The players, the sceptics, and why brands looking to put meaning behind the messaging must collaborate with audiences and pick their purpose accordingly…  

Once upon a time, the only thing people expected from brands was products and services they loved: Clothes that fitted. Phones that worked. Food with nice packaging. Basically, stuff.

Not so anymore. In today’s unsettled times, young audiences invest in brands that have a conscience. Brands with morals. Brands that care. They expect brands to give a sh*t. They want brands to listen to what they care about. And care about it too. In short, in 2017 brands without a moral purpose are dead in the water.

Since the phenomenal success of Tom’s Shoes’ ‘Buy a Pair, Give a Pair’ campaign, marketing managers have cottoned on to the fact that ‘purpose’ is a whole new channel through which to engage. The result is that brands have become like super heroes: Nobly fighting injustices, standing up for what’s right and bravely protecting those in peril. ‘Doing good’ has become the new norm, and leveraging a moral or social purpose into operations – investing in causes and shaping marketing campaigns around changing the world for the better – is big business.

But is it enough? In a new world where brands are like political parties – being judged just as much on their policies as their products – is jumping on a moral bandwagon still going to cut it? The progressive brands are those that properly engage with their audiences, discover the issues that affect their worlds, and take pertinent actions that really resonate.

 The players

When it comes to moral purpose, everyone’s at it. Since Unilever CEO Paul Polman spoke out in 2011 about the importance of mission-led brands (“Winning alone is not enough, it’s about winning with purpose…”), the Anglo-Dutch consumer giant has been firmly committed to driving change. And it’s worked. Marketing Week reported that Unilever’s ‘Sustainable Living’ brands (including Ben & Jerry’s and Dove), grew 50% faster than the rest of its business last year – with these brands now accounting for 60% of total sales growth. Unilever has also released data to say 33% of adults would buy a product from a brand because they believe it is doing social or environmental good – equating to an opportunity of $817bn. Juicy!

And with a report by Mediacom telling us that 40% of consumers have either abandoned or never tried a brand because of its values or behaviours, it’s no wonder that all the major names are bidding to become players in this space. While retail giants like Tesco and M&S are tackling food waste, smaller fashion brands like Vitae and Roma Boots are supplying school uniforms to children in Africa and donating a pair of wellies to those in need for every pair sold (sound familiar?).

 The sceptics

As ever, people are sceptical to the melee of moral messages. Do the marketeers at the heart of these social purpose campaigns have dollar signs in their eyes? Do brands really care? Or is it a fad, full of hollow sentiment, aimed at engaging millennials. According to a report by the Endelman Trust, 65% of young consumers think companies overstate their environmental credentials, while 45% are sceptical about the causes brands support.

It’s hardly a surprise that millennials and gen Z aren’t taken in – hook, line and sinker – by moral marketing. This sceptical, media-savvy, empowered and super-informed generation are the very people at the heart of pushing brands to be more ethical, so it stands to be reason that they should be the ones who would also demand there is some integrity, authenticity and real action behind the messaging.

 Co-created purpose 

According to a Fit for Purpose report by the London agency, Radley Yelder, which detailed 2016’s top 100 purpose-focused brands, 83% of mission-led organisations instil a strong sense of collaboration into their operations – either with competitors, employees or their customers.

When Tesco launched its food waste campaign, its chief executive Dave Lewis told Marketing Week how the company’s new ethical focus was principally driven by customer expectation. With customers at the heart of the purpose drive, it makes sense that brands should involve them in the purpose process – informing their campaigns with detailed insight, and allowing their audiences to co-create those campaigns with them. If a brand really wants to address the most relevant causes that resonate with its customers, it needs to understand what those causes are, how audiences feel about them, and the best ways to involve people in taking action. See our Purpose Power toolkit below for the best ways to engage your customers around the causes that have meaning for them.

 Purpose power toolkit: Five ways to engage your customers by co-creating your brand mission…

  1. Back insight-driven causes. Ask your customers about the global issues that they really care about in order to inform your social purpose campaigns. Supporting causes that resonate with your audience will drive larger engagement.
  2. Co-create your campaigns. Involve your customer communities in the creation of your campaigns, with real people’s opinions and co-created content. Audience collaboration drives meaning and authenticity
  3. Take action. As more and more brands put social purpose at the heart of their marketing, millennials are becoming increasingly sceptical of empty promises. Messaging is not enough, brands must take tangible action to follow up on the slogans.
  4. Involve your community. Social purpose campaigns which deploy mechanics that give customer communities the opportunity to really get involved with the good work that is being done, are all the more powerful, tangible and authentic.
  5. Measure your results. Campaigns that are backed by real results drive more meaning with customers. A campaign should be designed so that the data relating to its beneficiaries can easily be captured and communicated. The number of people helped by a brand campaign is a powerful message.


Written by our friends at Bulbshare  This blog first appeared on on 2 November 2017.