategy is “to be purpose-driven,” you will very easily devolve into manipulation: What can we say to get someone to buy, click, or convert now? How can we convince the Millennials we’re a socially conscious brand? Which causes should we support in order to acquire more customers?
You can’t manufacture your purpose—it has to come from somewhere; it has to come from your belief. (Otherwise, you’ll find yourself like Pepsi or Dodge—or worse, like Volkswagen or SeaWorld.) Your belief is your differentiation in the market, and you are far better served uncovering your belief rather than inventing a purpose because it’s what (upwards of 80 percent of) consumers want.
If you know what you believe, your purpose will become clear—it’s the most logical expression of your belief. In essence: your belief leads to your purpose, and your purpose leads to your actions.
Belief is why Patagonia can make a television commercial urging us to fight for public land.
Belief is why Nike can sign Colin Kaepernick to its 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign.
Belief is why Everlane doesn’t have sales, but instead asks customers to “choose what you pay.”
Patagonia believes a love of wild and beautiful places demands participation in the fight to save them. Their purpose is to build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. Nike believes if you have a body, you’re an athlete. Their purpose comes out of that belief: to inspire people to lace up their sneakers, get out the door, and just do it. Everlane believes in radical transparency—that means customers have the right to know what their products cost to make. Their purpose is to bring honesty to a historically murky industry by exposing their costs—and their business practices—to the consumer.
Purpose-driven brands aren’t a reaction or response to the market. Purpose-driven brands operate out of their core conviction, and every decision they make runs through the filter of their belief, purpose, and values. Brands thinking they can affix a purpose onto their business, however, are reflexive and lack the rootedness required to endure not just the volatility of the market, but the sniff-test of the consumer.
Purpose is your belief in action. That’s why a purpose usually starts with a verb: to create, to build, to change, to inspire. Your purpose needs your belief to make sense—just like a river runs from a glacier, a purpose requires an origin. At Belief Agency, we believe the truth is enough. And our purpose—our belief in action—is to prove you can tell the truth and make money. Once you know what you believe, you can ask this question: With the brains we have and the hands we have, what is the difference we’re trying to make in the world? Thatis your purpose.
Here’s the thing about purpose-driven brands. You can’t manufacture your purpose—it has to come from somewhere; it has to come from your belief.
It’s undeniable at this point. The market craves a greater truth. They want the brands they frequent to stand for something—and not just for the sake of standing for something. Once you uncover your belief, you can find your purpose. And once you find your purpose, you can authentically respond to the market. Not only will you have the benefit of speaking directly to the needs and wants of the market, but you’ll also finally know who you are, what you do, and why you do it. That kind of alignment is priceless. That kind of alignment builds purpose-driven brands.