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The world is becoming more mindful about what is meaningful. For brands new and old, that represents a complete sea change in terms of how company leaders need to be thinking about their businesses.

Call it the rise of purpose-first brands — those that prioritize purpose, organize their businesses around it and operationalize it in the work they do each day. These organizations don’t set their purpose on a shelf and look at it. They go all in on their purpose in an action-oriented way, weaving it into the fabric of their business models and putting themselves out there in a big way. It’s a commitment that takes courage and conviction because, indeed, not everyone is going to agree with your ethos. But, as the world witnesses your brand’s conviction through its actions, like-minded people will gravitate to your mission and go all in on your brand and its quest.

As with so many marketplace trends, the rise of the purpose-driven brand isn’t new—but the pandemic has poured an accelerant on the shift, requiring companies to consolidate what might have been a decade’s worth of consideration and baby steps into the span of just a year or two. Here’s why.

The ‘Why’ Behind Becoming Purpose-Driven

As noted by Deloitte’s Punit Renjen, “An organization’s culture of purpose answers the critical questions of who it is and why it exists. They have a culture of purpose beyond making a profit.” That said, research has clearly demonstrated that purpose-driven brands grow faster, engage their employees more deeply and ultimately are more profitable than brands without a clear sense of purpose. Brands with a purpose-driven center of gravity are also driving changes that matter in the world.

According to Accenture, 63% of surveyed global consumers prefer to purchase products and services from companies that stand for a purpose that reflects their own values and beliefs — and they will avoid companies that do not. Likewise, 65% of people surveyed base their purchase decisions on the words, values, and actions of company leaders.

As mentioned, the pandemic has only heightened the awareness and importance of brand purpose. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer 2020, back at the start of the pandemic, 62% of people said they didn’t think our country would make it through the crisis without brands playing a critical role in addressing the challenges we face. Likewise, 55% of people said they thought brands were responding more quickly and efficiently than the government.

Putting Purpose into Action

Every single brand today needs to reassess the value it brings to its customers and question its continued relevance in their lives. This is where purpose comes in. Brands that put purpose first were already gaining ground prior to the pandemic. As we emerge on the other side, purpose will prove to be a core and essential differentiator for companies in the future.

Today’s consumers are looking for more than just a product or a service. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to make a difference and know that the companies they support are of the same mindset. The challenge for companies in 2021 and beyond will be to not only redefine how they provide value to their customers but also how they provide value to the world around them. The ways in which brands do this can vary greatly. Consider:

  • S’well: S’well is on a mission to rid the world of single-use bottles by creating beautiful reusable options. But it’s not just the product. S’well is a partner of UNICEF, committing $1.4 million since 2017 to provide clean and safe water to the world’s most vulnerable communities. It also supports efforts to build infrastructure, educate families on water-borne diseases, and promote national reform to make sustainable, long-lasting change.
  • Allbirds: The founders of Allbirds leveraged their expertise in engineering and renewables to come up with revolutionary wool fabric made specifically for footwear. But it’s more than the shoes. They’ve operationalized their purpose by becoming a Certified B Corp, committing to recycled packaging and supporting the Soles4Souls program, which donates lightly used Allbirds to communities in need.
  • Boy Smells: Sometimes product and purpose are inextricably intertwined, as is the case with Boy Smells. The company produces candles and intimate wear based on this statement: “We wanted to have products that were embracing masculine and feminine simultaneously in a simple and straightforward way that wasn’t overtly targeted to one gender.” It’s a simple yet powerful purpose that far too few brands reflect at present.

Today, the people you’re trying to reach are more interested in your reason for being than any reasons for buying. Purpose-first brands understand their higher truth. They are fueled by decisive actions, not just good intentions. And increasingly, they will become the dominant forces across all industries. In fact, if you show me a brand that enters the post-pandemic world without being able to articulate its purpose, I’ll show you a brand that probably won’t be around in five years.

By Greg Ricciardi

Greg founded the company in 2002. He’s a graphic designer by trade, as well as a seasoned strategist.

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