8 Attributes of Purposeful Brands

By Ken Beaulieu


It has become rather trendy to question — or even speak out against — the value of brand purpose. That mountain of studies from trusted sources about consumers preferring to support, buy from, and work for purpose-led brands? Overblown and misleading, the skeptics say. The idea that a deeply embedded purpose can drive business strategy and operations, improve organizational culture, and lead to solutions that address societal issues? Perhaps, but at what cost to the business in time and effort? The notion that purpose can spur sales, business growth, and competitive advantage? Oh, please.

Purpose is far from a Holy Grail when organizations fail to make it a priority from the C-suite on down, and for many companies, the challenges of executing purpose successfully often are too onerous to overcome. However, it would be imprudent to dismiss the extensive evidence pointing to the game-changing nature of an authentic and actionable purpose, from quantitative/qualitative data and case studies to white papers and peer-reviewed articles.

Strong consideration also must be given to the perspectives of leaders at top purpose brands and the partners with whom they engage to create and activate a brand's purpose journey (e.g., agencies, consultancies, academics). Indeed, they are in the best position to separate fact from fiction, perception from reality, and make the strongest business case for purpose.

To that end, here are eight attributes of purpose-driven brands, based on the opinions of people who would know best.

1. Embrace the challenge of purpose. "A purpose statement should not make you feel safe. If you're truly committed to change in your community, you should feel a little unsafe. You should feel challenged. You should feel that it is a bit of a risk because change does not occur otherwise unless you're willing to step up to those challenges." — Judy Sroufe, VP of brand marketing and communications at Standard Textile

2. Welcome myriad points of view. "I know for certain that if our purpose is to build trust in society and solve important problems, we can't do our best thinking unless we have diverse mindsets come to the table... That diversity of thought comes from bringing in people of different backgrounds and different experiences, but, equally important, it comes when people are willing to share parts of themselves and [offer] a deeper level of contribution and engagement because they feel comfortable with the culture that you're building." — J.C. Lapierre, U.S. chief strategy and communications officer at PwC

3. Understand purpose starts at the top. "I like to say that the CEO is the thermostat, not the thermometer [when it comes to purpose]; a thermometer measures the temperature in a room, a thermostat sets it. The CEO sets the tone and everyone else has to live in that climate." — Rob Chestnut, author and former chief ethics officer at Airbnb

4. Tie purpose to business strategy. "Many firms are using their capabilities to affect some social change. One way for these firms to do even more is to minimize the extent to which their efforts might feel like one-off activities or siloed activities and to intentionally integrate them into their business strategy. To me, this is the secret sauce. They're not just doing these things independently, but they have built-in systems or processes that allow them to realize the synergistic gain that can be associated with [an integrated strategy]." — Dan Grimm, distinguished executive in residence at Rutgers Institute for Corporate Social Innovation

5. Engage the finance department. "For [purpose-led] corporations to make progress on issues, they have to apply capital toward them. And you have to make a business case for the activities you're undertaking and the investments you're making. Therefore, it's important to integrate the finance function into these decisions. Finance has to understand the basis on which investment decisions are being made and understand the benefits of those investments and account for them." — Brian Tomlinson, managing director of ESG at Financial Accounting Advisory Services

6. Work with the right charity partners. "If a brand wants to talk about an issue, finding an NGO with the authority, credibility, and expertise is [how] to connect in an authentic way. That not only helps the brand communicate what they want to and talk about the issue in an appropriate way but it also provides impact behind their words... A great NGO partner that can facilitate impact is the number one differentiator when it comes to purpose that is successful or a purpose that is a bit shallow." — Amy Williams, cofounder and CEO at Good-Loop

7. Encourage consumer participation. "One of the most powerful ways to build trust [around purpose] is inviting consumers to take action alongside you. That model implicitly creates awareness of what the brand is doing. It also creates transparency because the consumer is effectively partnering with the brand in making that difference. It takes away that dynamic of a brand standing on a podium and announcing all the good they've done and creates much more of a two-way relationship." — Melissa Anderson, cofounder and president of Public Good

8. Set realistic expectations. "It's always nice to have that vision about saving the planet, but it's much more practical to start small and focus... If [your products] have agricultural ingredients, for example, just pick one or two of them and get close to your suppliers and try to have a meaningful impact. Be creative about what you can do, but also be realistic about what you can achieve... Resist the temptation to oversell what you do." — Gero Leson, VP of special operations at Dr. Bronner's

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

This article was originally published at MediaVillage.

Ken Beaulieu is the SVP of content and the Center for Brand Purpose.