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Purpose must be married to business

News, 10 February 2015

LONDON: The power of purpose is being touted as the way for brands to reach millennial consumers but its role should extend beyond the marketing department to embrace the entire corporate culture, according to leading industry figures.

Speaking at a recent event, Nick Hindle, svp/UK corporate affairs at restaurant chain McDonald's, and Joan O'Connor, head of brand PR at soft drinks giant Coca-Cola, agreed that purpose should not be just an add-on, The Drum reported.

And Hindle warned that while purpose could be a reason for some consumers to buy into a brand it was unlikely to be the main reason for the majority.

"I have not come across a reason yet where it was the sole reason for consuming a brand," he said. In fact, "it can get in the way of success".

The difficulties involved in getting the idea of purpose right are evident in what appears to be a backlash developing amongst investors against one of the companies that has led the way in this area.

"A purpose-driven business can be profitable," Unilever chief executive Paul Polman said at last month's annual results meeting.

But the Financial Times reported some unease among several leading, unnamed investors who were concerned that the company's results were not as strong as perhaps they should be. "The top line is not where it ought to be relative to peers," said one.

Unilever's task is not made any simpler by the multiplicity of brands it owns, which can make it more difficult to bring a company together around a purpose that not only makes sense across all of these but also feels genuine.

In this context, Hindle advised marketers not to confuse purpose with CSR. Brands like Dove and John Lewis are held up as exemplars as purposeful brands, he said, but their actions rather than their words are what count when it comes to purpose.

And if you can get purpose right within an organisation, according to Giles Gibbons, chief of executive of branding consultancy Good Business, "then it should rain gold dust on every decision, championing a set of principles that impact everything from suppliers to consumers".

Data sourced from The Drum, Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff