Purpose Driven Branding: Is It for You?

I’m sure you’ve either read or heard of the book, “The Purpose Driven Life” which was incredibly popular back in the early 2000s. 


Those of us who grew up in the self-indulgent, commercialized age of the 1980s were searching for more meaning in our lives and this book spoke to us.

Fast-forward thirteen years and this concept has only gained momentum as our children have been raised to expect a life that has purpose. Case in point, this year’s Super Bowl ads like McDonald’s “Pay It With Lovin” and Always’ “Like A Girl” confirmed that purpose-driven marketing is here to stay. We are shifting from the information age to the human age.

But what exactly is a purpose-driven brand? It is a company/brand that drives meaningful social change through every aspect of their business. And “meaningful social change” does not mean they are donating a portion of their sales once a year to help fight cancer. That is cause marketing. With purpose branding you are not making a donation, you are collaborating to make a social change. This practice was originally coined as ‘social marketing’ in the 1980s. But, it’s often confused, in name alone, with social media. VI has a lot of expertise social marketing through our work with tobacco control, fitness and nutrition, water and energy conservation, and recycling. With all of the work we do with these subjects, the goal is to influence behavior and ultimately change social norms. Thus, the term 'social marketing.'

Today, the notion of influencing change goes beyond influencing behavior that deals with our basic survival. And, commercial organizations have gotten in on the action. Think Dove. First they came out with their “Real Beauty” initiative. Based on the findings of a major global study, The Real Truth About Beauty: A Global Report, Dove ignited a worldwide conversation about the need for a wider definition of beauty after the study found that the current definition had become limiting and unattainable. This year during the Super Bowl, Dove started another conversation with their “Real Strength” campaign to show that having integrity and being caring makes a man just as strong as having physical strength.

The worldwide marketing community has stated that the most powerful brands of the future will be those that drive the most meaningful social change. And twenty-seven states now allow companies to file as a “Benefit Corporation” (B-Corp). But does being purpose-driven resonate with consumers? Research indicates it does. 91% of people would switch brands if it supported a good cause.

So is purpose-driven branding (social marketing) here to stay? I think it is. As our world continues to shrink and we are able to intimately touch the lives of those around us through social media, we will continue to care more about the human condition and how we impact others through our consumer decisions.

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