Marketers in the business-to-business space are often falling short when it comes to developing and activating brand purpose, according to a study led by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA).

The ANA partnered with researcher The Harris Poll and consultancy Carol Cone ON PURPOSE to survey 250 B2B marketers in categories like financial services, manufacturing, professional services, tech/telecoms, and healthcare. (For more, read WARC's in-depth report: Why B2B brands often struggle with brand purpose – and how to fix it.)

Ninety-three percent of respondents agreed their company was “somewhere on the purpose journey”, with 42% conceding they are in the “early” phases of this effort, such as discussing the issue internally or assigning teams to develop it.

A further 57% of respondents also had increased their focus on this issue compared with three years ago, indicating that brand purpose is of growing importance to most marketers.

In all, fully 86% of interviewees also reported that purpose was “important to their business” and 29% rated it as “critical,” the ANA study – entitled “The B2B Purpose Paradox” – pointed to a profound contradiction from its poll.

Only 24% of firms, it noted, had activated this kind of mission throughout their business, from culture to innovation, operations to social engagement.

An important roadblock in turning admirable principles into tangible practice was the notion that “purpose engagement feels more like a PR exercise than an authentic commitment,” as mentioned by 56% of respondents.

If companies took this approach as a surface-level, tactical play rather than an authentic driver of strategy, the report argued, “It is better to not embrace it at all.”

Elsewhere, a 51% majority of the sample held the opinion that purpose does “not play a considerable role in their competitive set.”

Rather than staying in lockstep with the norms of their industry, however, the study proposed that undoubted advantages result from “being the first mover to activate purpose within a category.”

Exactly 50% of interviewees suggested their organisations “lacked the capacity to adopt and activate on purpose” and 28% of the panel cited the absence of purpose-related measurement criteria as an obstacle.

For any B2B still hesitant to adopt a clear purpose, the ANA report had a warning: “The growing adoption of purpose by B2B companies legitimizes it as an impactful business strategy,” it said.

“The question is no longer if an organization will state its purpose, but how it will activate that purpose authentically.”

Sourced from WARC