Does Brand Purpose Actually Matter?

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By: Dr. David Bridwell, People Scientist and Jake McKenzie, Chief Executive Officer

Brand purpose has once again risen to the top of people’s radar as a result of a new study by Peter Field. But before we wrap our heads around all the many discussions surrounding the research and the responses to the research, let’s take a step back and remember what we mean by brand purpose exactly. 

Brand purpose can be defined as marketing communications that speak to a product or service in relation to something that doesn’t involve selling more of that product or service. Often brand purpose campaigns are related to an outside cause that benefits society while being unrelated to the benefits or service provided by the organization.

Now that we’ve aligned on a definition of brand purpose, let’s dive into the research findings from Peter Field in the Effworks IPA study and the reason why it’s controversial. Basically, the study showed that purpose-driven campaigns actually underperformed campaigns without purpose, with the average business effects being 1.1 and 1.6 for each respectively. This data certainly supports those who are skeptical of the impact of brand purpose. 

To further dive into the issue, they split up the high performing purpose campaigns from the lower performing purpose campaigns and looked at the key differentiators. These insights supported Peter Field’s conclusion that brand purpose skeptics were “naive and unjustified” in the critique, but many smart marketers chimed in with the flaws of the research design. Richard Shotton and many others pointed out that focusing on the best performing campaigns amounts to “cherry picking” the data for the conclusion that one was looking for. 

We’ve been enjoying lots of popcorn as we’ve watched the debate unfold. But we do think it’s worthwhile to consider the factors that contributed to successful purpose campaigns (while the science geek in us waits for further research showing whether purpose is needed in addition to these factors). Briefly, the following elements are critical to consider for a successful purpose-driven campaign:

Physical Availability. Physical availability tells us that marketing communications by themselves aren’t enough. While it’s critical to tell audiences that you exist and to develop brand assets that make you recognizable, it’s also critical that customers actually find you when they’re ready to buy. Does your product show up on the shelf? Does your website pop up in search? If not, then consumers are going to have a difficult time connecting your marketing with their purchase. 

Credible Link. Is there a credible link between the brand purpose and the product or service provided by the company? If so, then brand purpose can reinforce the direct role that your brand plays in customer’s lives. 

Strengthen Entry Points. Create a strong relationship between your brand and the moment’s in people’s lives where they think about your product or service. 

Popular purpose. Make sure that the purpose your brand supports is popular. Don’t assume that the views of niche internet communities reflect the views of the larger population. Often, they don’t. Make sure that you support a purpose that meaningfully aligns with your target market. 

At Intermark Group, we help brands discover what they stand for and we’ll help you creatively communicate that message to your audiences. Feel free to give us a call at 833-578-1314 or email us at [email protected] to discuss how we can help with your marketing challenges. In addition, sign up for our newsletter to stay in touch with the latest insights in marketing psychology.