Do Brands Need a New Sense of Purpose in the New Year?

Many people enter the new year with a resolution and sense of renewed purpose – whether that’s to break a habit or pick up a new skill.

But what about brands? Considering ‘brand purpose’ was one of the most discussed topics among marketers in the last few years, should brands redefine their purpose as their New Year’s resolution?

What is a brand purpose?

Branding Strategy Insider defines brand purposes as statements that “set out how a company intends to change the world for the better …  a statement of belief, of hope, of pursuit.”

So a brand purpose is intended to answer the question of why and for what purpose are we selling our products? 

What good are we doing for the world and our consumers?

Without a clear brand purpose that goes beyond practical product benefits, some consumer might not see many reasons to commit to a brand. Purposes generally go beyond practical aspects, like the product and services provided, and focus more on the emotional, social and ethical benefits the company stands for.

It’s essentially the brand’s identity coming to life through its stance in the competitive landscape, helping them stand out.

How deep should brand purpose go?

Since 2015, we have polled consumers on what they expect from their favorite brands. Our global survey demonstrates the ethical, social and emotional desires that brand purposes can address, but despite rising requirements, there isn’t a major shift away from the more practical benefits that brands offer.

We have to dig further within brand expectations to find philanthropy, localism and fan communities among needs from favorite brands. By and large, classic sources of customer services – product care and being valued as a consumer – are leading.

Does this mean searching for a deeper meaning to the brand through ecological, philanthropic or social responsibility channels is pointless?

Not really. But it does mean that brands should think of a purpose in context of the other elements consumers still love and seek above all else: great products, smooth customer service, and a brand that shows some TLC to the consumer.

Our data shows that  brand purposes still need to focus on the product and customer connections.

Wanting a brand to “improve your knowledge and skills” stands out as the most value-driven request among the data points we track, in all sectors, and has been picked up by many brands for brand positioning over the years.

Classic lifestyle fashion GANT, for instance, launched their Never Stop Learning campaign to recenter the brand as intellectually stimulating and educational, and to link it back to the brand’s positioning as a sophisticated lifestyle brand.

But translating the key consumer need of learning from brands into action can be tricky.  

Only 1 in 8 want their favorite brands to provide content and videos, perhaps because these formats are usually linked to simple entertainment. It’s a tough one to crack, and knowledge/skill value can be difficult to deliver in a channel and format that will make this type of savvy consumer respond.

So what steps should brands take?

It depends on where the brand is in its lifecycle.

Mature brands with a solid history of a practical purpose that is communicated and built on products or services should now explore deeper purposes to associate the brand with. Younger brands will need to choose their battles out of many consumer expectations before they take on the balancing act – and it’s always better to do one thing, and do it very well.

For this, understanding the target consumer very well before soul searching for the brand is as important as ever.

But in general, the basics of brand purpose are still rewarding.

Having a best-in-class, innovative product with a five-star customer service to match is the way to go. Not exploiting the environment while doing so will give brands a good head start in the search for a deeper brand purpose.