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  • Writer's pictureCarolyn Butler-Madden

Seven mistakes in approaching brand purpose

Updated: Mar 24

If you’re responsible for marketing a brand to consumers today, there’s a good chance that some of you will be working through at least one of the following problems, if not all three of them:

  1. Your market doesn’t really care about your brand, which is why so many people today buy on ‘price’.

  2. You need a strategy to reach the Millennial market. You understand that Millennials expect more depth and authenticity from brands. The problem is, how do you deliver this?

  3. The number crunchers in your business demand immediate results. This push for sales today limits your opportunity to build more relevant values and attributes around your brand. It forces you to focus your efforts on short-term tactical activities to drive immediate sales.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

If these problems resonate with you, then you’re probably already well aware of the value of brand purpose in tackling the first two problems. You’re probably thinking though that it’s a big undertaking and there is no guarantee of success. And that it’s a long-term strategy that won’t generate the short-term sales that your team need to deliver. Besides all of that, you would need a big media budget and how do you justify that kind of investment in a strategy that’s not going to deliver immediate results?

Let’s also not mention some of the high profile ‘purpose fails’ we’ve seen in the marketing and mainstream press recently. That fear of failure is enough to stop many a good marketer in their well-intentioned tracks.

Well if you’re having some or all of these thoughts, you’re not alone. Many marketers are working through these same considerations. But there’s an important piece in this thinking that is missing. Marketers need to think less about what their brand can say about itself in order to be relevant and start thinking more about what their brand can contribute to the world we live in.

There’s a big difference. The former way of thinking is rooted in the 20th century advertising model which involves an expectation that the consumer just sits there passively, listening while you tell them all about your brand. It amazes me how much of this thinking still exists.

When was the last time you purchased a brand because of its advertising (unless it was for a special offer)?

The latter approach – what a brand can contribute to the world authentically – offers an active opportunity to solve real-world problems that need solutions.

Which approach do you think is going to inspire people and create followers, supporters and collaborators who eagerly share your content?

Let’s take a deeper dive. Those three major problems that I highlighted usually stem from a lack of development in seven key areas.

  1. The absence of a simple-to-implement strategy for building a more meaningful and purposeful brand. This common mistake is based on a misconception that purpose is exclusively about your brand positioning and what you say about your brand. It entirely misses the opportunity that brands can start behaving with purpose by aligning with a cause (that has a credible association with their brand proposition) and taking action. Pampers 1 pack = 1 vaccine campaign started life as a simple Christmas promotion back in 2006 and continues as a world-changing program today.

  2. A lack of support and unity across the business about what your brand stands for. Without the buy-in and enthusiasm of your leadership team and the rest of the business, you’re going to struggle to build a brand with depth and authenticity that people care about. A big goal around a cause can inspire and unify your colleagues like little else can.

  3. Lacking a realistic marketing solution that drives brand health and, simultaneously, unlocks short-term sales. Cause marketing, when done well, can tackle both of these needs simultaneously but is rarely considered as a marketing solution because:

​- it sits in the realm of corporate partnerships and is seen as a cost to the business; and - there is a lack of awareness here in Australia on its successful use as a strategic marketing platform

  1. ​ An absence of collaboration opportunities for your consumers. Some of the world’s best campaigns involve collaboration between brand and consumer – for example Airbnb Australia's 'Until we all belong' campaign for marriage equality. And for good reason… Consumers believe they could do more to support good causes by working together with brands. They also want brands to make it easier for them to make a positive difference.* Brands that recognise this are providing those opportunities to consumers and through collaboration models, they’re earning the attention and trust of consumers.

  2. Lacking content that is positive, inspiring and newsworthy. So much content today is driven by price and promotion. That works fine from a tactical perspective, but it does nothing to build your brand in the hearts and minds of people. A cause, community or purpose-led marketing approach can unearth a treasure trove of stories. And we’re not just talking stories about the beneficiaries of the cause. If you have a campaign or program with a good collaboration model, it can also stimulate people to tell and share their own stories of their experience with the campaign or even your brand. Patagonia's "Worn Wear" campaign is a good example of a program that encourages people to share their own stories.

  3. Not having a strategy that enables you to leverage all available assets. In today’s media environment, marketers have to be smarter about how they communicate and look to non-traditional media channels. Partners, supporters, suppliers and other stakeholders all have assets that a business can leverage – databases, social media followers, physical assets, etc. You just need an inspiring reason for them to want to join forces with you and allow you to leverage their assets.

  4. A lack of meaningful data to justify marketing investment in a purpose-led strategy. Metrics are the key to learning and optimising the performance of your marketing campaign or program. In the absence of meaningful metrics, you’re going to struggle to make a strong business case for investment in a purpose-led marketing strategy. A cause marketing campaign can be a good starting point to establishing the commercial and social value of a purpose-led approach.

It’s a tough gig marketing to consumers in today’s environment. Being aware of these mistakes and their related opportunities will enable you to consider new and different ways to approach your brand marketing and pull ahead from the rest of the 20th century-thinking pack.

My book - 'Path to Purpose' - due for release in October this year explores this subject in more depth.

*Edelman Good Purpose Study: 71% of people believe brands and consumers could do more to support good causes by working together. 63% want brands to make it easier for them to make a positive difference.


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Carolyn Butler-Madden is the founder and CEO of Sunday Lunch | a brand consultancy specialising in cause, community and purpose-led marketing

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