What’s a brand without a purpose?

Brand purpose. It’s a term you’ve probably heard a lot recently, particularly from the big name brands – but what does it actually mean and how can smaller businesses apply this to their business? In this blog, we’ll break down what a brand purpose is, and tell you how you can define your brand purpose and communicate it to your customers and employees – without breaking the bank.

What does brand purpose mean?

There are many definitions for ‘brand purpose’ but let’s start with something simple – a brand purpose simply providing ‘the why’ for your brand, beyond making a profit.  It’s the higher reason for your brand to exist. A brand purpose provides your business with a foundation for your company vision and the products or service that you offer.


“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” 

Simon Sinek- The Golden Circle

Brands that stand for something

Brand purpose has existed for a long time, but recently we are seeing brands that stand for something much larger than the products or the services they sell. Take Nike for example, whose purpose is to unleash your inner athlete, and in the exact words of Nike co-founder, Bill Bowerman:

“If you have a body, you are an athlete”

Recently, Nike featured Colin Kaepernick in the 30th anniversary of their ‘Just Do It’ campaign, in reference to Kaepernick’s kneeling protest against police brutality before NFL games. Nike made the decision to build their brand about what Kaepernick stood for, and the politics that have come with it. The result of this powerful campaign has been polarising, with people taking to social media to burn their Nike gear using hashtag #JustBurnIt. However, according to CBS, Nike’s stock has soared over the past year, with a 5% increase after the campaign.


Always #LikeAGirl Campaign

Another great example, and not as politically charged, is Always, with their #LikeAGirl campaign which turned a feminine-hygiene brand into something popular. Historically, when it comes to sanitary pads, most people don’t want to think about it, let alone talk about it. The adverts themselves were cringe-worthy and were solely about the product. Extensive market research found that Always lost relevance with 16-24-year olds, a market where women tend to stay very loyal to a brand they like, which was a big problem. In order for Always to reconnect with a younger audience, they had to stand for something other than simply protection.

Giving women confidence was core to the Always brand, but it wasn’t communicated in way that made it feel real. Girls’ self-esteem drops during puberty, so they wanted give young girls their confidence back and flip the stereotype of what it means to do something ‘Like A Girl’.

In both of these examples the brands had defined their challenge, their enemy, and built their purpose with the intention to defeat this enemy. Both of these examples were tackling political and social issues head on, and the risk paid off, but this isn’t always the case…

A cautionary tale of brand purpose

Brand Purpose Coke Campaign

In 2013, Coca-Cola created a social storm by allowing their customers to personalise individual cans and bottles with names with ‘Share a Coke’ campaign. This tactic was consistent with their brand purpose… ‘to spread joy and happiness’. The campaign took off and everyone was sharing their personalised drinks on social media.

Unfortunately, their South African operation had to issue a public apology because the website driving the promotion wouldn’t allow gay customers to embolden ‘gay’ on their cans… but it would let you add ‘straight’. This caused a huge backlash from the LGBT community and harmed the Coca-Cola brand, forcing Coca-Cola to issue a public apology.

This was not a deliberate slight from Coca-Cola, but an example that highlights just how much focus and diligence is required to drive truly consistent marketing campaigns that support a brand purpose.

So how does this relate to smaller businesses without a billion-pound budget?

We’ve focused on big brands with big budgets that enable them to impact people on a much larger scale, but the fundamentals are still the same whether you’re a start-up, established or ready to scale. Ben King, Creative Director at Digital Glue, shared some great tips at our previous SL/CED seminar.

“Think about:

  1. What’s your why? – remember it’s not making a profit or hitting targets
  2. Be authentic – don’t lie to make it look like you care, people will see right through it do it because you believe in it, or don’t do it at all
  3. Define your enemy – what’s the challenge your ideal customer has?
  4. What’s your how and what? – how are you going to resolve their challenges and what are you using to do it (this is your product or service that you offer)
  5. Make sure your purpose is consistent in everything you do – in your marketing campaigns and messaging
  6. Get everyone on board internally – share your brand purpose with your employees and embed it in to your everyday working life

Once you define your brand purpose, stand by it and make sure you execute and communicate it consistently. Remember, a brand purpose doesn’t have to be communicated in a big marketing campaign, it can be in every contact you have with a customer – whether it’s a phone call, emails or an event.”

Your brand purpose gives your customers and your employees a real understanding of what you stand for – that you’re not just in it to make money, but you want to make a real difference. And even though a brand purpose isn’t about making a profit, there are studies which prove that 85% of companies with an articulated and understood brand purpose experience growth, versus 42% of non-purpose led business, showing a drop-in revenue over the same time.

Are you interested in finding out what social platforms your small business needs to be on? Contact the team at Digital Glue to find out more.

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