The Implementation of
Brand Purpose

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Even ‘vanilla’ brands can get behind a good cause. (Credit: Cari Rubin Photography)

 

Brands that were built with a cause at the center of their mission do not face the same challenges as brands seeking to incorporate one in order to become more relevant and drive profits. For those brands incorporating a cause, choosing the cause requires that the brand really understand the values it currently satisfies through its products and services, as seen in our CDR category case study example below.

Research that identifies how brand attributes and their benefits link to brand values — what we refer to as the Attribute/Benefit/Value equation — can illuminate this vital information. This then serves as a solid foundation for the brand to expand itself into causes that fit the brand.
 

"73% of Americans are suspicious of companies that publicly support an issue or organization."

 
Brands seeking the right cause to support have to:

Choose the right cause;
Put the right amount of skin in the game;
And talk about it the right way.

In our published case study presented at TMRE where we studied the Casual Dining Restaurant (CDR) category (https://ameritest.com/video-are-consumers-eating-their-feelings/), we were able to identify the following two value equations in play:

  1. They make me feel welcome, so we can be ourselves and enjoy family time.
  2. The restaurant has a fun atmosphere, where I can celebrate without going broke, and break up the work week with some fun.

The values that successful CDR brands embody are enjoyment, fun and connection. These values can be incorporated into causes that spread those same experiences, perhaps to the less fortunate. Taking on causes that focus on more difficult problems like gun violence or climate change would likely prove less of a fit for a brand that has come to represent time away from worry and stress. That does not mean that those weighty issues should not become a brand’s cause; it simply means that becoming a CDR brand’s cause would likely feel inauthentic and cause a disconnect in customers’ opinions of the brand.

In our research work with Intralink, a consulting firm that specializes in helping brands navigate the rocky terrain of brand purpose, we have seen how negatively the wrong cause can put off consumers (to see the full report from Intralink, click here). In our research, we see that 73% of Americans are suspicious of companies that publicly support an issue or organization, thinking that they are doing so for purely profit-driven reasons. The more a brand strays from its core values, the more likely it will engender this kind of skepticism.

Approaching a cause that aligns with the brand while putting the right amount of skin in the game is also tricky. Staying focused on the degree to which the brand engages with a cause is critical. It can keep the brand out of politically-charged causes that alienate its customers. This has been seen most recently with the campaign from Gillette, where the backlash was severe when it took on the weighty cause of ending toxic masculinity.

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Gillette’s disastrous ad had many asking whether they’re really ‘the best a man can get’.

 
While the final act in the Gillette play has yet to be written, it might have approached ‘the best a man can get’ through a more positive role-modelling and aspirational tone, reflecting the values the brand already owned, rather than connecting male rites of passage with an accusatory message that many saw as a dark generalization of the male gender. This is not to say that toxic masculinity is not an issue; it is to point out that a brand can take on a message in a way that lifts up its customers and creates an even deeper bond to the brand.

Once values have helped to identify the right cause, and the degree to which the brand will engage has been decided, the brand must research the best way to talk about it. In this, solid consumer research will lead the way, making sure the brand is using the most relevant and powerful language and emotional storytelling that it can. Experienced research consultants have evolved questioning to take on these very issues.

Brand purpose is here to stay, and our experience indicates that it’s growing stronger. With so much at stake for brands, it demands a thoughtful and researched approach.

 

In short...

  • Choosing a cause requires that the brand really understands the values it currently satisfies through its products and services.
  • The more a brand strays from its core values, the more likely it is to engender skepticism.
  • A brand can take on a message in a way that lifts up its customers and creates a deeper bond to the brand.
  • Staying focused on the degree to which the brand engages with a cause is critical.
  • Solid consumer research will make sure the brand is using the most relevant and powerful language and emotional storytelling that it can.