Can purpose driven brands be effective

Written by Carl West

Can purpose driven brands be effective

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or Environmental Social Governance (ESG) whatever you call it, the idea of positioning brands as ‘purpose driven’ is a divisive topic, so to avoid the ‘profit and purpose are enemies’ narrative, I’m offering a viewpoint from years working with national and international brands, most of whom were successful without being purpose driven, very few were successful from positioning on environmental or societal impact.

Get market orientated to help make choices. CSR or ESG is about strategy, and strategy is about choices. To inform your choices, you need to build an understanding of the value your customers place on the quality, performance, price, or availability of your product, versus your positive impact on societal or environmental aspects.

From personal experience, marketers and business leaders overestimate the commercial value of placing CSR or ESG pivotal to their brand strategy, and underestimate the sacrifices required for being a purpose driven brand…a whiff of fashionable hypocrisy perhaps.

Intent often doesn’t equate to action. Marketers and business owners must consider that consumer intent for purchasing based on environmental or societal benefits, frequently doesn’t follow through to actions. Open your bathroom cabinet or your wardrobe and ask yourself honestly, how many of the brands you see were purchased because of their positive stance on equality and diversity, workers’ rights, the planet etc? The reality is that purchase decisions are influenced far more by mental availability, perceived superiority, price, physical accessibility for the product in retail environments and so on.

Brands miss the point. Being a purpose driven brand is not about cashing in, it’s about costing you, often money, always sacrifices. It's empty noise for brands to talk about the changes they want to bring about, they must demonstrate they are deeply aligned with the cause if they want to effectively leverage this aspect in their brand strategy.

An unwelcome distraction. The marketing industry is obsessed with shiny new things…VR, AI, Metaverse. Purpose driven branding is potentially one of those unwelcome distractions from deploying effective brand management which markets products that don’t harm the environment, which achieve premium prices, generate profits, create employment, and benefit local economies.

In summary, CSR, ESG or being purpose driven should be about impact not outcome. As a default, and within their resources, brands should always be trying to do the right things for their people, their communities, and the environment, for no recognition. The choice isn’t should you or shouldn’t you, it’s about how pivotal to your brand strategy you place it.

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