May 19, 2021
Purpose-driven marketing has become all the rage among CPG retail brands and others, but does it really deliver the goods? The short answer: For many brands, yes, so long as marketers aren’t purpose-washing. A brand must show teeth behind emotionally charged statements, even if this means cutting into the balance sheet in the short-term.
Put another way, there’s brand risk in lip service.
“When a company announces its purpose and values, but the words don’t govern the behavior of senior leadership, they ring hollow,” wrote business professors Robert E. Quinn and Anjan V. Thakor in the Harvard Business Review in 2018. “Everyone recognizes the hypocrisy, and employees become more cynical. The process does harm.”
Purpose-driven marketing is a concept describing how brands can bond with customers based on shared interests. It dovetails with the idea of corporate social responsibility. Purpose-driven marketing often takes a while to pay off in brand and exposure, says MountainTop Data, making it unappealing to most business owners.
But brands shouldn’t engage in purpose-driven marketing solely to maximize shareholder value anyway. According to Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer and president of healthcare business at Mastercard, a company should pursue a purpose for two main reasons: If marketers can do good for society, they should, and having a purpose also helps build trust with customers and employees.
“Companies need to pursue purpose because it is the right thing to do, because consumers are willing to vote with their wallets in favor of purpose-led brands, because younger generations of people want to work only in purpose-driven organizations,” writes Rajamannar in his new book Quantum Marketing.
This isn’t just idealistic talk, either. Companies stand to gain real sales. According to a 2018 Edelman study, 87% of people say brands must stand up for what they believe in, while 64% say they will buy or boycott a brand based on its stance on a social or political issue.
Want more proof? BrandTotal, a social competitive intelligence and brand analytics platform, released a report last month that found some of the most successful CPG retail brands zeroing in on sustainability and connecting purpose to profit.
In the report, Nike led the way, launching more posts than other brands by orders of magnitude. Moreover, 81% of Nike’s activity was “dark,” meaning the posts were highly targeted and not viewable by the general public. (BrandTotal’s platform has the ability to view and analyze “dark” paid social media activity.)
The majority of Nike’s top-engaging creatives make no mention of Nike products. Rather, these creatives connect to social issues, tell inspiring stories, and seek to build affinity with the brand, BrandTotal says. For instance, Nike’s “Momtaz Yoga Center in Kabul” campaign received the most comments and feedback by a significant margin in the report.
Other top performing CPG retail brands tracked by BrandTotal also focus on purpose. Lay’s touted its sustainability credentials and war on waste. Clorox aligned with climate change goals. Dove showed support for front-line health workers and highlighted its $5 million investment to fight systemic racism. Kleenex’s campaign offered 100,000 free 3-month subscriptions to Calm, a meditation, sleep and relaxation app, to support emotional well-being.
What do they have in common, aside from high customer engagement? Purpose-driven marketing is tied to the company at a deep level — that is, it’s not just empty marketing words. This level of commitment to purpose must come from the CEO, Rajamannar says, while marketers’ job is to shape and craft a compelling narrative.
“Marketers need to tell the company purpose story, authentically, and not in an advertising or sales mode,” Rajammanar says in Quantum Marketing. “Otherwise, it will be seen as merely self-serving.”
Tom Kaneshige is the Chief Content Officer at the CMO Council. He creates all forms of digital thought leadership content that helps growth and revenue officers, line of business leaders, and chief marketers succeed in their rapidly evolving roles. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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