Aligning Purpose with Consumer Engagement - Takeaways from Sustainable Brands 2016

I came to this work, like many of us, via a twisted path whereby over the past many years I’ve found myself entrenched in everything consumer marketing; from shopper, to experiential, to mobile video, to Influencer/WOM and everything in-between. As such, I’ve been in a unique position to reflect on and help shape the variety of ways brands choose to strategically engage with audiences.

When I joined in January, I jumped at the chance to focus more specifically on purpose aligned work. Companies are starting to bridge the gap between the good they do in the world and the messaging they deliver to drive purchase intent. Ultimately this can put a brand in a position, not only to make a difference, but to simultaneously leverage their unique voice to build consumer trust and hopefully along the way, deepen loyalty.

I had the distinct pleasure of attending Sustainable Brands in San Diego on behalf of this year. This was our first time at the event, but with a hashtag like #activatingpurpose, we knew we needed to check it out; especially since we’ve been on a crusade over the past six months to (re)introduce brands and their agencies to the platform through the lens of consumer engagement, and precisely: As a place to Activate Purpose.

According to a forthcoming report by Globescan and BBMG 55% of people globally are unable or unwilling to name a company with a strong purpose. Over the past six months we’ve sat with brand marketing teams, corporate comms, CSR and agency partners across areas of practice to get a better understanding of the decision making structure of these organizations as it relates to messaging consumers around purpose aligned work. More times than not, we are surprised to find that this work can be completely siloed.

With most companies still focusing outward-facing resources primarily on the bottom line and little else, brands with a strong purpose might find themselves missing out. During countless conversations over the 4 day Sustainable Brands event, I heard “Purpose” as brand platform frequently referred to as a “tiebreaker” in the case where two brands offer similar products at a similar value. According to Nielsen 66% of global consumers say they’re willing to pay more for sustainable brands and 73% of global millennials are willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings. Not only will consumers pay more for products if those products are positioned to elevate purpose (most of the research points to an extremely strong business case for this work), there is a real opportunity for brands to harness the power of their own influence and affect tangible positive change in the world via their brand positioning.

6 out of 10 people (62%) across 21 countries said they believe it is the responsibility of companies to act with this broader purpose according to the forthcoming Globescan and BBMG research. With persistent low levels of trust in global companies and growing consumer support for regulations on business, there is a real need for corporate torchbearers. When EY asked brand leaders about purpose 88% of respondents claim they have a purpose but only 40% believe it is activated.

So how does a brand activate its purpose and how can that be leveraged to support consumer engagement efforts? The conclusion: With Authenticity. We heard Unilever’s Global Brand Director on Vaseline share some of the ways they are building purpose into their overarching brand messaging. Vaseline has done outstanding work via their Vaseline Healing Project program, not only by elevating the real issue of the global refugee crisis to households across the world, but by evaluating their distinct value proposition and making their product part of the solution. Taking that a step further, they are amplifying their messaging through their consumer-facing marketing efforts and allowing their end users to engage in their purpose work by providing them with an opportunity to create and donate a relief kit (with Vaseline) right from their microsite.

When consumers see a brand take a stance on an issue and put the full power of their marketing machines behind it, they will take note and if compelled, they will take action. While CSR identifies the solution and execution to some degree, marketing still has to drive the viewability and amplification of purpose-aligned efforts. Combined they have the power to incite dialogue, engagement and ultimately affect behavior change. I am reminded of countless examples that we’ve seen on the platform, from Seventh Generation taking a stand (yes, as a brand) and using public support to reform the Toxic Substance Control Act to Taco Bell taking the leap and replying to a user started petition by announcing they’d lead the QSR pack on Cage-Free eggs. Consumers want to invest in purpose, and brands that listen are responding (loudly)...and winning.