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Brand Purpose as Competitive Advantage


More and more companies are embracing brand purpose; however, many continue to do so simply because "it's the right thing to do." While true, this position ignores the competitive advantage that the adoption of a brand purpose can afford an organization. To illuminate this matter, guests of the ANA Center for Brand Purpose's Beyond Profit podcast shared three observations on the benefits of purpose that go beyond altruism.

It inspires and promotes resilience. "There's so much evidence that has shown that social purpose-driven companies are more successful. Their brand value increases much more significantly than a non-social-purpose-driven business. Their ability to innovate is higher. Their ability to sustain downturns in the economy is much better. It creates a North Star encouraging everybody involved in the company to not just be profitable, but to actually be sustainable in the difficult times that we're facing now."
Michael McKnight, president and CEO at United Way BC

It helps focus decision-making. "One of the challenges in corporate America is we have too many options. Technology affords us millions of options every day. We can acquire companies; we can expand territory. Should we use AI to augment our services? What kind of people should we hire? And in a world where almost every choice is available to us, we have to decide which are the choices that we actually feel like we should pursue. Having a clear sense of purpose or mission helps us know what we're going to do and know what we're not going to do. So, it aids decision-making."
Kelly O'Keefe, founding partner of Brand Federation

It differentiates. "Technology has changed so much. Back when I was in school, we were taught the four Ps — product, price, place, promotion — and that's what drove brands; but it doesn't anymore. You think about product and in so many categories, the distance between having a new product innovation and everyone else having that same product is so fast, right? Apple introduced arguably the most differentiated product in the phone category. Nothing had ever looked like this or functioned like this before, and within no time at all, everybody else had a phone that looked and functioned almost identically. And that's true in almost every category. And in fact, in some categories, the product is identical. Do you want a Dasani or Aquafina? I mean, come on. So, product differentiation has long since lost its leadership in terms of how we differentiate brands because there's less differentiation available to us because technology allows the competitors to catch up fast. Price is also often near identical and always overvalued. I don't know any marketers who don't think price is more important to their consumers than it actually is. When you test consumers, you'll talk to college students and they'll say, well, it's all about price. We've done this research at our company. And then you say, okay, well do you drink the cheapest beer you can buy? Or do you ever drink craft beer? Oh no, I love craft beer. Okay, well that's pretty expensive, right? Are you buying the cheapest clothes you can buy? Well, no, I'm not really buying the cheapest clothes. Almost in no place in their life are they buying at the lowest price. So, price is certainly part of the equation, but it's not as significant. The place for everything is the internet, right? The internet has kind of eliminated the import of place. And then promotion is still important, but only if it's well-aligned with purpose. I think those functional differentiation areas — they still have value, but what people are differentiating more on is point of view, is belief system. Is Patagonia product so different from many of their competitors? No, it's almost identical to many of their competitors, but their value system is entirely different."
Kelly O'Keefe, founding partner of Brand Federation

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.


Morgan Strawn

Morgan Strawn is a director of editorial and content development at the ANA, which he joined in 2018. You can email him at

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