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All hail the purpose-driven brand

Purpose led marketing is by no means a new phenomenon, in fact the last few years have seen an explosion of both new challenger brands and global household names proudly aligning themselves with social issues and putting their business values at the forefront of marketing campaigns, with varying degrees of success.

For every celebrated campaign such as clothing brand Patagonia’s ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ or Gillette’s ‘The best Men can be”, there is an equally high profile PR disaster – step forward Pepsi’s ‘Live for Now’ advert with Kendall Jenner which was universally criticised for being both opportunistic and tone deaf by the very audience it was designed to appeal to.

Maintaining authenticity

In this current climate of unprecedented global challenges and uncertainty the opportunity for brands to engage with consumers on issues that matter is arguably greater than ever before. In fact Edelman’s most recent Trust Barometer suggests that meaningful and authentic communications during the Covid-19 crisis could be critical to a business’ survival, with 65% of consumers agreeing that ‘How well a brand responds to this crisis will have a huge impact on my likelihood to buy that brand in the future.’ Of course, the reverse of this is also true, with one third stating that they had already stopped buying from a brand that wasn’t acting appropriately in response to the pandemic.

With the media and public hungry for positive news stories in the midst of this crisis, there are huge benefits to be had for those brands that get this right, and thoughtful and creative communications will be key to determining which ones succeed. Some of the first off the mark to talk about the ways they were responding to the crisis were food chains Pret a Manger and Leon who introduced and promoted a range of measures from switching to take-away only social-distancing friendly dining to providing discounted food to NHS frontline workers. Leon have gone one step further and joined forces with a host of celebrities for the Feed NHS campaign, which has raised over £1m to date towards feeding NHS staff.

While some brands have entered into new partnerships to show their support during the health crisis, others have used it as an opportunity to strengthen and showcase existing collaborations with not for profit organisations. A great example of this is Co-op’s long- standing relationship with food redistribution charity Fareshare, which was recently heroed in the supermarket chain’s Easter adverts. The ads featured real Co-op employees sending messages of support via video conferencing apps to highlight the importance of coming together to help those in need, even when we can’t all be together – a message designed to resonate with consumers during this difficult time.

Preparing to pivot

But demonstrating positive values as a brand doesn’t just mean supporting charities, raising money or offering discounts for key workers, as many businesses have found a practical way to use their assets for the greater good. A host of luxury fashion houses including Prada and the Armani Group have switched their manufacturing plants to focus on production of PPE such as masks and gowns for medical staff, whilst companies such as Dyson, Gtech and even Formula One teams are using their engineering expertise to address the challenge of producing more ventilators, vital to the fight against Covid-19.

Sadly, for every great example of businesses stepping up to do good, there is another that highlights what happens when some get it wrong. Whether it be continuing to promote products insensitively or inappropriately or being accused of seeking to benefit from the current crisis through inauthentic or opportunistic marketing, consumers and media are quick to call out brands behaving badly.

Some of the most highly criticised companies are those who are seen to be putting their staff at risk during this time, thereby placing profit over people. Sports Direct were heavily criticised in the media and online for failing to take the necessary steps to protect their warehouse staff from risk of infection, whilst Royal Mail have suffered a similar fate. Undoubtedly there’s a huge challenge for companies looking to balance the health of their business with the health of their employees amidst such economic uncertainty, but it’s also clear that how businesses are seen to behave in the short term in the face of such extraordinary change, will ultimately have an impact on long term relationships with both customers, suppliers and staff.

Rules of engagement

Whatever the nature or size of a business, now more than ever there is real potential for brands to demonstrate their purpose in action and to engage customers with shared values. And while many things around us will continue to change dramatically as a result of the current global health crisis, the Rules of Engagement for successful purpose led marketing remain the same – be brave, be authentic, be humble. Those who follow these may be lucky enough to not just see their business survive this crisis but thrive as we emerge on the other side of it.


Tags: brand marketingCovid-19purpose