3 Tips to Help Build and Sustain Brand Purpose

Taking a stand and building your business don’t need to be mutually exclusive

Technology can be a double-edged sword. While it has succeeded in creating amazing advances, it also can make it more challenging for brands to connect with consumers on a human, personal level.

These new marketplace dynamics have left many brands scrambling and haphazardly introducing new technologies and ways of working. Unfortunately, they often overlook one important foundational imperative—brand purpose.

Brand purpose is about going back to basics. It’s about determining what your brand stands for and how it helps society at large, as well as ensuring that every decision from internal employee engagement to product development to external marketing and communications supports that belief. With trust of brands at an all-time low and consumers bombarded with more choices than ever before, it can be important for brands to take a stand.

Whether you are an established brand or just getting started, here are three tips for marketers about building and sustaining brand purpose.

1. Determine what matters to your audience

Over 80% of US consumers say they are more likely to trust and be loyal to brands that are mission-driven, and 64% say a company’s primary purpose should be making the world better.

With this in mind, you need to use research to understand what matters to your audience and then map those findings against the products and services you offer. Your mission must be authentic to who you are and what you offer as a brand.

For example, Axe, a men’s grooming brand that targets young males, conducted research and learned that half of all men have been told they need to act a certain way. On top of that, three out of four have been criticized for the way they look. The brand used this insight to establish a mission that seeks to put an end to bullying. This mission works because of the role Axe’s products play in the lives of their customers—making users smell good and in turn feel good.

2. Have a point of view

It’s like your mom always said, not everyone is going to like you. But if you find friends that share similar values and then work on building those relationships, you will have friends that stick it out till the end.

The same lesson can be applied to brands. Once a brand figures out what it stands for, it needs to come to peace with the fact that there will be detractors no matter what.

At The Weather Company, an IBM business, the mission has always been to help keep people safe and informed with the world’s most accurate forecasts. Core to this mission is the belief that data and technology must be used responsibly to serve others.

We know that our users have different perspectives on environmental issues. We have found that as the planet warms, there can be an increase in severe weather, floods and droughts and that those events can reduce the planet’s capacity to sustain a clean water supply.

Because it’s core to our mission to use data and tech for good, we decided to take advantage of our connection with consumers and help raise awareness and inspire action in support of clean water access.

On June 5, 2019, World Environment Day, we temporarily turned our brand from The Weather Channel to The Water Channel and encouraged users to visit The Weather Channel app or weather.com to unlock clean water donations for those in need. We knew that taking this stand might alienate some of our audience, but we felt that it was more important to be true to our mission.

The campaign resulted in social buzz, strong external and internal audience engagement and even an increase in our Net Promoter Score. Most importantly, it proved that brand purpose and profits are not mutually exclusive.

3. Walk the walk

In addition to identifying a relevant and authentic purpose, it can be important that your brand’s mission be woven into every decision made within your organization and all marketing activities. If it’s not, consumers will see it as just a surface level promotion.

Unilever is a great example of a company that has gone all-in and put its mission of sustainability at the heart of its business model. To show that it meant business, CMO Keith Weed shut down the corporate social responsibility department so that it wouldn’t be siloed and set a goal of having all of its agricultural products sourced sustainably by 2020.

The decision put the company well on its way to having 65% of its products sourced sustainably. On top of that, Unilever is seeing sustainable brands grow 46% faster than its other brands and deliver 70% of its growth.

With increasing business pressures, putting mission over other priorities might not be an easy concept for business leaders to grasp, especially since it could mean taking a short-term loss in favor of a long-term gain.

One of the best things you can do as a steward of your brand is first and foremost listen to your customers. Then, internally showcase your wins and use data to demonstrate that purpose can indeed help achieve business goals.

Randi Stipes is CMO of IBM Watson Media and Weather, a position she has held since 2018. In her role, she takes an agile, data-driven approach to deliver measurable results for clients across the organization.