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Purpose marketing: Brand positioning through meaning and shared values

2 min read

Purpose marketing has become a growing focus for brands over the last few years in line with the rising importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR). This is what it means and why it is important to sports sponsorship.

Defining a company’s purpose

The purpose of a company is the starting point on what it stands for and the values it believes in. It is a vital part of forming its overarching framework on social commitment:

Purpose marketing (or purpose-driven marketing) is when a brand uses its purpose to take a public stand on social issues and simultaneously sharpen the profile of its own.

A recent example is the way Hummel approached its design and promotion of Denmark’s FIFA World Cup™ shirt. It took the opportunity of having a global stage to bring awareness to how it felt about the tournament taking place in Qatar.


This value-centred way of communicating is becoming more worthwhile as consumers put more faith not in products, but brands which match their own individual values.

This is not just anecdotal, the data points towards this also. According to the wantedness study by Wunderman, 89% of consumers are loyal to brands who share their values. The b4p Trends study also shows that 77% want a brand to take a social stance.

Take clothing, for example. A study by Accenture highlighted that consumers are buying clothes more aligned with positive social values at an increasing rate. According to the report two thirds of buyers choose a brand because it represents a particular culture whilst just over half see an affinity because its attitude matches their personal values.

Clothing brand Patagonia is the best case for this study and it has been famous for staunchly sticking to its own ideals. Whilst it was absolutely value-driven and was not designed to drive profit, the result was just that. In 2013, two years after the brand’s Don’t Buy This Jacket campaign, Patagonia’s revenue was $570 million. By 2017, they were reaching $1 billion in sales.

Polarisation does not always mean capitulation

While classic CSR activities are now commonplace for many brands, the public commitment to this purpose is becoming more challenging as strong opinions, by their nature, polarise.

The fear of negative feedback and a potential media storm results in many companies refusing to take a public stand on important issues. But whilst the risk is real, it is important to weigh up whether the opportunities outweigh the potential backlash.

Nike and Colin Kaepernick's campaign in September 2018 virtually divided an entire nation. Gillette also polarised early in 2019, making themselves vulnerable with their "The best men can be" campaign that played out across the US. Gillette recognised that whilst it may have scared off some consumers, the brand was able to strengthen its bond with its target group, promising more success in the long run.

Marketers know the principle: If you want to please everyone, you won't reach anyone. Or in other words:

"Everyone is not your customer." Seth Godin

Purpose marketing demands commitment - otherwise it backfires.

To avoid being overwhelmed by media backlash, companies must realise that purpose marketing cannot be superficial. It requires full commitment. The whole company must be aligned with its values. Half-hearted efforts will backfire. This is highlighted by the frequent criticism of brands that outwardly represent values they do not uphold internally, e.g. through unfair pay. However, if values are implemented consistently and credibly, those same brands are rewarded with a positive reputation and customer loyalty.

Conclusion: Nothing ventured, nothing gained

Every company that publicly displays its stance on any topic will attract attention. But it is also true that the right people will identify with the message and build an emotional bond with the brand. The benefits usually outweigh the risk. Authentic purpose marketing is a powerful means of defining one’s place in the marketplace.

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