April 7, 2022 / Thought Leadership

Brand Purpose Is Like Using Shampoo

Andrew Velichansky, Brand Supervisor 

Most brands nowadays have defined their “Purpose.” Beautifully cast in size-64pt font on a cardstock hand-out given to everyone at the corporate office. Two weeks later, it ends up in a Waste Management truck and forgotten until the next annual company meeting where it shows up on the “agenda” slide. 

Box: Checked.

It’s not ill-intentioned. We’re busy, and accountable to hit numbers that are black, not red, no matter how we get there.

But, if an organization is solely focused on selling products or growing share, it’s leaving a lot of value on the table.

What is a brand’s purpose?

It’s its reason for being—the why it exists. A north star that guides the whole organization, inside and out.

We make decisions daily: Is the new product viable? Do we support the social cause? Will the job candidate drive us in the right direction? Having a north star focuses every decision, giving clarity and meaning for employees, customers and beyond. Think: Does the outcome of this decision align with our purpose?

Why do brands need a purpose?

Because without it, they sell commodities and employ uninspired people. 

Take socks and shoes. Common goods, and with too many known (and unknown) brands to count. How was Bombas able to surpass $100MM in revenue in 2018 selling socks in such a highly fragmented market? Their brand purpose is clearly and demonstratively rooted in helping to clothe those in need, donating one pair of socks for each sale. Toms shoes was an early leader in that business model. Comfortable and aesthetic socks and shoes were cost-of-entry. Rooting their commodities in a larger purpose let them break through and scale.

Brand purpose doesn’t end at philanthropy. CVS boldly stopped selling profitable tobacco products in 2014. Their redefined purpose to “Bring our heart to every moment of your health” led them to ditch tobacco products and launch their “Start to Stop” program to help people quit smoking. Weeding out products that didn’t support their purpose freed up space to innovate and sell ones that did. A short-term sacrifice, but long-term bottom-line driver.

Ask Unilever, which reported in 2019 that its purpose-led, sustainable brands (Ben & Jerry’s, Vaseline, Dove, among many others) grew 69% faster than the rest of their business. And a 2019 study by Deloitte uncovered that purpose-driven companies grow three times faster than their competitors. 

The bottom line is better for it, and so are the employees.

The Great Resignation agitated the labor market, sending companies scrambling to adapt their culture and benefits to be more talent-friendly. Businesses are still struggling with retention. Yes, we want money. But that’s not all.

According to a 2021 McKinsey study, employees are more than five times more likely to feel fulfilled when their purpose aligns with their employers’. Two-thirds of millennials consider an employer’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work.

Gen-z is already a core part of the workforce and realizes the power brands have in driving DE&I. They’ll orchestrate brand boycotts. They’ll spike viral sales. And they aren’t afraid to resign from purposeless product-driven companies. They want to feel they’re impacting people, and they want the companies they work for to use their position of financial strength to make peoples’ lives better.

How do we put it into action?

Building a purpose takes time. It’s an ongoing commitment from R&D, HR, marketing, finance, production, and operations. It takes months to develop a meaningful initiative. It takes years to build an authentic purpose backed by substance. And it takes leadership that recognizes the significance of embracing that purpose every day.

We’ve worked with clients to both lay the foundation, and also help those with established purposes find authenticity by crawling, walking and eventually running toward that north star. What does the Defiantly Human methodology look like?

Take our client, Liberty Bank, where we:

  • Hosted a series of stakeholder interviews to uncover how their employees viewed the organization’s new mission/vision, and what role they saw the bank playing for customers and the broader community. 
  • Landed on a positioning and tagline that embraced who they were at their core and addressed the larger purpose they needed to serve: Be Community Kind.
  • Led a set of employee ideation groups to brainstorm products, services, events, hiring/onboarding programs, community relationship building, and much more, all through the lens of Be Community Kind.
  • Concepted and helped execute surprise & delight initiatives, including a new brand ambassador program focused on rewarding and paying everyday kindness forward in spontaneous ways.

The secret to building lasting, institutional purpose in an organization? Involve everyone. The whole company–all levels, all departments. Workshops and ideation groups without guardrails–ignore budget, timing, and current products and services. That’s when the ideas really flow. It’s easier to take a big idea back down to earth than the other way around.

Most importantly: It’s not a project. Or a task force. Or CSR. It’s a philosophy that requires an ongoing, honest review to ensure everything we do points us toward that north star.

Ideate, evaluate, act. Lather, rinse, repeat.