Having a 'purpose' – making your brand mean something more than just a product or a service – is 2016’s must-have business accessory. But while it’s easy to announce on your website that you’re making the world a better place, backing it up is something harder to achieve. So what’s the best way to communicate your purpose?
Genuinely believe in it, whatever 'it' is
The most common mistake businesses make regarding their social purpose is to see it as marketing fodder, says Chris Gorell Barnes, CEO and founder of content agency Adjust Your Set, whose clients include M&S, Mondelez and Diageo.
"For purpose to succeed, it has to be central to why the business exists. The business leader has to truly believe in the purpose and what it stands for. So purpose has to come from inside out, affecting everything from supply chain through to staff, customers and, ultimately, the planet."
This mean, he says, that business has to want to do something genuinely meaningful and lead by their own behaviour, with the goal being to get people talking about the purpose - and ultimately the brand - in a more natural and organic fashion.
"By taking this approach, consumers will start to advocate voluntarily," he points out.
"That’s far more effective than having the purpose message shoved down their throats in a worthy, preachy or boring way."
Create a movement
"In the purpose economy, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it," says Alex Myers, founder and CEO of marketing agency Manifest. "It’s no longer enough for your brand to simply stand for something. It must stand up for it. If you imagine your brand as a movement, ask yourself why people will join.
"Nike, for instance, exists to unleash the inner athlete in every one of us. They are not selling sportswear, but rather standing up for pushing yourself. The clothing then becomes simply a vehicle to join the movement. Nike isn’t about products, it’s a cause."
Purpose led brands don’t simply have customers, he says - they have passionate communities. "For small businesses, a strong brand purpose can be a great leveler. It’s hard for global profit-centric businesses to post-rationalise a purpose. But for SMEs, which usually have a much more obvious reason to exist, there’s a real market opportunity."
Be a specialist
"I come across so many people whose website and social media profiles essentially say 'I do a bit of this and a bit of that,’ says Jan Murray, author of Your Press Release Is Breaking My Heart and founder of Soulful PR, which specialises in helping small businesses get their messages across.
"But who wants to do business with people who do dabbling? People love specialists, so you need to become that person – or company – who people think of immediately when a specific topic comes up."
One simple thing you can right now do to improve the way you communicate your brand purpose, she advises, is to come up with one word or short phrase, maximum three words, that describes what you do. "Use it everywhere – on your website and all your social media profiles. Watch the difference it makes to your business."
Make it relatable
"It's really important to communicate your purpose in a way that’s easily understandable and relatable to consumers,” says Jane Bloomfield, branding agency Millward Brown’s head of UK marketing.
"Grandly announcing that you want to make the world a better place is unlikely to meet with much more than a raised eyebrow. Very few brands can pull this off! But a narrower purpose around how you can make the customer's life better is much simpler for consumers to understand and believe – and for a brand to action and deliver."
Craft brewer BrewDog's is a great example, she says. "Its purpose has always been to 'make people as passionate about great craft beer as we are". It’s a very clear and simple statement, and one you can see in evidence across their whole product portfolio and the ways in which they communicate with consumers – as they put it, they’re 'changing the world, one glass at a time'.
"They communicate this in a very loud and repetitive manner, clearly demonstrating their authenticity. All they really care about is their beer. It's helped them become the UK's fastest growing drinks company in the nine years since their launch."
Be bold, be clear
You must stand for something, and that something must ring true to your customer, says Kate Gibson, creative and brand planner at MMP. It’s worth spending a lot of time on finding that purpose, as it runs through everything you do.
"It can ensure you own a space in the market, cut through the chaos and avoid confusing your customer," she says. "Communicate your brand simply and honestly to your customer – they don’t need and definitely don’t appreciate fluff and inflation. What they really want is to hear or see it straight and to the point."
Your brand’s purpose should be reflected across everything you do and across all customer touch points, both in-store and online, she adds. "In-store, your employees act as your brand storytellers. It’s important that they understand and believe in your brand purpose and can honestly communicate this to your customers."