The Covid-19 global health crisis has resulted in a reset for many brands. Pre-pandemic, most businesses’ marketing started from the perspective of ‘what is the opportunity?’ But in a world changed and cowed by coronavirus, many companies have shifted so their marketing starts from the point of view – ‘how can we help?’

People are looking for something more from brands, a more genuine relationship that recognises the wider impact of our changed situation. Shoppers have watched closely, to see how brands have responded and will make purchasing decisions based on that behaviour.

Recent research from the IAB UK and YouGov found that 79% of people were likely to favour brands that had behaved well during the pandemic, with Tesco ranked the top brand in terms of its positive contribution during the crisis. The reverse is also true – 80% said they were less likely to buy from brands they perceived as behaving poorly in the pandemic.

In this climate, brands can – and should – lead from the front with positive and purposeful communications. Purpose has been much talked about, but good and sincere purpose-driven marketing has a rigour to it. It has genuine, authentic and clear intent to change behaviour for the better.

The strongest brands have always had a clear sense of purpose, and there are many and varied examples of these. However, the shift now is towards a more collaborative purpose, where brands work with consumers to bring about positive change whether at an individual or community level. It is no longer enough for brands to act on consumers’ behalf; they must help consumers achieve the personal and social benefits they are seeking. This means a brand’s purpose is increasingly being delivered through encouraging behavioural change.

There are excellent examples of brands and government or charities working together in purpose-driven partnerships – where brand reach is combined with government insight to expand targeted messaging.

For example, Boots’ purpose – its promise to its consumers – is to help them ‘feel good’. So, we worked with Boots and Public Health England to create a partnership programme called Reboot – a long term transformational programme using Boots’ customer base and retail environment, combined with PHE’s insight and strategy – to help one million adults tackle unhealthy behaviours.

Brands have access to the marketing skills needed to effect consumer change – they have the data, insight, infrastructure and budgets which means that when working with behaviour experts, they can craft the nuanced messaging that effects long term behaviour change.

No matter where brands are currently on their own purpose journeys, there are steps they can take to move forward, reach new segments and ensure their purpose agenda is at the heart of what the brand wants to achieve, and is relevant to the current societal context.

As Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer and president, healthcare business, Mastercard said: “This is the time to serve, it’s not the time to sell”.

However, a strong purpose alone is not enough to engage consumers. A brand purpose may be worthy and well-intentioned, but if it does not work with the grain of human nature, and the reality of people’s lives, it will not fulfil its potential. Our experience shows that there are three characteristics of a strong brand purpose:

It enables – helping consumers progress towards their personal goals (whether that’s getting fitter; having more time; eating more healthily; entertaining with confidence or feeling more in control).

It motivates – painting an optimistic picture of what can genuinely be achieved.

It delivers – providing positive reinforcement for sustainable behaviour change or brand loyalty.

Brands can work through strategic stages to ensure their purpose-driven marketing is effective. We use our ADJUST model to move a brand forward on their purpose journey.

  1. Address: What is the personal or social change your consumers are seeking?
  2. DNA: How does your brand DNA fit with this?
  3. Judge: What is the common purpose your brand shares with your consumers?
  4. Understand: What are the logistical or emotional pain points for your consumers?
  5. Solve: What obstacles can your brand help them overcome?
  6. Tell: How can you show through your communications, the positive action your brand is taking for the sake of the common good?

We now have a generation that bases its purchasing decisions on values beyond purely the functional – on an optimistic willingness to effect change, and a desire to associate themselves with brands whose purpose aligns with theirs.

By applying our best practice principles and looking at what you as a brand can authentically do, or by using models such as ADJUST, we believe brands can make a difference not only to their position in the market, but also to consumer wellbeing.

The current health crisis has created a moment of reflection, for brands across all sectors to rethink their strategies and reassess the direction of travel they are taking. Now is the time for brands to ask themselves – how can we help? As they lead the charge on acting purposefully, they can consider what they contribute, rather than take, and how can they build and support positive change that benefits the many.