Being a Purpose-Driven Brand Takes Work. Here’s Why It’s Worth It.

phone illustrating purpose-driven brands
Published on
May 17, 2022
Written by
Brooke Burdge
Brooke is Attentive's SVP of Marketing. She spends her logged off hours on local adventures with her two dogs, scouring Pinterest for new baking recipes, and trying to keep her plants alive.
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Consumers want to know the “why” behind the brands they shop with. Building trust with shoppers means putting your brand’s purpose front and center.  

Having a good—even great—product is no longer good enough. A business made to last has to build a brand that consumers want to rally around. Increasingly, brand purpose is playing a major role in that effort. 

Consumers don’t see brand purpose as a “nice to have” anymore. It’s become expected: 82% of shoppers say they want to buy from brands whose values align with their own. Having a shared purpose is even important enough to convince consumers to make the switch from a competitor

Following consumers’ lead, many VCs and major corporations are focusing their investment efforts more in purpose-driven brands. And their bets are paying off. As one example, Unilever’s value-driven Sustainable Living Brands are growing 69% faster than the rest of their brands, ultimately driving 75% of the company’s growth. 

But, your brand’s purpose shouldn’t originate from a place of opportunity. Instead, it should be authentically felt, and thoughtfully baked into everything you do. 

As Emily Heyward, branding expert and co-founder of Red Antler, says, “Leading brands are able to form deep emotional connections because they stand for something that people care about. When I talk about brand, what I’m actually talking about is what a business stands for, at its very core.”

How have purpose-driven brands become the norm? 

Today, 86% of consumers expect brands to do their part in solving big challenges, from climate change to social justice. Supporting brands who are creating change is especially important to Millennials. 42% say they’ve picked or returned to support a brand because their products or services have a positive impact on the world. But consumers didn’t form these expectations overnight, so how did we get here? 

The best way to understand these shifting consumer behaviors is to understand how consumers’ relationship to affecting change has transformed. Over the past few years—between sweeping social justice movements and a global pandemic—our relationship to philanthropy and community has become increasingly personal and ubiquitous. 

Social media has become a hub for learning about and sharing causes with our communities, putting us in constant contact with new initiatives and fundraisers. We all probably have something that we’ve become more passionate about and engage with in our day-to-day lives (even if it’s as small as starting to bring a reusable tote to the grocery store). 

Consumers aren’t just thinking about these values—they’re putting their money behind them. Tied to this rise in awareness, we’ve moved towards a more distributed approach to philanthropy. Charitable giving is on the rise as we make one-off contributions to urgent causes, and set up recurring donations to the organizations we care most about. 

The causes we care about have become part of our identity, and this shift is informing the choices we make as consumers. We’ve come to expect DTC brands (and, increasingly, legacy retailers) to be committed to “doing good.” In fact, in our recent consumer survey, 44.1% of consumers told us that supporting a brand’s mission or values was a top-three reason for continuing to engage with a brand.

As a result, purpose-driven brands have risen in popularity. DTC companies like Rothy’s and Pura Vida Bracelets have helped shape these expectations, building their brands around sustainability and philanthropy. 

Pura Vida Bracelet's philanthropic efforts website page

And they’re not treating their purpose like a trend—they’re baking it into their business. A record number of brands have become B Corp-certified (like NAADAM and Beautycounter), meeting extremely high standards of social and environmental impact, transparency, and legal accountability.

 

Start by identifying—and getting specific about—how you’re helping create change

Your brand can’t be everything to everyone. Your brand’s purpose can’t be, either. 

When you choose too many causes to support as a brand, you run the risk of not being able to take meaningful action on it. Consumers can easily see through inauthentic brand purposes and initiatives, and talking the talk without walking the walk can ultimately do more hard than good.

So before you jump into a conversation around a social issue, you need to earn consumers’ trust by purposefully investing in a small number of issues your brand feels strongly about.  

The best way to establish (and communicate) your purpose in a genuine way is to get specific. Just like when you’re carefully considering your brand identity’s voice, tone, positioning, and design, you should hone in equally on the details of what it is that your brand stands for. 

How do I choose my brand’s purpose? 

Choose an area your team or customers are passionate about, or that your product naturally relates to, and zero in on how you can solve a specific problem or pain point contributing to that broader issue. 

For example, if sustainability emerges as a core value for your brand, you can focus your efforts more on conservation. Choose a specific region, material, plant, or animal that lies at the intersection of conservation and what your brand creates. Maybe you’ll donate a portion of your revenue to a non-profit that’s working on a solution, or maybe you’ll use your platform to build awareness and get your audience involved in your purpose.

Mattress brand Leesa is a great example of getting specific about your purpose. The brand is focused on the impact of childhood poverty on kids’ mental health and education. Instead of taking a broad approach to fighting poverty, Leesa looked at how their product category intersected with a specific issue, focusing on the concept of “bedlessness.” 

GIF of mattress brand Leesa's brand purpose and impact on helping childhood poverty

Research shows that children without access to quality sleep are 87% more likely to drop out of school, and 69% more likely to struggle with depression. Recognizing that a bed and good sleep can be truly life-changing for kids, Leesa donates one mattress for every ten they sell. The brand works with 1,000+ partners locally and nationally to execute their mission of providing children with a safe place to sleep. 

You can start small—consumers pay attention to detail 

Once you’ve identified one to two issues that matter most to your brand, you need to integrate your purpose into your core business operations. Your brand purpose shouldn’t appear in just one single area of your company—it should be reflected across everything you do. 

Incorporating your purpose into your brand doesn’t need to come with major decisions or investments, either. The “micro-decisions” you make, like shipping everything in a single package or adding a “carbon offset” charge option to your checkout flow, add up over time. 

Consumers will notice these small details and how they speak to your commitment to your purpose. Jenna Kerner, co-founder of intimates brand Harper Wilde, says “Consumers are really smart and discerning, and they’re doing the work to make sure that the brands that they’re buying from aren’t just talking about the things that they’re doing, but actually walking the walk.” 

Get your community involved in your mission 

When you’re figuring out who your brand is built for, you listen to your customers to inform your product and marketing. You should take the same approach when it comes to your brand’s purpose. 

Ask your audience to share the resources and organizations that resonate with them. Use it as an opportunity to create visibility for the issues your brand’s purpose addresses, and to deepen your audience’s engagement with them. 

If you’re working with specific communities, invite them to help shape the execution of your mission. Bringing people to the table that have lived experience with your brand’s purpose can only strengthen the initiatives you take part in. Share your platform with them, giving them an opportunity to speak directly to your audience on related issues. 

You can also get your community to actively engage with your mission through events and fundraisers. To get their audience involved ahead of Earth Day, plant brand Bloomscape donated a portion of their sales to a local non-profit organization, The Greening of Detroit. They also published a blog post educating shoppers about the work the organization does year-round. 

SMS marketing example from Bloomscape for Earth Day

Once you’ve begun the work, don’t forget to share the progress you’ve made with your community. Your audience wants to feel like they’ve made a wise decision by supporting your brand. Be transparent and share an impact update that covers the progress you’ve made, or let your audience know about the results of your partnerships with various organizations. 

As a B Corporation, Cotopaxi shares an annual impact report with consumers. It covers everything from the company’s progress on diversity and inclusion internally, to their environmental footprint and the impact of their charitable giving. The brand also spotlights organizations and causes they support that are related to their mission.   

The channels you use to share your purpose are important. Your updates shouldn’t feel self-promotional, but more authentic and conversational. SMS and community-oriented social media platforms are natural avenues to share updates about your brand’s impact or invitations to get involved. 

Consumers don’t just want to hear about your brand’s purpose. They want to actively be a part of it. Ultimately, communicating your brand’s purpose comes down to building trust. Once you build that trust, your core audience will feel more engaged. And you’ll be able to connect with new consumers on a deeper level, too, which will help create a community and drive longer-term loyalty. 

Want to learn more about building a brand consumers want to rally behind? Listen to my interview with Dear Brightly Co-Founder and CEO Amy Chiu.

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