Does your brand have a purpose? Perhaps more to the point, does it need one? The purpose of purpose was discussed by industry experts at an evening panel session we hosted.
Nearly 40 marketers attended the event, which took place at Attest Headquarters in London, where they heard from purpose-driven brands including Transferwise, ethical chocolate brand Tony's Chocolonely and Daye, a subscription service for hemp CBD-infused tampons.
Also on the panel was Jamie Mitchell, former MD of Innocent Drinks and CEO of Daylesford Organic, who defined purpose as “the reason a business exists, not what it does.”
Pinpointing your purpose
Vlora Salihi, UK Sales Controller for Tony's Chocolonely, said the reason her brand existed was to raise awareness of slavery in the cocoa industry and to drive a step change in the way other chocolate manufacturers do business.
“We want every other player in the industry to follow our lead and change the ways they're currently doing things because they’re either responsible for the problem or contributing to it,” she said.
Genevieve Fish, Director of Brand & Community at Daye, said her brand also had one clear purpose: “Our goal is to raise the standard of female healthcare. Period. So we’re starting with pain-relieving period care.”
She added that identifying the problem with the current status quo was core to Daye’s product development: “We believe female healthcare should be convenient, it should work and it should be healthy to your body and the planet. Tampons are not medical devices so they’re not even sanitised, they’re full of foreign materials and debris, they’re also made of plastics, rayon and viscose and they’re not healthy to your insides or to the planet, which is filling up with single-use plastic on every beach.
“We’re trying to create the gold standard of healthcare, starting with period care, and we’re hoping by being very transparent about how we’re innovating in the tampon manufacturing space, others will follow.”
Philip Denington, Creative Lead at Transferwise, described how even a financial services business could have a laudable purpose. “For us it’s not about money,” he said. “We want transparency in finance so we have a government relations team who lobby in parliament for banks to operate more transparently.”
Putting purpose above profit
Denington admitted that some people within the company had questioned the wisdom of lobbying for change, fearing that if all banks became transparent about foreign exchange charges, Transferwise would be obsolete.
“I’ll always remember what our founder said. He answered, ‘Well then, we will have completed our mission’. It was super powerful and stayed with me...I was like, here’s a guy, he obviously cares about profit but it’s not the main thing for him, it’s about changing a behaviour.”
According to Denington, Transferwise uses its mission to guide all of its decisions. “A great example is when we had the opportunity to partner with a freelancer payment network. It would have added 10% to our total volume and been a game-changer but they said they wanted to add a markup.
“At that point someone stepped in and said, ‘This is not our mission - it’s about transparency. This is against out mission.’ This is a clear example of when we forewent profit in order to achieve our mission.”
Mitchell contested that brands can still be purpose-driven without championing an ethical cause. “It doesn’t have to be social purpose,” he said. “But a business needs purpose or you’re falling into the 1980s trap of the only reason a business exists is to make money.”
Mitchell added that if a business gets it right when defining their purpose, it can make marketing a walk in the park:
“Social media channels are rich when you are an authentic, purposeful business with progressive values because the stories are there. Marketing used to be making shit up but if you’re marketing in a progressive business you’re just a journalist...and it’s brilliant because you can tell really authentic true stories.”
A case in point is Tony’s Chocolonely, which hasn’t spent anything on above-the-line marketing and yet has grown to be the number one chocolate brand in The Netherlands. This phenomenal organic growth is a result of the consumer buy-in the brand achieved right from the outset.
The brand came about off the back of a TV programme in which three journalists investigated chocolate production in West Africa. They realised children as young as eight were working illegally on the farms, where they were handling machetes and being exposed to harmful pesticides. The journalists sought to raise the issue with the big chocolate brands but none would answer.
One of the journalists, Teun van de Keuken (Tony), decided to take the matter into his own hands, hiring a lawyer to bring a case against him for contributing to slavery by eating chocolate. The judge said he couldn’t correlate van de Keuken eating chocolate to child slavery in West Africa so Tony flew in two children to testify against him.
“The power of the whole story and the buzz it created gave them a really good start to raising awareness about the issue,” recalls Salihi.
“But Tony realised if he couldn’t change things the legal way he would have to change things from within so started his own brand. The name ‘Tony's Chocolonely’, stands for his lonely fight in changing the chocolate industry. It was a very unique way to start the brand.”
Check out the TV programme here.
Transparency helps foster brand love
Even the design of the Chocolonely bar tells of their brand’s purpose, being unequally divided to represent the division of money between the seven big chocolate manufacturers and the 2.5 million farms in West Africa.
“These seven guys hold all the power and the farmers live in poverty because they don’t get paid enough,” said Salihi. “We guarantee them a living income. We publish our annual report every year and it has every single thing about the brand, from the P&L, to where we invest and where our farms are. It’s on our home page and that transparency really resonates. We’re not here to promote a brand, we’re here to raise awareness of an issue. The love people have for the brand is what it is because we’ve done things this way.
Edutainment wins hearts and minds
Mark Walker, our Chief Revenue Officer at Attest, asked the panel if educating consumers about complex issues was challenging when people are time-poor and simply want to make a quick transaction.
Denington said creativity on the part of marketers was key to making consumers listen: “One of the biggest barriers to people adopting Transferwise is them not knowing how much they’re being charged.
“We have an exchange rates graph on our website but on Facebook no one wants to see that. We created a Lego race where the bar chart was drawn out on an athletics track and people had to run over it barefoot. We call it the ‘pill in the dog food’ tactic - if people don’t want to learn about things, dress it up and make it theatrical.”
Fish added that Daye is also adopting this tactic, but focusing on fascinating and easily shareable facts, such as that the tampon was originally developed to plug soldiers’ bullet wounds in the First World War.
“It’s these morsels of facts that you can’t wait to tell your friends on WhatsApp or at a dinner party,” she said. “It’s like a window into different stories of the brand, but it extends into the wider story and the greater problem we’re trying to solve.”
Transferwise's 'exchange rate race' can be watched here.
Employees value purpose
According to Denington, a brand’s mission may not always be the reason customers choose it (they’ve found that customers use Transferwise because it’s cheaper). However, purpose plays an important role in securing employees.
“All the developers want to work with Google so how do we compete with that?,” he said. “For that, the mission is hugely important. We did a survey internally and 10% actually stated that they joined because of the mission. If you are in a more competitive landscape little things like that can help.”
Mitchell agreed that purpose provides motivation for staff: “When your internal values and your external values are the same thing then you get operational transparency. Operational transparency is the most powerful thing for employees to be proud of what they’re doing.”
Can purpose be retrofitted?
With such clear benefits to being a purpose-driven brand, what do you do if you’re an established brand without a mission? Although it’s challenging, it is possible to retrofit purpose, Mitchell believes.
“Most businesses have a good origin story so going back to that can usually help,” he said. “Whether or not you can get to that very simple, clear motivating purpose, you do have a back pocket alternative, which is in the values.
“It’s about asking a business how much it wants to contribute to the world and, if you go to the progressive end of that spectrum, and you build into the values a real set of contributions to either society or the planet you can have the same effect on employees and consumers,” he concluded.
If you’re still curious to hear more from our panellists, we’ll happily share the evening panel discussion. Just click here and we’ll take you there.