The necessity of purpose-led brands.
Consumers have the power to stand up for their beliefs. Social media provides a channel for voicing opinions. This is increasingly becoming a social norm, and heavily influencing purchasing decisions.
Many brands are struggling for competitive advantage in the context of this new norm. Their customers aren’t just making decisions based on “price” or “product”, but are now assessing what brands stand for and believe in, in terms of the human rights, moral and ethical causes they support. Sustainability, LGBT rights, racial equality, and other current affairs are frequently adopted by brands today.
Traditional purpose-led organisations
Not-for-Profit (NFP) organisations traditionally occupy this space. Save The Children, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for example, are driven by non-profitable goals that benefit society and aim to change the world for the better. Paid employees, volunteers and the people, animals or ecosystems that benefit from these organisations bring brands to life, and then there are the customers who sustain them through their donations, fundraising endeavours, and supportive actions.
However, this space is being encroached on by profitable businesses that sell products and services. For these brands it’s about giving back, while being purpose-led can also be a key driver for growth and differentiation.
Consumers act as advocates of brands they believe in
People are increasingly passionate about moral and ethical causes. Consumers will readily influence others to buy from brands which are purpose-led. Purpose-led brands are brands customers can get behind and even help to drive and develop. With the rise of the “prosumer” (Toffler, c.1970), customers co-innovate products or services, or even act as sales channel partners through social influence and word of mouth. On the flip side, consumers who disagree or are disappointed by a brand’s words or actions on a social issue are likely to complain quite publicly about it on social media, or worse still dissociate themselves from that brand altogether.
There are an increasing number of sustainable clothing companies on the market today. These companies sell products sourced from natural, sustainable materials. BAM, for example, was conceived by a man called David “on a man haul expedition across Greenland with a team of elite Gurkhas…looking out over one of the great untouched wildernesses of our planet, David realised that he wanted to create a viable and environmentally sustainable business…When [David] discovered soft and sustainable bamboo, he knew he’d found that business.” (BAM.co.uk, 2019). It makes for an inspiring story, and engaging marketing content with undisputable values that remain at the core of the business, and within the hearts and minds of the consumers who champion the brand. BAM offers a generous referral scheme, which encourages existing customers to promote the brand to their friends and families via discount codes.
TWOTHIRDS “make goods for a better future” (twothirds.com, 2021). It’s another favourite sustainable clothing company of mine. TWOTHIRDS use innovative eco-materials, and organic cotton, which have fewer negative impacts on the environment and the European farming communities involved. The company operates on a pre-order system to prevent overproduction and waste, challenging the throw-away culture in the clothing industry, generated by unethical companies such as Primark.
This goes to prove that ethical shoppers are willing to wait for their rewards too. Gone is the instant gratification of an impulse-buy. Today’s purchases can be seen as investments influenced by deeper psychological motives and quasi-altruistic behaviour. While these products are affordable, price points are by no means the lowest on the market, suggesting that consumers are willing to pay higher prices to support beliefs which they are passionate about, especially if they believe parting with their hard-earned money is reinvested for the greater good.
Chantecaille “sets a luxurious standard in the world of modern, botanical skincare and cosmetics”. They are on a mission “to use beauty as a tool to effect change in the world…by creating purposeful, obsession-worthy beauty products crafted from the purest ingredients [and creating] a philanthropy platform which shines a spotlight on global environmental issues and supports conservation efforts around the globe.” (Chantecaille.com, 2021).
Chantecaille’s “philanthropy collections” are “beauty products that give back”. It’s a philanthropy which is integrated in the products themselves as decorative motifs as well as beautiful packaging. However, only a small percentage of the large sum of money you part with as a consumer goes towards supporting endangered species, such as bees, turtles, elephants, and pangolins. (Chantecaille.com donates 5% to its partner charity). Compact foundation costs £120 and eyeshadow collections cost £333 – prices most consumers are unable to afford. This implies an exclusivity at odds with a mission to create global environmental change.
An holistic approach
As with any sustainability transition, the risk of green washing is inevitable. Many companies falsely claim to re-cycle and refurbish end-of-life products to attract ethically minded customers. (Chapman, 2021). Companies shouldn’t just attempt to shoehorn purpose into their brands. Being purpose-led is about more than donating to charity every so often or making some loose connection to a good cause. There are many brands that do this poorly. Take for instance, the latest promotional drive by Dreamies™ to support mental health within LGBT communities. For me, it’s a confusing message and has nothing to do with buying treats for cats!
Being truly purpose-led needs to be authentic, relevant and in keeping with a brand’s mission. Supporting the ideals that customers believe in, while achieving strategic goals will result in long-lasting relationships grounded in a common purpose and built around a collective sense of brand belonging. That’s good for business and translates into more sales and greater customer lifetime value.
And it’s not just in terms of the external causes that brand support. Companies should also aim to demonstrate ethical and sustainable business practises, in terms of how they treat their own “people”, and in terms of the internal “processes” that businesses deploy. Being purpose-led, should be integrated within the very fabric of an organisation’s culture and business philosophy.
Being purpose-led is important for both B2C and B2B brands and throughout the entire supply chain
For today’s consumers, transparency is also an important consideration. Customers expect to be able to trace the origins of materials used within products or feel reassured that people are receiving a fair wage for their labour, at the very least.
For example, Betts Metals supply gold to the jewellery industry. In 2018, the Betts Group launched Single Mine Origin (SMO) gold, in partnership with Hummingbird Resources: “Sourced from the Yanfolila gold mine in Mali, SMO certified gold adheres to strict CSR guidelines, so it only originates from mines with a proven track record of committed social and environmental responsibility…Batch codes and QR codes offer end-consumers a direct link to the source of the precious metal used in their purchase, as well as giving an insight into the positive impact each transaction has helped to create through local community projects.” (bettsmetalsales.com, 2020). So, while their direct customers are from the trade, they are still aware that the ultimate purchasing power rests with the end-consumer. It’s a unique proposition which adds undeniable value to their business.
Brands that are purpose-led are here to stay
For many consumers today, purchasing products and services from companies that are purpose-led is an inherent requirement. Companies that have pretentious brands that lack moral and ethical substance, pay the price in terms of corporate reputation, and ultimately in terms of their bottom line.
While businesses who foster a transparent and holistic approach to being purpose-led may require higher investment and resources, it’s evident that consumers are willing to pay higher prices and even wait longer periods of time to receive their goods. Good to know that marketing, once criticised for creating materialistic demand and supporting unethical ideologies or working practices, is now a driver for positive change around the world.
Barton, R, et al (2018) To Affinity and Beyond: From me to we, the rise of the purpose-led brand. [online]. https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/Thought-Leadership-Assets/PDF/Accenture-CompetitiveAgility-GCPR-POV.pdf (Accessed 26 July 2021).
Chapman, J. (2021) Meaningful Stuff: Design that lasts. London, The MIT Press.
BAM BAMBOO CLOTHING (©2019). Bamboo Clothing: Yoga Clothing, Base Layers, Sustainable & Soft Clothing (Accessed 27 July 2021).
TWOTHIRDS (©2021). TWOTHIRDS | We make goods for a better future (Accessed 27 July 2021).
CHANTECAILLE (©2021). Beauty That Gives Back – Chantecaille UK (Accessed 26 July 2021).
BETTS METAL SALES (©2020). https://bettsmetalsales.com/single-mine-origin-gold (Accessed 27 July 2021).