The concept of brand purpose has taken hold like never before, opening up the prospect of rich rewards. But winning fans over to a brand is not easy.
Consumers are increasingly seeking meaning from brands, but at the same time they will not hesitate in calling out perceived inauthenticity. For proof, brands need look no further than the Pepsi campaign, featuring Kendall Jenner, that was accused of hijacking the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.
Paradoxically, in an age when the digital revolution has created an unparalleled number of ways to communicate, there has also been an explosion in disenfranchisement, driven by loneliness. The UK government has even gone as far as to appoint Tracey Crouch as minister for loneliness to address the trend.
Against this backdrop, people are yearning for deeper meaning and communities of the like-minded. It is this that has led Turner Broadcasting to develop what its chief executive, John Martin, describes as the company’s "noble purpose".
It’s about words matching actions. We have to create content and experiences that put our fans at the centre of our operating model. Everything we do must be consistent with our brand purpose
John Martin, chief executive, Turner
"It’s about creating fans and communities and a sense of belonging through content that resonates, and offering viewing experiences that speak to our fans on both a personal and community level," Martin says. "One of the unintended consequences of our hyperconnected society is this sense of detachment. Our research shows that despite how connected we all are, people are increasingly feeling detached and socially isolated."
The idea of "brand purpose" is often maligned as just another buzzword, but financially it can be far more than that if instilled in the business. Havas research found "meaningful brands" outperformed the stock market by 206% between 2006 and 2016.
Ella’s Kitchen has grown to be the UK’s number-one baby-food brand on the back of its organic credentials and strong sense of purpose, which has included it lobbying the UK government for updated guidelines on healthy weaning. "Our mission-driven mentality has driven our success," Kim Gelling, head of making friends at Ella’s Kitchen, says. "Last year marked our eleventh successive year of double or triple-digit growth." Becky Willan, managing director of brand purpose agency Given, believes the current philosophy around the topic of purpose in marketing is comparable to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and taps into the human desire for connection.
"People are talking about brands moving from being able to provide against those basic needs, through to actualisation and something more about personal fulfilment," Willan says. "We are looking for meaning in all areas of our lives. That is true of the personal relationships that we have as much as maybe the commercial ones and the transactional ones."
Lars Holm, global senior manager at Dentsu Aegis, sounds a warning, however. "It it is really dangerous if you do not check with more stakeholders before choosing a purpose," he says. "Check with investors, colleagues, local government and communities. A lot of companies get it wrong by only looking at one stakeholder, typically consumers."
Dove/Steven Universe: "Self-esteem project"
The themes of Cartoon Network’s animated series Steven Universe provided Dove with the perfect platform to take its educational programme, The Dove Self-Esteem Project, to the next level, as part of its overarching "Real Beauty" marketing campaign.
Steven Universe embraces themes around what makes people diff erent and has a reach of 20 million young people. Its partnership with Dove resulted in the creation of six short animated films featuring the Steven Universe characters. They were directed by the cartoon’s creator, Rebecca Sugar, with guidance from body-image expert Dr Phillippa Diedrichs.
The films were supported by an original song featuring the cast of the show, an accompanying music video and an educational ebook, all of which acknowledge each person’s uniqueness. The content was designed to make a positive impact on young people’s self-esteem and body confidence.
The collaboration also marked the expansion of Dove’s Self-Esteem Project beyond structured workshops, on a scale never seen before.
"We are passionate about evolving the types of messages the next generation is receiving through media, which is why we are working with partners to take the programme to the next level," Dove global vice-president Sophie Galvani, says. "We are introducing tools to enable us to reach even more young people with content that not only educates but also entertains."
For those brands that get it right, however, it can lead to an almost cult-like status. Willan cites outdoor clothing company Patagonia: "It transcends the individual product attribute or point of difference into something much more about a shared ideology, or almost a genuine sense of a shared identity."
Patagonia has achieved this through initiatives such as publishing a book about tools for grass-roots environmental activists. The idea of brands being born out of a noble purpose is not a new phenomenon. "There have been brands out there for a long time with a much higher level of purpose and they have been successful early on," Robert Jan d’Hond, global brand practice lead at Kantar Consulting, says. He points to Volvo’s founding ambition of basing all it did on the concept that "no-one should die in a car".
Formula One: bursting the bubble
Formula One is running a global campaign that seeks to breakdown the sport’s echo chamber and move beyond the bubble around the sport’s community.
Super-fans star in the global "Engineered insanity" campaign, because Ellie Norman, director of marketing and communications at F1, believes that to deliver successful long-term growth it needs to place fans back at its heart. The campaign follows internal research discovering home truths about the brand, such as perceptions of it as inaccessible.
Marketing activity is being aimed in part at lapsed fans to help them re-engage with the sport and drive reappraisal and excitement for F1. This strategy is driven by a brand purpose and internal mission statement around creating "the greatest racing spectacle on the planet". The external lens for this is the global campaign’s "Engineered insanity" message.
To bring fans closer to the action, marketing activity includes digital-first shows, including live broadcasts on Twitter and YouTube providing pre-and post-race content.
F1 is also running fan festivals in cities around the world, including Shanghai and Marseille, which is hosting a Grand Prix for the first time in 10 years. The Shanghai festival also brought a taste of F1 into the city centre, because the race circuit itself is a 90-minute journey away.
"Fans from our perspective will definitely remain within the centre of our focus," Norman says. "If it does not serve the fan, it does not serve F1. It comes back to what should we do, what would you want as a fan and how would you want to be treated. That is the key priority."
It’s important for brands to focus not only on the crosschannel experiences, but also the emotional experience with a consumer. You have to be able to engage before you ask them to transact. Brands need to make a connection on who they are before they get to what they doJennifer Halloran, head of brand, advertising and community responsibility, MassMutual
This included opening up the patent for the three-point safety belt, which a Volvo engineer had designed, to any other manufacturer.
More brands are uncovering the power of a strong purpose. Kantar’s Purpose 2020 report found that the valuation of purpose-led brands has increased by 175% over the past 12 years, compared with a median rate of 86%.
However, a brand purpose need not necessarily come from an ethical or sustainable standpoint. "A really interesting space for brands to explore is creating communities around shared interests that go beyond any individual product benefit," Willan says.
The existence of a brand purpose can act as a "north star" that runs through every part of a business, as opposed to just being a market tool, according to Becci Gould, senior account director at communications consultancy Kin&Co.
Holm believes that Unilever brand Dove has set the "gold standard" with its "Real Beauty" message, which ranges from advertising to teaching children self-esteem through school classes and cartoons (see case study, page 81). "There is no disconnect and all the activity links very well," he says.
"Purpose is about authenticity. Consumers and employees alike can quickly identify which businesses are ‘living it’ and which are just paying lip service. You can’t ‘create’ meaning, it’s intrinsic to why we’re here and what we want to achieve
Kim Gelling, head of making friends, Ella's Kitchen
The numerous ways to engage with fans are also opening up opportunities for innovation. "Gone are the days of one-way communication between brands and consumers," Martin says. "Pushing out information with a one-size-fits all approach no longer works.
"Consumers today want to engage with the brands they love, and they expect communication that is dynamic, authentic, transparent and relevant to them." Jennifer Halloran, head of brand, advertising and community responsibility at life insurance company MassMutual, believes the number of channels available to consumers has "elevated the level of experience that consumers expect from a brand" (see case study, below). "Making a connection with consumers is hard today," Halloran says. "You have to be able to engage with a consumer before you ask them to transact."
This is a sentiment shared by Formula One director of marketing and communications Ellie Norman, who is attempting to break the F1 brand out of its "echo chamber" to appeal both to lapsed and new, younger fans (see case study, far left).
"There is so much choice for consumers or fans and, as a brand, we are either a share of their time or wallet, so they rightfully should be demanding the best level of service," Norman says.
Defining a strong brand purpose is a powerful way of getting a share of attention in a cluttered marketplace even if there are high profile incidents of brands being called out for being inauthentic.
"Fear is keeping a lot of big brands away from going out and saying they have a purpose because they are so afraid someone is going to find something [inauthentic]," Holm says.
Gould has some advice to avoid such accusations."Ensure it is true and authentic; don’t be afraid to take a stance and be bold, whether that is internally or externally; be transparent, and acknowledge it won’t be perfect overnight. The final thing that is really vital is to make sure you are measuring against that purpose and tracking impact so you can prove you are working towards it," she says.
The rewards have the potential to far outweigh the risks. "If it is very easy, then it does not give you sustainable competitive advantage in this commodotised world," Jan d’Hond concludes. "It is a bit paradoxical but the harder it gets, the better it is."
Today, young people engage with content very differently. The rise of social media and on-demand entertainment platforms, as well as rapid advances in technology, have transformed how everyone uses mainstream mediaSophie Galvani, global vice president, Dove
MassMutual/CNN: Ringing in the new year with unity
Life-insurance company MassMutual wanted to remind the US that 2017 wasn’t as divided as some believed, with a campaign that culminated with a live ad that ran on CNN on New Year’s Eve.
A unified message was devised in partnership with CNN’s brand studio Courageous. Then, in the run-up to the New Year, six documentary-style brand videos were produced featuring real people who had helped others during the year.
Real-life stars included the Texas civilians who rushed into danger to rescue neighbours from floods in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, and a group of Indiana bikers who escorted a bullied 11-year-old boy to school to help restore his confidence.
The campaign culminated on New Year’s Eve with a live ad from New York, uniting the heroes featured in the videos. A performance by the National Children’s Chorus closed the year on a positive note.
"Finding real examples of people who take care of and rely on others every day is the essence of what we value as a brand, in our promise to take care of our policyholders," Jennifer Halloran, MassMutual’s head of brand, advertising and community responsibility, says.
"Being a mutually owned company is unique, but it can be difficult for people to understand the commitment we all have to supporting each other. The live ad came from our focus on media and message placement around specific, cultural, ownable places."