Defining your brand purpose: what it is, why it matters, and how to start

Your brand purpose is about more than marketing: it motivates and humanizes your decisions by asking: what is my brand here to do, beyond making money?

What if we told you there is a secret ingredient that all of the 50 highest performing businesses in the world have in common? An ingredient that fuels their growth to be three times faster than their competitors? 

It’s not a new flashy tool, tactic, or trick. In fact, it has nothing to do with what you do—but more with why you do it. That’s right: we’re talking about brand purpose today.

What is brand purpose? 

It’s the reason your company was founded and what it’s trying to reach, but not in terms of targets or KPIs. Your brand’s purpose goes beyond metrics and profit: it’s the change you want to make in the lives of people, or in the world as a whole.

This isn’t about marketing, it’s about meaning. Why should you think about how your organization has an impact on social, environmental, ecological and political issues? And why should you clearly define exactly how you want to do this? 

In this guide, we’ll talk about what brand purpose is really about. How does it benefit your business (by benefiting the world), and how do you define what yours is? Let’s get started.

Why you need a brand purpose

Isn’t it enough to just deliver good products in time, for fair prices and with an easy-to-use website? Well, no. Not if you want your brand to be future-proof. Here’s why a brand purpose is crucial.

To connect with consumers

Think about it: with so many products and services that are seemingly alike, why do people en masse pick specific brands and products over others? Chances are, they feel a certain kind of connection to the brand. And that’s because they have something in common: the impact they want to make on the world—aka, your brand’s purpose. 

If you want to connect with people on a personal level, think about what would matter to you when choosing a product. Wouldn’t you also prefer to buy from the brand that is trying to make the world a better place? 

Chances are you would: we found that 67.6% of consumers are likely or very likely to stop buying from a brand that operated in a way that didn’t meet their personal values. 

Most brands, of course, don’t flash their brand’s purpose in their ads. The thing is, it’s not in the words you use (at least, there’s more to it). It’s in your actions. That’s what people will pick up on. 

Why do your customers shop with you? Why don’t others?? It’s key to understand how consumers connect with your brand.

So yes, this means you’ll have to talk about the way you run things in your organization. Don’t consider it bragging—consider it being transparent. 

The more transparent and outspoken you are, the better. Don’t be scared to touch on sensitive topics—but if you do, do it right, authentically and not just when it’s an invented holiday or [insert important cause] Month. 

You’ll also find that some people might not agree with your stance and don’t buy from you as a result. That doesn’t necessarily mean your stance is wrong, or that you should change the way you do things. But it’s always best to know that this is a possibility, rather than for it to be a surprise to your Commercial team. 

That’s not a loss though, looking at the long term and brand loyalty. Because people are very likely to keep coming back because you match their purpose, and that’s what will keep your business growing steadily.

To reach Gen Z specifically

How well do you know Gen Z? Many brands think that a funny TikTok is what will charm their way into the hearts of the younger generation, but there’s a lot more going on among these ‘modern consumers’: they care. A lot. 

From social justice to sustainability, this generation isn’t kidding around and will actively avoid companies they know are not doing their part. They can even perceive indifference or a neutral stance on important topics as picking a side.

Maybe Gen Z or future generations aren’t your key demographic right now, but that they are growing up quickly and will become your target audience one day—probably with the same personal values and critical world views they have now. So if you want to build a strong brand with a solid brand purpose, start now and really make it your own.  

Find out how you can win the hearts of the next generation of consumers.

To keep up with the world

Think brand purpose is just another fancy concept to keep brand experts busy? Think again. 

Brand purpose has always been what sets brands apart from others. Think Tesla and Apple. They’re not being run by business people, but by visionaries. And it shows in how well they perform. 

Brand purpose has been around for ages, but with what’s going on in the world today, it’s becoming increasingly important. Ignoring it could easily become the equivalent to ignoring the impact of social media back in the day. 

Be on the right side of history.

To connect with the right employees

Last but not least: your brand purpose will also make it a whole lot easier to attract employees that will thrive in your organization, and help you thrive with them. Practically every business is looking for the same roles, but the match is made when there’s an overlap in ideals and morals.

What’s the purpose of purpose?

Does brand purpose really matter to consumers? And if it does, then how much? Find out in our exclusive brand purpose research.

Read more

Brand purpose, brand promise and vision: what’s the difference?

Getting a little confused on how brand purpose differs from your brand purpose or even vision or company mission? You’re not alone! 

Let’s dive into the difference—they’re not the same thing. 

Your brand promise is what you promise to customers. For instance, to deliver the best quality. Or the lowest prices. Or the funniest customer service. It’s a more practical promise—because otherwise, you couldn’t make it true.

Your brand vision is how you view your market, and what you want your place in it to be. Your vision defines where you want to get to in the future. For example: you want to be the leader in operational excellence by 2025. Vision statements can also take a less business-driven stance, for instance with a focus on sustainability, but it still differs from brand purpose, because it’s internally focused.

Your brand purpose? That’s your Why—as Simon Sinek beautifully simply put it in his theory on the Golden Circle. It’s the reason you exist, before and after selling anything. It’s about the impact you want to make—and has nothing to do with yourself or your business goals. It’s totally externally focused.

There’s a difference between brand promise, vision and purpose. You should know the difference from the start.

What does an effective brand purpose look like?

Let’s look at what an effective brand purpose should entail, based on the knowledge of brand purpose guru Jim Stengel.

A little background on Jim: as the former CMO of P&G, the largest marketer in the world, and now a small company entrepreneur, he’s seen it all. 

As the CEO of The Jim Stengel Company, he advocates for ideals-driven businesses and brands. And he knows what he’s talking about: he conducted a ten-year growth study of more than 50,000 brands. 

Conclusion? The brands that centered their company on the ideal of improving people’s lives resonate more with consumers, which helps them outperform their category competitors.

In his book Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s 50 Greatest Companies he demonstrates with brand purpose examples that high performing brands are driven by ideals. 

These brand ideals touch on five human values. 

  • eliciting joy
  • enabling connection
  • inspiring exploration
  • evoking pride
  • impacting society

Ideally, your brand purpose will also relate to your product or service, but understandably, that simply doesn’t work for every business. That means you can look at other things, like the way you produce, who you work with, social justice, equality or anything else that deserves more attention from organizations. 

How to define your brand purpose

Maybe you’re struggling to find your company’s brand purpose, after years of thinking about targets and KPIs. Here’s a way to shift your mindset and find your brand’s purpose.

Start with digging into your past and uncover your brand story

It’s rare that a business was founded with the sole intention of making money. There’s always an ideal in the story. Talk to the founders, dive into the archives and see what the first day of the business looked like: this will reveal a lot about what was once important to the organization—even if now it’s more in the background. 

Today Unilever is a multi-billion dollar company which has its stated purpose “helping people to look good, feel good and get more out of life.”

It might sometimes be a struggle to get to the heart of your brand’s purpose. Here are examples of top brands that found their purpose after they’d lost their way.

Your brand has a story, a reason for existing. You might find your purpose in your past…

Evaluate your brand values

Maybe you’re already unknowingly working from a certain purpose, but have just never put it into words. Time to analyze your brand and own ideas to find out what your strengths are. With this knowledge, you can find the intersections with what the world needs, and how you can help.

The best way to analyze your brand is by talking to people outside of it, who view it with a neutral gaze. Your customers can help you find out what your distinctive strengths are, and how they perceive you will reveal a lot about your brand. Getting an understanding of your brand awareness will help you figure out where you stand.

With our brand tracking survey template, you’ll have that survey up and running in no time. Tweak the questions to match your brand and quickly get the information you’re looking for.

Ask your employees why they’re proud to work for you

If this question scares you, it’s all the more important to ask it. The stories your employees tell about why they work for you and what they think your purpose is will tell you a lot about your brand image. Don’t just talk to the people at the top of the organization: make sure you speak to employees in all layers of your business.

Look at what the world really needs and what you can really deliver

Nobody needs another vegan restaurant chain that serves sustainable products in front, and takes out tons of plastic trash out the back. 

Be honest: what does the world really need more of, and what could you deliver? Dive into the problems in the world and match them to the passions of your company. 

If you do choose sustainability, make sure it’s something you can really double down on and you do it right—not just the bare minimum. 

Consumers will turn away from you if you claim to represent certain values, but fail to live up to them.

There are quite a lot of popular purposes—which can be tricky. You have to be authentic and pick something that suits your brand and your DNA, otherwise it can easily backfire. Don’t just lift on the popularity of topics. It’ll be hard to keep it up. Instead, pick something that inspires you and go from there. 

Tell everyone about your brand purpose

And with everyone, we mean everyone. From your customers to your employees, to your suppliers and other stakeholders. Because, as you could tell from the ‘sustainable’ vegan restaurant example, you can’t have a double agenda. 

Openly communicate to everyone involved what your purpose is.

Bring your brand purpose to life in your daily actions

The most important step in the process is actually acting on your purpose, over and over. It’s crucial that you learn not to make compromises when it comes to carrying out your purpose. 

Socially conscious businesses can’t advocate being all about inclusivity with a board that consists of only white men—no amount of diverse commercials and marketing campaigns on special days can make up for that. Allow your purpose to influence everything in your company, every process and every decision that’s made, to ensure true authenticity. 

The benefits purpose driven brands reap

We already touched on why you should definitely have a clear brand purpose, but let’s look at some of the day-to-day benefits it brings you.

Brand purpose adds value to society

Are you thinking: ‘that’s not our responsibility?’—then think again. Companies have to be more than machines making money—they have an obligation to positively impact society as well. 

Businesses impact our society, whether they really want to or not. They shape the way we live our daily lives—simply by needing people to come to work, with the working conditions they offer. They define what our neighborhoods look like, what resources are needed from the planet—the least they could do in return is leave a positive impact on society. 

Brand purpose sets your brand apart from competitors

Remember the 4 Ps from marketing school? Price, product, place and promotion?

Let’s be honest: for most businesses, there’s not a whole lot of wiggle room in any of these. You often end up doing something strikingly similar to your competitors. Then how do you win over consumers?

By adding a fifth P. You guessed it: purpose. And no worries, prof Philip Kotler agrees. 66% of consumers would switch from a product they typically buy, to a new product from a purpose-driven company. 

With an abundance of choice, why should a consumer pick you over your competitors? It often comes down to purpose.

Brand purpose makes for engaged employees and a strong company culture 

Tesla founder Elon Musk once said:

“Put­ting in long hours for a corporation is hard. Putting in long hours for a cause is easy.”

Tesla has one of the best brand purpose examples: accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy. Its employees know what they’re contributing to the world. 

That sums it up: when you know why you’re doing something, and you actually stand behind that cause, it becomes a lot easier to do it, and you will put in a lot more effort. 

So before you throw another team building party, look inside and find out if you have a purpose, and if your employees are aware of it—or if they’re simply coming to work to get their hours in. 

Brand purpose makes it easier to attract talent to your organization

Purpose-driven companies aren’t just loved by customers, but also by employees. 

Human beings in general don’t dream of being a customer service rep, a sales agent, or a product designer—no matter what those touching stories on LinkedIn try to tell you. 

From a young age, we’re told we can change the world. That sentence isn’t complete though: we can only do it together. 

Today’s brands struggling with finding employees at all, might simply lack a purpose. Millennials will avoid them if they can, because they prioritize a sense of purpose around people rather than growth or profit maximization. Purpose is more of a real value to them than the size of your company. 

Brand purpose makes making decisions more efficient

Does it usually take ages for people in your company to make decisions? For suppliers, tools, marketing messaging—anything, really? They’re probably lacking purpose.

With clear brand values and a defined brand purpose, you have an effective filter for every decision you need to take in your business, helping you to act faster and be more coherent in your brand communications and create a stronger brand experience, also aiding your brand awareness. 

Market research can define your brand purpose

Market research is a crucial part of finding and honing your brand purpose, and we’ve got all the tools ready for use to find out what your brand can really contribute to the world we’re living in. 

Get started with our brand tracker tool and start making a change in the world (and your business!).

FAQs about brand purpose

1. How do you write a brand purpose?

There’s not one single brand purpose definition, but the way to formulate your own looks something like this: Start by finding out why your business was founded, and what the passions are from the people working in it. 
Then match this to an emotional connection and real-world struggle for a strong purpose statement. Ideally, it also matches your actual product or service, but if you can’t, focus on how you can make a positive change either way. Not sure what customers want from your brand? Try our brand tracking survey template to find out.

2. What are the 3 main purposes of branding?

Branding is not just about creating a good looking website and picking the right colors. 
Branding serves:
– To establish trust within your consumers and create loyalty
– To make your brand easy to recognize and remember (and love)
– To make it easier for people to connect to your brand

3. What makes a good brand purpose?

When defining purpose, authenticity and relevance are key. Make sure you have a strong sense of what your actual passions are and know how you can contribute to the world’s transition to becoming a better place. Find your brand purpose by staying close to who you are and weave this into your brand strategy. Use the Attest Brand Tracker tool to be sure your brand purpose is in-line with consumer expectations.

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Nikos Nikolaidis

Customer Research Manager 

Nikos joined Attest in 2019, with a strong background in psychology and market research. As part of Customer Research Team, Nikos focuses on helping brands uncover insights to achieve their objectives and open new opportunities for growth.

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