Avoiding the Pitfalls of Purpose-Driven Marketing

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Ever heard the phrase “purpose is the new digital?” It’s the idea that purpose will fundamentally change the dynamics of brands in the marketplace, just as digital has transformed the way brands and consumers interact, purchase and sell. Purpose-driven marketing is nothing new. According to the Nielsen 2015 Global Sustainability Report, two out of three consumers now say that they will pay more for brands committed to sustainability. So it’s no wonder that this is an attractive option for brands. In the age of #MeToo and March for our Lives, consumers no longer find it acceptable for companies to sit on the sidelines when it comes to corporate social responsibility.

As tempting as it is to jump on the “purpose-driven bandwagon,” it is important to note the potential risks of sustainable branding. Purpose-driven marketing is great — when it works. Here are some possible missteps to avoid when committing to a purpose-driven marketing initiative.

1. Going Off-Brand

Too often, companies get behind causes and generate messaging that is completely off-brand. A tech company that values bringing people together across barriers through digital communication has no business aligning with animal welfare. The impact is lost on its audience. Purpose should be in the DNA of the company. To find purpose, it is essential to go back to the beginning. What is the history behind your brand? What are the brand’s core values? Consider the brand story, and a genuine purpose will emerge.

2. Misunderstanding Consumer Values

Consumers value honesty from brands. Scratch that — they demand it. Purpose-driven marketing is lost when consumers don’t feel involved with the company’s efforts. Like any other marketing initiative, transparency is key. It is better to admit a modest outcome rather than spin it. Consumers are smart enough to know your brand alone can’t save the world.

3. Inappropriate Overselling

Hey, remember the Pepsi ad? One of the most universally mocked ads of all time came across as tone-deaf to real-world issues. Whether intentional or not, appropriating a social issue for profit is a hole many brands fall down. Purpose should not be your strategy. Purpose should be so ingrained in your brand that everyone in your organization truly believes in and is proud of your company’s efforts. Purpose-driven marketing should be an honest attempt to connect with consumers on the issues that they care about, based on values that align with your brand’s mission. If you happen to bring in more business as a result — great! But that should never be a top priority. Oh, and NEVER use a tragedy as an excuse to market your brand (looking at you, Cinnabon).

4. Failing to Commit

Too often, brands make grandiose promises on one cause or another and fail to follow through. On Radley Yeldar’s 2016 List of Top 100 Companies for Social Purpose, 28 companies from the previous year fell off, including Apple. This all talk, no action trend is becoming alarmingly regular when it comes to companies and purpose. Part of the problem is that not everyone is on board with their organization’s purpose. Many employees are not even aware of their company’s efforts. For a purpose-led movement to be successful, every member of an organization must be informed, involved and excited about their company’s mission. Need an example? Look to Timberland.

As the world progresses, it is imperative that brands do, too. When a brand is committed to its purpose and its efforts are communicated tastefully, the global market will be a much better place.

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