Perplexed By Purpose: What Brands Get Wrong

Purpose is one of marketing’s trendiest buzzwords lately, and a new study from Kantar Consulting shows that it’s for good reason, with purpose-led brands growing at twice the rate of those without. But Leslie Pascaud, Kantar’s executive vice president of purpose branding and sustainable innovation says the big surprise is that while “generally speaking, people think purpose is a great thing, they don’t really know what it is.” She fills Marketing Daily in on the details of the research, based on more than 20,000 consumers and 100 interviews with execs at leading brands. 

Q. First, let’s talk about growth. You report that those with a higher sense of purpose have seen brand valuation rise 175% in a 12-year period, compared with a median growth rate of 86%, and a growth rate of 70% for brands that have a lower sense of purpose. Could you give us an example of one of these high-performing brands?



A. IKEA is a great example, with its purpose of creating a better everyday life for people. It’s a company that doesn’t talk about it much, but it’s executed very carefully. The stores are welcoming to families, the energy is positive, the furniture is\ accessible. It’s translated into everything from engineering to marketing. 

Q. What is it that confuses brands about purpose?

A. They conflate purpose with mission, or else they think it sits in the corporate sustainability and responsibility silo. And even when they are relatively clear on what purpose is–a more aspirational, inspirational reason to be– they are struggling with how to make it meaningful. About 76% of marketing leaders we interviewed say their organization has a defined purpose, but only 10% have a written statement backed by a meaningful activation plan.

Q. Does purpose always fuel growth, though? I keep thinking of VW, a brand that most people might say served a purpose of helping people drive more efficiently. After Diesel-gate, that purpose was exposed as fraud. People should have fled. But sales are up. Why?

A. I don’t have an answer. If I had to guess, I’d say that its purpose was a really long, important part of its history. It was well established. Then VW made a colossal mistake, but because of its historic purpose, perhaps people came back.

Q. Since we’re talking about PR blunders that undercut a brand’s purpose, what do you think about Starbucks? It is supposed to stand for hospitality and inclusivity—this recent gaffe negates that promise. 

A. Yes. And in a business where every single consumer interaction matters, the ramifications of something like this are massive. In the case of Starbucks, I think you have to give it credit for responding so fast. What’s important to notice is that when something threatens a brand’s purpose, the reaction comes to, or seems to come from the top, and that’s critical.

Ritz Carlton, another example I like, has a purpose of ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. The staff are equal to all they serve, and that commitment is brought to life throughout the organization. The purpose comes from leadership, but it is delivered by every single employee.

Q. Conventional wisdom says that purpose matters most to Millennials. Is that true in your research, too?

A. Yes, but I think it’s important to point out purpose matters to everybody, including 62% of Baby Boomers. It goes up for Gen X, up again for Millennials, and by the time you reach Centennials, it’s 84%. These young people are the biggest growth engine for brands, and they’re very demanding.

Q. When we look at all the social-media brand furor of the last 18 months, it might be easy to assume purpose, and what brands stand for, didn’t matter as much before social media. Is that true?

A. I would argue that it has always mattered–look at the good old days of brands like the Body Shop, Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s. But there is no doubt social media has made the importance of being clear and consistent exponentially more important. 

Q. What’s the right way for brands to convey their purpose?

A. Many brands spend way too much time trying to articulate their purpose, and nowhere near enough time executive it. They should spend 20% of their effort on the words, and 80% making sure they deliver on that purpose.

1 comment about "Perplexed By Purpose: What Brands Get Wrong".
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  1. James Smith from J. R. Smith Group, April 20, 2018 at 3:14 a.m.

    I'm not sure the Kantar interview successfully differentiated a good consumer-centric "mission statement" versus "brand purpose."

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