Brand Purpose – How Social Impact & Shared Values Win Customer Love

By Gareth Rice, Ex-O2 Head of Corporate Responsibility & Environment

In 2012 Edelman predicted that ‘purpose’ would be the re-engineering of brand marketing. Looks like they were right: in 2017, the online marketing platform CMO proposed that it’s now time to admit that traditional marketing is dead. That brands with real purpose and meaning are already winning the hearts (and wallets) of customers.

2017 – The death of marketing

In 2012 the US PR and marketing consultancy, Edelman predicted that ‘purpose’ would be the re-engineering of brand marketing. Looks like they were right: in 2017, the online marketing platform CMO proposed that it’s now time to admit that traditional marketing is dead. That brands with real purpose and meaning are already winning the hearts (and wallets) of customers.

With the speed that crowdsourced, social media commentary now has to influence public opinion, and with the Millennials’ ‘brandwash’ radars better attuned than ever to fake news, greenwash and brand spin, we can only expect consumers’ expectations on purpose and shared values to rise.

We hear almost daily how consumers are increasingly distrustful of brands as a result of big names’ corporate responsibility scandals, and according to a 2017 study by Trinity Mirror & Ipsos Connect, arrogance around brand-purpose communications can be largely to blame. Brands as diverse as Heineken to McDonalds to Pespi were all criticised for campaigns that stakeholders perceived as disingenuous.

2018 – The rise of purpose

If 2017 was the year where brands dipped their toe in the purpose-marketing waters, only to recoil with toes horribly bitten by vitriolic consumer backlash , 2018 will be the year where more brands than ever will seek to learn from predecessors’ mistakes, and to ramp up their shared-values communications.

Frankly we must, if brands are to respond to the growing consumer expectation of alignment between brands’ values and their own. Nine out of 10 consumers now expect companies to show they do more for society than just make a profit. To show a deeper, purpose-based set of values.

So what does that mean for us as sustainability professionals, for marketers, and for enhancing organisations’ perception amongst consumers and stakeholders? In this first section of this 4-part series, I’ll start to answer these questions by setting the scene on the lingo surrounding purpose. Later, I’ll look at the positive outcomes that purpose-leader brands have seen and the organisational characteristics behind that success, before pondering the critical role of integrating sustainability and core business strategies to identify authentic purpose opportunities.

Understanding the lingo

As a way of getting started, it’s worth talking about terminology. These days there seems to be lots of jargon around purpose and shared value in the context of marketing. And on shared values. For me, both creating shared value (CSV), and the concept of shared values can never be anything more than consequences of purpose. All three terms are becoming commonplace, often (wrongly) used interchangeably, and it’s important to know the difference.


Purpose is a company’s reason for being. In their 2016 report on the purpose in business, EY define purpose as the “aspirational reason for [an organisation’s] being that is grounded in humanity and inspires a call to action.” And the philosophy behind it is that any organisation acting on this purpose, can create more long-term value for Society than solely chasing profit and self-interest. Paul Poleman, CEO of Unilever agrees, “Stronger alignment of business with societal interest and planning for the long-term is the only way to guarantee sustained success and longevity, for our business, and for our planet”.

Korn Ferry interviewed CEOs in their People on a Mission report, and found, “that organisations that take the challenging steps to define their core purpose and values, and integrate these throughout their operations—beyond slogans or advertising gimmicks—see not only strong bottom-line results, they also find this approach transforms all aspects of their business.”

In short, your purpose is the ‘Why’ behind your organisations’ existence. Not the ‘what you do’, not the ‘how you do it’. Have a look at Simon Sinek’s 2009 TedTalk on great leadership to get more on this and how, routed into business planning and comm’s, it’ll set your organisation apart.

Shared Value

According to the Shared Value Initiative (a global community seeking to help drive the concept first laid out by Michael E. Porter and Mark Kramer in “Creating Shared Value (CSV)” Harvard Business Review, HBR), Shared Value is ‘a management strategy in which companies find business opportunities in social problems. While philanthropy and corporate social responsibility (CSR) focus efforts on “giving back” or minimising the harm business has on society, shared value focuses company leaders on maximising the competitive value of solving social problems in new customers and markets, cost savings, talent retention, and more.’ ‘Value’ here, refers to creating worth.

Shared Value isn’t a focus of this blog, so I’ll not detail this. But it is important to understand the difference between this, and shared values.

Shared Values

The final part of the terminology trilogy is shared values. Shared values is about your principles and ethics; the shared beliefs between your company and your customers, your employees (and often by your suppliers, too). And it’s about engagement on your organisation’s purpose. There’s no point in an overarching purpose that the board love, if your people just don’t get. If it just dissolves into just another bullet in HR’s onboarding presentation for newbies. Because if your people don’t get your purpose, neither will your customers! So it’s easy to see how shared values are simply a direct cultural consequence of purpose. Importantly, for your shared values to become real and be successful, your organisation’s purpose needs to be as clear to your people and customers as your brand name above the door.

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