Purpose Marketing is the New Cause Marketing

Be honest. When you see a pink item for sale, what is the first thing you think? If you are like me, you think “Yikes, another breast cancer item”. The pervasiveness of the national breast cancer awareness marketing campaign is impressive in its magnitude. We can’t escape it. But has it hardened us to other cause marketing campaigns? Are we still moved by the message to buy the product or to make the donation to help the cause? Or do we just ignore it and move on because we know there will be another opportunity coming at us soon? I know that I have had that reaction.

It’s a seminal moment in cause marketing. What’s worked in the past still works for a certain juggernaut of organizations but there is no evidence that it is working or will work in the future for any other participants. A new idea is needed. But what?

I think the study that I just read provides some clues. The 2018 Cone/Porter Novelli study found that “purpose” isn’t just the latest marketing buzzword. Not only do consumers expect their favorite brands to lead with purpose, they will reward those who do in a variety of ways.

The Cone study reports that 78% of Americans believe companies must positively impact society as well as be profitable. It also found that 77% of Americans feel a stronger emotional connection to purpose driven companies over companies who engage in traditional values and strategies. There are clues here as to the future of any organization. Companies have the opportunity to build deeper bonds with customers, attract new customers and recruit dedicated followers to share their brand message. Purpose is a two-way street. It is something shared. This cannot be accomplished just by offering a specially branded product for sale in which a portion of revenue is then donated. That is a transaction, not the building blocks of shared purpose.

The Cone Study states that “purpose” is more than just a mission statement or a set of values. It defines an organization’s value in society, which allows it to grow its business and positively impact the world at the same time. Purpose should be deeply embedded within the culture of the organization and the experience delivers to consumers.

Purpose is more than a marketing campaign. There are many ways companies can authentically live and express purpose. Responsible business practices are the first and most obvious step. Nearly as important  is having strong values that guide how a company positively contributes to society. But the world needs to see it to believe it. Americans want to see how companies are showing up and making a difference in their communities and in the world.

An adopted cause should reflect a brand’s purpose. True brand believers want to see more than a pink product. They want to see the cause reflected in responsible business practices such as using recycled materials in products and maintaining an inclusive HR program. It also means involving consumers in their favorite brand’s purpose, such as a shared volunteer opportunity or a crowd-funding campaign. It is asking for cause-related feedback or user generated content. It is embedding that purpose in the brand’s DNA so that not only customers but employees, vendors, suppliers or anyone involved in the brand recognize it as an integral part of the brand. It’s the heart.

It’s time to think beyond the product. Look inward for your brand’s heart and outward for your brand’s future. Listen to your important partners. And then build your brand purpose, one that every brand believer feels in their gut and will want to engage with on a daily basis.


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