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From Platitudes to Purpose – How COVID has unearthed a new brand imperative

23 June 2020

The last few months have seen unprecedented disruption to our economy and society. What we once took for granted, socialising, a functioning economy and freedom of movement, are now curtailed.

We are moving rapidly from pandemic to recession. As the pandemic subsides the recession looks set to deepen with many economies not yet bearing the full impact of the effects that the global lockdown has created.

During the pandemic we have seen radical changes in how consumers view brands and the role they expect them to play. It has once again catapulted the topic of purposeful branding very much to the forefront of current marketing discourse.

 

The Purpose Imperative

In basic terms, brand purpose is why a brand exists, beyond just the necessity of turning a profit.  Purpose defines the lofty ambition of the difference the brand wants to make in the lives of its customers and the wider world. But purpose is more than just words, it needs to be action orientated and become a constant signifier to the world of the values your brand upholds. Purpose gives meaning to a brand.

Although most marketers would say their organisation has a well-defined purpose, it is true that many struggle with how exactly to bring it to life. The difficulty is that purpose is often expressed as a collection of static words – rather than buying into a feeling – a shared belief or conviction based on the organisations view of the world. MCCP has worked with many leading brands in helping them uncover, define and execute their brand purpose. 

 

Commercial Payoff

If done well, the benefits of purpose are clear. Consumers no longer make decisions based on product or price but are assessing what a brand says, does and stands for – and whether it aligns with their beliefs. Global research has shown that 62% of customers now want brands to take a stand on issues like sustainability, transparency or fair employment practices. However, more than half (53%) of consumers who are disappointed with a brand’s words or actions on a social issue complain about it; and 47% walk away in frustration, with 17% never coming back.

Companies that stand for something bigger than just what they sell experience higher levels of commercial success. Unilever have seen first-hand the tangible value of making purpose a core driver of growth and differentiation. Nearly half of the company’s top 40 brands focus on sustainability. These “Sustainable Living” brands such as Knorr, Dove and Lipton, are growing 50% faster than the company’s other brands and delivering more than 60% of the company’s overall growth (Forbes)

MCCP has a strong track record of partnering with the senior leadership of brands such as FoodCloud, TU Dublin, IMI and Encirc to craft and define a brand purpose that has delivered brand growth commercial profitability. 

 

The Post COVID Consumer

Research suggests that people want brands to play an increasing role in their wellbeing and quality of life. They want brands to put back into communities and society at large – not just extract from it. For brands it means activating a sensitive emotional palette and being aware that its actions will have long term commercial implications.

Being true to who you are, or who you say you are is a new acid test for brands in the consumer mindset. Social media channels have allowed consumers to voice their opinion of brands they see falling short of their purpose.

The true art of purpose however, lies in its execution and how this is done both for the internal as well as the external brand. Many brand leaders know they need to put purpose before profit, the difficulty is how exactly to do it. MCCP are experts in helping brands define the best way to leverage its purpose and use it as a source of advantage. This will become an even greater priority especially as we enter a challenging market environment.

 

So, what do brand owners need to do to create and sustain brand purpose?

What can business do to help society through purpose? As COVID is primarily a humanitarian crisis, saving lives must be the immediate concern which means that normal business rules no longer apply and should be at the least suspended or perhaps rediverted. The following maps out the step-by-step process in uncovering and delivering effective brand purpose.

  • Build your brand purpose from the inside out. This starts with an honest internal discussion, probing areas such as: how do you feel about our brand, its effect on our consumers and the wider world? What difference do we want to make? What's guiding us? What's motivating us? Begin these dialogues and go from there. Follow the energy. If employees do not buy into the purpose effort then it is destined to fail.
  • Involving employees fosters collective ownership, colleagues need to be able to link on-purpose attitudes and actions with rewards and recognition, it’s not just “what you do”, but “how you do it” that counts.
  • Purpose should act as a constant lens through which all brand activity is organised and delivered. Brand purpose is not simply a communications tactic that is rolled out at an opportune moment, it is something that is demonstrated rather than communicated.
  • Leadership in the organisation need to “walk the talk” and role model actions and behaviours. If leadership can’t deliver on the brand purpose, why should the business expect others to follow?

 

Closing Thoughts

For many brands purpose will play a central role not just for now but even more so when we fully emerge from lockdown.  Consumers will have lasting memories of brands that acted for the greater good and helped them to deal with the everyday realities of the crisis.

We are all still in the eye of the storm of the COVID war effort and need to act for the greater good. Where once the mantra of business might have been doing things right at the moment and for the foreseeable future the actions of brands very much needs to be doing the right things for consumers and society at large.

Get in Touch with MCCP

As part of our upcoming series Navigate with Clarity, MCCP will be tackling some of the issues outlined above that will have a direct bearing on how brands implement and execute its purpose. We will use our consumer expertise to get you closer to the thoughts and beliefs that will influence buying behaviour over the coming months. Please contact Declan declan@mccp.ie or meetus@mccp.ie to get involved.

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