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Purpose Positioning Strategy Elevates Brands for Social Impact

Published on July 28, 2023

Purpose positioning helps marketers target, align and execute a portfolio, product or service to benefit society.

Purpose branding is more than a brand name or logo. It affects all aspects of the business. Purpose positioning goes well beyond the practice of marketing to make corporate purpose more intentional.

Whether you use purpose as a way to position your brand or as a reputation management tool, purpose cannot be just a marketing strategy without focus or in-market action. Woke washing—the inauthentic use of purpose—places both brands and their reputation at extreme risk.

Purpose positioning lifts companies higher along the “I emotionally care” spectrum. When married with a brand’s functional benefits, the combination has the potential to strengthen its relevance and bond in the marketplace.

Brand Purpose, Mission and Values

Brand purpose is the “why” behind the brand, stating what an organization hopes to contribute to the world. This purpose should be reflected in the brand mission–the long-term goals that follow naturally from that purpose–and the brand values that animate how a company delivers on its purpose. An authentic brand purpose aligns with the corporate culture; its mission and values define it.

Purpose Brand research identifies the emerging space for a brand purpose beyond business objectives. The Purpose Report shows how buying decisions reflect the way consumers want to live their lives. To build a strong buyer connection, brands must reflect the change they want to see. The best-selling ALL Report extends this finding to human resources, indicating how a cohesive purpose strategy informs diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I) strategies and programs.

Brand purpose can serve as a guide for DE&I goals, environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices, corporate social responsibility and cause marketing. A clear brand purpose anchors business functions in how the brand makes life better.

Writing a Corporate Purpose Statement

The purpose statement is a powerful corporate governance tool. By uniting the company’s employees, vendors and customers in a shared enterprise, brand purpose plays an important role in a company’s ESG and DE&I governance. However, while most Fortune 500 statements have adopted mission statements, less than a quarter have purpose statements.

Marketing agencies such as Purpose Brand that are experienced in putting purpose into practice can help define an organization’s purpose. By conducting quantitative and qualitative research with your team to shape purpose statements simply and authentically. If you’re trying to figure out your purpose, an agency partner can optimize the details you know and help you solve for the unknown variables.

The best test for a purpose statement comes from its workforce. A purpose-driven organization is credibly aligned with its employees’ beliefs when research confirms that their values and beliefs do not conflict with a purpose-based position. Employees should not be taken for granted.

The Purpose Position Framework

Using an analytical framework, Purpose Brand uniquely positions, aligns and executes purpose-engaged brands. Purpose positioning is similar to that of brand positioning, but taps into a consumer’s belief system. Using positive cultural values, purpose positioning aligns the corporate and public interest authentically and comprehensively, in an inspirational way. Purpose positioning harnesses social or environmental capital to magnify what the business does best.

All organizations have an opportunity to own their purpose position. Many will pursue purpose simply to enhance their reputation, but can be a powerful way to reach business objectives. The purpose position framework helps an organization define its internal and external audiences and identify its unique strengths and points of differentiation. If crafted appropriately and pursued with focus and commitment, a purpose position helps an organization avoid missteps and address its audience with confidence and credibility.

Purpose Reputation Management

While purpose reputation management may be part of a single brand campaign or ESG initiative, it builds on a brand’s positive societal actions over time. It goes beyond the functional and emotional benefits driving a purchase alone or the positioning of a brand. Typically purpose positioning and purpose reputation management work together, but some brands pursue reputation management alone to define and remediate reputational risk.

The guidepost of purpose reputation management is a strategic plan. It provides clarity and ensures the organization is moving in alignment toward a common goal. It will guide consistent policies on brand expression, communication, action, investment and conflict resolution. Rapid response to potential issues should be thought through and built out in advance, with social media response and escalation procedures in hand.

The strategic plan should include an impact plan, focused on the execution of cohesive communications, campaigns, gifts, grants and investments. Purpose marketing requires great transparency. For this reason, the purpose-driven organization needs to clarify and proactively share the expected results. Suppliers and partners must be a part of this plan and, at a minimum, require disclosure and notice. An audit of alignment is also worthwhile.

As corporate leaders, shareholders and marketers, we want end users to care, even intensely care, about our brands–the precursor to loyalty. Customers recommend and pay more for what they care about. Expectations are higher, and Purpose Brand helps organizations evolve brands to meet them.

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