Purpose Is The ‘New Normal’​ When It Comes To Brand Strategies

Top ad agencies across North America have begun to provide handy guides for how brands should respond and adapt to the ‘new normal’ brought on by COVID-19.

Here’s a quick summary:

  1. Online shopping is now a really big deal. If you operate a retail business and it’s not online, it should be. If you’re already selling online, you should be looking for opportunities to improve the user experience.
  2. Consumers are being extra cautious with how they spend their money. The discount sector will be a battleground and the luxury market will be for consumers with the cushion to spend. If your brand is in the middle, you need to differentiate.
  3. Health and safety for staff and customers have never been more important. People want control — control makes people feel safe. Brands that empower people and provide options like curbside pickup and contactless delivery will have an advantage.
  4. In a recession, buying ads is not enough to keep a brand healthy. As consumers tighten their spending, brands that have a clear ‘purpose’ will have strong customer relationships and be in a better position to dominate.

My article here today is about the last point in that list — that purpose-driven brands are in a better position to dominate.

I want to unpack this statement because ‘purpose’ is a popular marketing buzzword and I’m not convinced that people know exactly what it means to be a purpose-driven brand.

Let’s break it down together.

Purpose-driven brands are built and governed by a core set of beliefs and values.

An easy example of a purpose-driven brand is Patagonia. The outdoor retailer was built on the belief that brands can, and should be good stewards to our environment. This belief shapes the company from the inside out. It touches everything. From the sustainability of their clothing, to their unwavering support of environmental causes, the decisions they make everyday are rooted in their beliefs and values.

Purpose-driven brands can define what they do, and why they do it.

If you work in marketing, you know author Simon Sinek and are familiar with Start With Why, the movement he created a decade ago. The crux of his big idea is that great brands can articulate and exemplify why they exist.

On the surface, this sounds ridiculous. It should be easy for any brand to explain why it exists. But that’s not always the case and here’s a real world example.

Throughout my career, I’ve had dozens of exchanges with small business owners and CEOs that went something like this:

“Why does your company exist?”

“XYZ Company exists to make the best quality product on the market” or “XYZ Company is all about providing great service and great value”.

There are two problems with this response:

  1. These are both examples of what a brand does vs why it does it.
  2. People buy with their emotions and statements like ‘quality product’ and ‘great value’ don’t communicate empathy. They don’t rise above mediocrity to say “We understand you, we care about you, and we value the same things”.

Purpose-driven brands play the long game.

Studies show that the more differentiated a brand is compared to its rivals, the more likely it is to drive growth over time. In other words, great brands use their purpose as a point of differentiation. And when a brand does things to support their purpose, customers become advocates and word of mouth takes center stage in a long-term brand strategy.

So as you pivot and adapt to the ‘new normal’, understand that experts identify ‘purpose’ as something brands need to re-evaluate because consumer behavior is shifting and things are more competitive. And while we don’t exactly know everything the future holds, we do know that building stronger relationships with your community of customers is a safe bet that’s worth the investment.