Experiential Marketing Helps to Productize Brand Purpose

Brands are struggling to bring their impact from the 'why' to the 'how'

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As purpose-driven marketing becomes increasingly appropriated as a key component of a brand’s positioning in culture, it must be complemented with experiential marketing to actualize itself.

In turn, experiential marketing activations must become more meaningful—in other words, have a deeper purpose than just a fun or memorable experience. A recent study from Razorfish and Vice Media points to this imperative.

According to the study—one of many that indicate the unequivocal consumer hunger for brands to have more purpose—82% of consumers purchase products based on a brand’s purpose credentials. But actually becoming purposeful is a lot harder for brands: The authors of the study put forward that while many brands have accepted the charge for purpose-forward campaigns, few are actually living up to their messages. This disconnect drives the growing sentiment of purpose-washing among consumers.

It is therefore imperative that brands not only laud their purpose credentials but also authentically activate them in everything they do—externally in culture and internally in their own organizations. In other words, brands are beyond the “why” and are struggling with the “how” to tether purpose to performance.

Though consumers value brands with purpose, they are also more attuned to purpose-washing. There is a growing disenchantment with TV commercials and CEO statements around a brand’s purpose, with all age groups (not just the supposed Gen Z cynics) looking for action over words. Increasingly, they want to see the outcomes of a brand’s purpose in the real world.

The Razorfish study points to the fact that consumers actively seek out information about a brand’s purpose: 63% of consumers look to a brand’s website to gauge its purpose credentials, and 56% find it on social media. Only 51% of respondents think a brand’s advertising gives them a real picture of its purpose.

Purpose was paired with product innovation first, not advertisements about donations or platitudes of support.

It is the medium that is in trouble here. Brand purpose advertising—television spots, mostly—don’t move the needle. So if people are demanding more and more purpose out of the brands they seek out, and these brands keep putting out ineffective advertising, then new mediums for brand purpose must be adopted.

Real-world experiences are the answer. More precisely, the best way that a brand’s purpose can be explained is by activating it in the real world. Sometimes, the productization of a company’s purpose is probably the best way to actualize purpose-driven marketing. Then the advertising created around that “product” becomes the supporting medium. It’s action followed by words, and not the other way around.

Take, for instance, Microsoft’s 2019 “Changing the Game” campaign that explained the company’s work in creating an adaptive gaming controller for people with physical disabilities—it was a Global Best of the Best Award winner at the Effies. It worked because Microsoft decided to do something purposeful first, and only then talked about it.

When Covid-19 first hit in the U.S., Google lent its homepages and other big soapboxes to help spread the CDC’s “Do the Five” quarantine educational campaign. And when vaccinations reached widespread availability in March of last year, the brand created a poignant spot called “Get Back to What You Love,” which celebrated the return to a modicum of normalcy while simultaneously encouraging vaccination.

Like Microsoft, purpose was paired with product innovation first, not advertisements about donations or platitudes of support.

When the Black Lives Matter movement returned to the forefront in 2020, Google rolled out a feature that highlighted Black- and Latinx-owned businesses across its maps tool and search results. Yelp also created a new tool to allow businesses on the platform to identify themselves as Black-owned. A simple button in its app became the “how” during a moment of cultural relevancy. In other words, the brands productized their purpose of inclusion and diversity.

There is also a need for experiential campaigns to become a lot more local. A focus on communities will help the experiential marketing industry move from the old days of mass activations to targeted, intentional and locally minded campaigns and events.

Brand activation budgets are largely devoted to national campaigns with local activations in the supporting cast. This strategy should be reversed: Brand activations should be local in nature, and the emanative insights and ideas should be amplified on a national scale.

This theory is being proven out through a purpose lens. According to the aforementioned study, 40% of respondents said buying food and drinks locally became more important to them during the pandemic, while 7 in 10 rated it important or extremely important that brands give back to their local community. In other words, activating your purpose locally is a great way to make it more tangible, accessible and actual. Proximity of purpose impacts the power of purpose.

Purposeful businesses don’t profit from the creation of problems—they create profitable solutions for the problems we and our planet face. These solutions are best served as experiences in the real world and as products we can all use in our communities.