Times are changing. When choosing brands to do business with, today’s consumers care about more than just what products or services they offer—they care about what kind of impact brands are making in the world. And if you want to take your brand to the next level, you need a sense of purpose—a sense of purpose your audience truly connects to.
Your brand purpose can have a major impact on how your brand is viewed in the market—and, ultimately, can be the driving force behind your success.
But what, exactly, is brand purpose? Why is it so important? And how can you define, build, and market a brand purpose that feels true to who you are—and forges a real connection with your ideal customers in the process?
So, before we jump into why brand purpose is so important—and how to build your purpose from the ground up—it’s important to first understand what, exactly, brand purpose is.
“Brand purpose represents your reason for being and what you stand for above all else. It’s often referred to as your North Star or your Noble Purpose,” says Raphael Bemporad, founding partner of BBMG, the branding firm behind the report Brand Purpose in Divided Times.
Finding your “North Star” is the core of your brand purpose. But it’s also about how you can use that North Star to better serve your customers—and the community at large. “At BBMG, we believe brand purpose lives at the intersection of a company’s authentic reason for being and the unmet human needs that it can uniquely fulfill in the marketplace and the world,” says Bemporad. “We think holistically about brand purpose to represent how you create value for every stakeholder that touches your brand—your customers, employees, community members, partners, shareholders and the planet we share—so that we all can thrive together.”
Knowing your brand purpose is one thing—but getting it out into the world is another. Facebook is a great way to spread the word about your brand purpose—get started with one of Canva’s Facebook Post templates, like the Mountain Travel Facebook Post or the Beach Handwritten Script Type Quote Facebook Post.
Ok, so the definition of brand purpose is pretty straightforward. But why, exactly, is it so important?
“[Brand purpose] makes you irresistible to those you hope to serve,” says Dan Salva, branding expert and the author of Big Audacious Meaning - Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. “Prospects are drawn to the idea that their spending can do more than just help them acquire goods and services—it can help them feel like they are part of a bigger effort. A movement to make a difference.”
Brand purpose is important because it shows your customers that you’re not just your products, services, or advertising campaigns. You have a purpose—and it’s bigger than just turning a profit.
“A rising generation of consumers is looking for brands to stand for something bigger than the products they sell,” says Bemporad. “They want brands to embody an inspiring ethos, bring a strong point of view, and take action to make a positive impact in the world.”
So, we’ve touched on brand purpose and why it’s important. But it’s also important to clarify what brand purpose isn’t.
Your brand purpose is not your brand vision, mission, or values. Obviously, they’re related; each builds off the other. But if your vision, mission, and values are the building blocks of your brand, think of your brand purpose as the foundation.
“Your brand vision is where you are going. Your mission is how you will get there. And your values define how you will act along the way. They are all inward focused. They represent you talking about your brand. They are important to define, but none of them are as powerful as your purpose,” says Salva. “Your purpose—or Big Audacious Meaning—is the larger reason why you do what you do. It should sit above the vision, mission, and values, informing and guiding them. It is invaluable because it is outward focused—defining the difference you will make in a life, a community, or even the world. By clarifying your purpose, you help people understand how your brand serves them and their world. And it sets the stage for inviting them along to pursue the larger purpose you have clarified for your brand.”
So, now that we’re clear on what brand purpose is (and what it isn’t), let’s get to the good stuff—defining, building, and marketing your brand purpose.
The first step to discovering your brand purpose is defining your “why.” And the best way to do that? Asking yourself some deeper questions.
According to Salva, there are three key questions you need to ask yourself when defining your brand purpose:
The answers to these questions can give you invaluable insight into what drives you as a brand. It can also help you identify areas that might be out of alignment.
“Make sure the answers align,” says Salva. “In other words, if you are passionate about something and you've identified the difference you could make but it's not what you're best at, then you need to keep working on your answers until you have alignment.”
It might take some deeper soul searching to figure out how your talents, passion, and ability to make a difference align—but that soul searching? That’s where you’re going to find your brand purpose.
Once you’ve defined your brand purpose, it’s time to build it into your brand—and that starts from building it into your team.
“Start inside and work out. Your team members need to be believers in the brand purpose. Focus on them first. Help them understand the purpose and get excited about it,” says Salva.
When your entire team is on board with your brand purpose, they can take that sense of purpose and bring it into their work every day. Your brand purpose will come across in your communications, your design, your marketing...when every team member is aligned with your purpose, then your brand purpose will be infused in everything you do.
Once your team is aligned with your brand purpose (and that purpose is infused in all of your business functions), it’s time to start figuring out how to take that purpose out into the world—or, in other words, how to market your brand purpose.
There is no one-size-fits-all way to market your brand purpose; the most effective marketing strategies are going to depend on your business model, your products or services, and the customers you serve. But there are definitely a few best practices to keep in mind.
As mentioned, you want your purpose to be infused in everything you do—but that doesn’t mean you need to hit your customers over the head with it at every turn. In order to market your brand purpose effectively, you need to think about how to use it strategically—and how that changes as your audience makes the transition from prospect to first-time customer to return customer.
“Our prospects are on a journey to becoming our customers. Purpose plays a big role in that. But it changes as the journey progresses,” says Salva. “When our prospects first encounter our brand, our purpose may be an important part of why they are attracted to us. When they are evaluating their options though, they may be more focused on the functional details of our offering.”
So, for example, it probably makes sense to but your brand purpose front and center on your homepage—the first place potential customers are likely to encounter your brand. But it might make sense to take a softer approach as that potential customer continues through your website—for example, on your product pages.
“The purpose never goes away during any stage of the customer journey—it becomes a matter of whether it is taking the lead in our brand story or whether it is playing a supporting role,” says Salva.
A great example of using brand purpose strategically? TOMS.
TOMS is known for its “one to one” brand purpose—and that for every pair of shoes or eyewear sold, they donate a pair of shoes or eyewear to a person in need. And you’re reminded of that brand purpose as soon as you visit their site, with a pop-up reminding you that your purchase will have an impact (along with a $10 off incentive).
They also have a Stories page that dives deeper into their brand purpose—and the different initiatives they’re working on the bring that purpose to life.
But while their brand purpose is infused into their overall branding, they also let their products take center stage when appropriate—like on their product pages.
Visitors have access to more information about TOMS’ brand purpose no matter where they are on the website (thanks to the “Your Impact” link in the navigation bar)—but they also realize that product pages aren’t necessarily the place to outline their brand purpose in detail (since, you know...people want to shop).
TOMS uses their brand purpose strategically in their marketing—and if you want to use your brand purpose effectively, you should plan to use the same.
Having a brand purpose is one thing—but standing behind it is another. Consumers aren’t dumb; stating your brand purpose isn’t enough. If you want them to truly believe you, you need to be willing to take a stand for the brand purpose—even when it’s hard.
“Consumers want brands to put a stake in the ground,” says Bemporad. “It is not simply about reacting to today’s news cycle, but rather knowing where you stand and standing strong when issues arise.”
One brand that’s stood behind their brand purpose in recent years? Nike.
Nike’s brand purpose is perfectly summed up by their motto “Just Do It”—and they followed through on that purpose with their ad campaign featuring former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick started a protest movement in the NFL, with many players kneeling during the National Anthem as a way to protest oppression and police violence towards minorities in the US. No matter what your politics, there’s no denying that Kaepernick stood for what he believed, no matter the cost.
And Nike did the same thing. The Kaepernick ad campaign was not without controversy; in fact, some political groups called for a complete boycott of the brand. But Nike stood behind their campaign—and, in doing so, stood behind their brand purpose.
At first, it looked as though Nike had made a mistake; amidst the calls for boycotts, the brand experienced a $4 billion dollar loss. But Nike knew standing behind their brand purpose would pay off in the end—which it did, when the brand’s market value increased by $6 billion dollars, hitting an all-time high in late 2018.
The point? One of the best ways to market your brand purpose is to put your money where your mouth is and stand behind your purpose no matter what. When people see that you mean what you say—and that your brand purpose really is the driving force behind everything you do—it will drive them to do business with you.
Take a page from Nike and design a campaign you can stand behind with Canva’s web ad templates, like the Man with Business Problems and Solutions Advertising Poster or the Web Design Agency Flyer.
One of the best ways to market your brand purpose? Get other people involved. “Brand relevance requires welcoming more and different voices to the table, using our collective wisdom to solve problems together and rallying consumers and employees alike to take action with us as brands,” says Bemporad. “Starting a purpose-led movement can be especially impactful when brands join forces and invite participation by their peers and competitors in the interest of making positive change for society.”
A great example of a brand that leverage its purpose to start a movement? REI.
REI launched their #OptOutside campaign as a way to get people involved in the outdoors—the entire purpose that drives the outdoor retail brand. And the results have been truly astounding.
According to an article in Fast Company, “Back in 2015, #OptOutside attracted more than 1.4 million people and 170 outdoor companies, nonprofits, and organizations to participate—and over the last three years that’s grown to 15 million people and 700 organizations.”
The #OptOutside campaign is a truly purpose-driven movement—and that movement has had a serious impact on REI’s business.
“In 2018, the campaign increased brand awareness by 14% and increased foot traffic by 3.6x,” says Bemporad.
Bottom line: Starting a movement is a great way to market your brand purpose and get your audience involved (and, as a result, get them more invested in your business).
To date, REI’s #OptOutside campaign has generated over 12 million Instagram posts. Start your own movement with Canva’s Instagram Posts templates, like the Coral Red Biking Instagram Post or the Beige and Blue Great Outdoors Instagram Post.
Having a clearly defined brand purpose is what keeps you going when things (inevitably) get hard. It gives a deeper sense of meaning to everything you do and makes the day-to-day challenges of running a business worth it. So what are you waiting for? Get out there, find your purpose, and use it to make a difference (and take your brand to the next level in the process).