"The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose is to give it away," said Claire Beale, Campaign’s global editor-in-chief, as she opened a lively discussion on the hot topic of brand purpose.
"There seems to be a lot of definitions of what purpose really means in a business context. In a recent study carried out by Harvard and EY they defined it as ‘an aspirational reason for being that inspires and provides a call to action for an organisation and its partners – and provides benefits to local and global society’," said Beale.
But it seems the real definition is the "why" behind your existence. And why should we care?
"Because customers require it now," said Sue Unerman, chief transformation officer, MediaCom. "We researched at MediaCom and two-thirds of people think businesses have a responsibility to give back to society. People used to say they wanted things with purpose and then go for the cheapest – but what they’re saying now is we want it to be available for a really good price, but we want the business behind it to be doing good at the same time. Otherwise, we’re out and we have other options."
"Everything has a purpose or it’s pointless. You buy a cleaning product to clean your toilet and it serves this purpose, but what we’re really talking about is ‘meaning’. There’s purpose in the terms of what does my product do, all the way up to what you could describe as a ‘higher purpose’," said Cheryl Calverley, marketing director, The AA.
Kevin Chesters, chief strategy officer, Ogilvy Group, went further, citing Kantar Millward Brown’s research, which revealed that "meaningfully different" brands capture five times more volume, command a 13% price premium and are four times more likely to grow value share during the next 12 months, compared with brands lacking meaningful difference.
"I hadn’t heard it put that way before: ‘meaningfully different’. That doesn’t mean a brand has to have a colossal higher purpose, it can be quite prosaic. But meaning, plus different, equals value – that’s the goal," said Chesters.
It’s no longer enough for brands just to deliver a good product and be trustworthy. Consumers want brands to represent something bigger than themselves. According to a Havas report, 75% of people expect brands to make some form of "higher contribution".
Ed Cox, founder and MD, Yonder Media referenced the Havas research: "A higher proportion of consumers expected businesses to do something good for the environment or society than governments. They wanted businesses to take responsibility."
And brands should take on some of the burden for the problems they have contributed towards: "Part of the reason consumers want and expect this of organisations is that the governments are failing – and spectacularly," said David Kobulsz, ECD, Droga5. "Brands have power and that comes with responsibility. Your purpose can be to create products to clean toilets and you do that to make money, but if you just do that, then you’re not living up to the responsibility you’ve been given. And quite frankly if you don’t, who will?"
"That’s why we need to talk action and whether we are driving people to action," said Rankin Caroll, president, global fruity confections, Mars. "Both as a brand with your people and with your consumers by providing platforms and spaces for them to engage. We touch billions of people and if we can actually engage with them to move and make a difference then I think we’ve got something."
There isn't really a choice, argued Martina Poulopati, global brand communications manager, Essity Femcare, the company behind the culture-shaking #bloodnormal campaign for its Bodyform/Libresse brand. "I firmly believe there is no survival for brands that do not have a positive social contribution," she said.
And it’s not just about consumers’ brand perception – the brand values start within companies. It’s these values that are motivating future employees. It’s not pay, hours or contracts, but what values and ethics organisations enshrine in their business model – not just profit.
"We do a thing with Oxbridge called the Economics of Mutuality and it’s all about the trade-offs you make and building within communities and recognising that you will only exist if the community around you is sustainable. The toughest questions that we got weren’t from the press or stakeholders, they were from the students who were willing to shout bulls*it. By the end, hopefully, we were able to convince them that it wasn’t and they’re the people that we want. But if we’re not authentic then we’ll be talking to ourselves," said Caroll.
Chesters added: "I’ve noticed with the generation coming in, they expect something beyond. Beyond the salary and other benefits, they want the company to be seen to be doing good."
For some organisations, though, purpose can evolve. Take Waze, when the Israeli mapping service first started out they had the fairly low-key and achievable goal of "saving you five-to-ten minutes a day on your daily commute," said Finlay Clark, the company’s UK country manager. But since being bought by Google in 2013, their purpose has grown.
"Our Google-sized goal now is to try and play a role in ending world traffic – one of the biggest drains on quality of life in many parts of the world," said Clark.
"And to help this, we’re building a carpool service. It’s live in certain cities in Israel and the US. We’re trying to get people to give up their cars and drive with other Wazers. One thing that happened last year was that the east coast of America was hit by a series of hurricanes, we had no plans to launch carpool in Louisiana or Texas, but after the hurricanes hit it put 900,000 cars out of action.
So, we made the decision to launch Waze carpool in the affected areas and we offered the service for free. Was it the right thing to do for the Waze community? Yes. Was it the right thing for us to do to launch a product? Yes. But more importantly it was the right thing to do in that instance," said Clark.
"That’s a perfect example of when purpose and business value perfectly combine," said Dan Salzman, global head of media, analytics and insights, HP.
"And if you’re doing the right thing and consumers care, the earned impact of that is massive," said Caroll. "If you’re doing good things then you don’t have to tell the world, the world finds out by itself."
"In fact, we’re like superheroes us marketers," said Calverley. "And our superpower is that we have the ability to influence what people think, which is incredible. We need to take it seriously and use it well."