There’s a phenomenon currently sweeping through the marketing industry that has left executives at some of your most favorite brands totally inundated. The funny thing about this phenomenon—is that most customers of the brands (maybe even yourself) involved in it not only appreciate—but celebrate the fact that the brands they support are part of it—which only adds to the anxiety levels of the execs that aren't part of the phenomenon.
This phenomenon that I’m referring to is called “Purpose Marketing.”
Recently, purpose marketing came under fire after Procter & Gamble (P&G) chief brand officer, Marc Pritchard, while speaking at Vivatech—suggested that brands participating in purpose marketing may be sacrificing brand growth—despite the fact that consumers have more of an appreciation for brands that practice purpose marketing.
Pritchard’s comments fueled an ongoing debate in the marketing industry on the actual potency of purpose marketing.
But what exactly is purpose marketing? And why does it cause such turmoil amongst so many brand executives even though most consumers are in favor of it? Most importantly, should your brand be one of its participants? Let's delve in and answer all of those questions.
What is purpose marketing?
Purpose marketing (also known as cause marketing) is a form of marketing (primarily advertising) which focuses on brands conveying purpose-motivated actions to an audience as opposed to highlighting the brand's products or services.
Brands that utilize purpose marketing are often viewed more favorably by their target audience for helping to make the world a better place.
An example of purpose marketing is the 2018 Emmy Award-winning ad from Procter & Gamble titled “The Talk.” The ad features multiple African–American women from different time periods having heartfelt conversations with their children about how to respond whenever they encounter racism.
Procter and Gamble’s objective for the ad was to ignite awareness of the impact that racism has on society while also encouraging inclusion. Needless to say, the ad was lauded by the majority of those that saw it. The ad helped improve P&G’s image around the world to be viewed as a corporation that cares about society.
Purpose marketing is usually well-received by most audiences because the ads typically address social stances that most people tend to agree with and think are just.
Why does it cause such turmoil for brand execs?
Very seldom will a marketing executive—or any C-suite executive for that matter, come across a tool that builds brand favorability because it's so popular amongst the brand’s consumer base—but also causes so much turmoil on whether or not to utilize it.
Unfortunately, purpose marketing is definitely one of those tools.
Purpose marketing evokes so much turmoil due to the fact that—while utilizing it is usually a popular decision that helps a brand become viewed more favorably by its consumer base—it also cuts into the brand's precious marketing budget—extracting resources that could be directed towards creating awareness for products or services—as opposed to social or environmental issues.
“The marketing community has stepped up to focus on community impact. They’ve stepped up on equality and inclusion and now sustainability," said Marc Pritchard while speaking at Vivatech. "But the industry in general has just gone too far into the good and potentially not paying enough attention to growth.”
Pritchard’s assertion highlights the dilemma that many brand executives are now encountering in an era where consumers have an expectation for certain brands that they support to take a stance and speak out on social and environmental matters that are of interest to them.
Should your brand utilize purpose marketing?
According to a study published in Forbes:
87% of consumers will have a more positive image of a brand that supports social or environmental issues.
While 92% of consumers will be more likely to trust a company that supports social or environmental issues.
These statistics make it difficult for marketing executives to easily dismiss the possibility of their brand participating in purpose marketing—regardless of how compelling Pritchard’s points about it possibly slowing brand growth may be.
So, just how to determine whether or not your brand should participate in purpose marketing is the question. The answer to that question is contingent on how you’d like your brand to be viewed by your audience. For example:
A brand like the California-based beverage company Generosity Water, whose image involves connecting with consumers to a deeper degree than the average brand due to the fact that Generosity Water pledges that for every product it sells—the company would fund a project that helps those affected by the clean water crisis—is definitely a brand that should participate in purpose marketing.
Primarily because the brand’s target audience already views the brand as one that is philanthropic. In fact, many people support the brand for that reason alone. Therefore, if an environmental issue were to arise—like the U.S. ending its ban on offshore drilling—the brand’s consumer base would expect Generosity Water to speak out against it through various media channels.
Similarly, the same would be expected for a brand like Nike—whose image is considered the gold standard by many brand marketers as it was developed through connecting with its audience on a deeper level. Nike is so much more than just the products it sells.
Nike is an emotional brand, and people expect emotional brands to have a voice.
If a social injustice occurred in a country where Nike does a great deal of business—consumers would want the brand to use its power to right that wrong.
That's because the brand connects with its audience on an emotional level—which plays a major role in its appeal and why the company has millions of committed customers around the world.
However, for a brand like the California-based fast-food chain In-N-Out Burger, there’s really no need for the brand to participate in purpose marketing due to the fact that the chain’s main selling points are its food and customer service.
In-N-Out Burger has never attempted to connect with its audience on an emotional level—nor has it claimed to be more than a great fast-food restaurant chain. Besides causing their customers to experience happiness due to their burgers, fries, and shakes tasting so good—the brand is doing great without trying to evoke a deep emotional attachment from its audience.
If you want your brand to connect with your audience on a level deeper than the products or services that you offer, and if your marketing budget permits—you should certainly participate in purpose marketing.
However, if your aim is for your brand to only be perceived by your audience as simply transactional, and you only care to focus on selling your products or services—while also avoiding any controversy that may result from your brand taking a stance publicly—you'd probably be better off staying away from purpose marketing.