Branding In The Age of Purpose

Uncovering Common Ground Amidst Political + Social Fragmentation


Over the last decade brand strategy has undergone an undeniable shift. Traditional marketing practices and reputation management that valued control, consistency and stability have collided headfirst with forces of the digital age. Namely, the democratization of information, ever-shifting and multiplying channels of engagement and the amplified voice of the customer have created a new paradigm for companies in aligning their brands with a purpose where expectations are liquid and trust is at a premium. In the midst of this transformation, political discourse has become increasingly divisive and definitions of social good have fragmented. 

Examples of this collision and its effect on business in just the last year are instructional. From Black Lives Matter and the 2016 presidential campaign (#grabyourwallet) to transgender changing rooms and LGBTQ legislation in North Carolina, the intersection of issues and commerce represent the potential for real financial impact. These and other movements emanate from an evolving belief that the private sector plays a pivotal role in improving society through actions deemed to be enlightened and that institutions and companies alike have a responsibility to ensure a way of life, social change, a sustainable environment and so forth.

This shift toward greater engagement on social issues, what John Gerzema called a 'values revolution', is not solely taking root because of the increasing noise emanating from consumers, but also for the impact purposeful branding has on the bottom line. As Keith Weed of Unilever put it: 'We know that consumers increasingly want brands with purpose—and that purpose delivers growth…successful companies are marketing for and with people, not to them.' There is ever-increasing evidence to the financial upside for branding with purpose as seen with legacy organizations repositioning around social impact, as well as new entrants in financial services, healthcare, retail and beyond.

On the surface, these convening factors create a rather untenable situation for marketing, brand, and corporate communications professionals. With social and political lines being redrawn, companies are increasingly thrown into to the melee, by choice or by force, to put stakes in the quicksand with organizational values that are responsive to their customers’ worldview. This all comes at the inherent risk of alienating a sizeable segment of their base. An unenviable task when employing legacy top-down approaches and strategies to be sure.

At Heart+Mind Strategies the growing ask from our clients to help them navigate this terrain, defining purpose, and aligning brand strategy with an adherence to social good, has grown to a cacophony. The volume is turned up more than ever before, however organizational understanding of the actual political and policy views of their customers, and if those views are ever truly activated through behavior, continues to lag. We believe the path forward rests in understanding the fundamental and enduring individual and societal values of customers to make way for sustainable strategies that do not ignore the issues of the day, but rather, create a common ground from which to operate, communicate and engage in a manner that mitigates alienation and unlocks growth. As crisis issues change, values will endure, giving brands the information they need to react swiftly and confidently in the face of any new challenge.

Ultimately, people pursue pathways as they navigate their way to a decision and values are the criteria people use to assess their daily lives, arrange priorities and evaluate relative importance. Consumers build systems comprised of people, culture, places, and routines. Our approaches enable brands to deploy strategies that connect with people to drive brand resonance within these systems.

As we have continued to pioneer new approaches to uncovering values within the context of decision-making, we have found that value delivered through shared individual, societal and brand values holds the lasting ability to motivate goal directed behavior, close gaps between divergent views and bridge purpose-driven brands with everyday choices. In this inclusive transformational climate, shared values are the levers through which companies can take initiative, establish a leadership position and seize long term growth potential.

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