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How Social Purpose Affects Brand Positioning

October 28, 2019

river_cleanup3Marketing 2020 – Organizing for Growth is a comprehensive global marketing leadership initiative led by Kantar (formerly Kantar Millward Brown) in partnership with some other leading organizations. Already, their research has turned up some interesting, if not surprising, insights. I should say the findings are actually unsurprising to those of us who have been studying positioning and brand purpose for a while. Those who have only a passing interest may indeed find the research results to be eye-opening. It comes down to social purpose which is a cause a business may adopt in order to help make the world a better place. This differs from brand purpose, which is the purpose a market assigns to the brand, as in “I engage with the XYZ Brand to fulfill this purpose in my life.” Brand purpose has been around forever although marketers only started thinking about it in modern times. Social purpose is a relatively new phenomenon and, as such, hasn’t been studied all that much. But the folks at Marketing 2020 have taken a comprehensive look and guess what? Turns out that brands that adopt a social purpose actually do outperform those that do not.

Some of us are not surprised because, when a brand adopts a social purpose and makes it integral to its positioning, it creates a social bond with its entire market. Even if customers aren’t particularly strong champions of a company’s declared social purpose, they feel better about doing business with it. They feel like they’re supporting an organization that is trying to make the world better and not just looking out of short-term profit.

This assumes, of course, that the business in question doesn’t botch its association with its cause. (Sorry, we’re still looking at you, Pepsi. And what was that cause, anyway?) Or engage in duplicitous tactics. (Sit down, Volkswagen. Be humble.) The market is slow to forgive those who exploit or mislead, whether through lack of awareness or fraud.

But if a business builds that association honestly and authentically, it gains favor not just with potential customers but with every other constituency in its market. That would include employees, prospective employees, vendors, suppliers, etc. Showing good corporate citizenship is an excellent way to ensure your market has a net positive experience with your brand. When things go wrong in the business, its easier get a pass from your market as long as they’re convinced you’re in the good fight right alongside them. As long as you take immediate steps to solve the business problems, your involvement in a social purpose should see you through.

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Conversely, nothing angers a market more – particularly, a Millennial market – than when a popular brand, beloved for delighting customers, is discovered to be letting them down in some other way. Millennial favorite Bulleit Bourbon is losing market share right now due to allegations of sexual abuse and homophobia in the C-suite. Consumers have discovered they have the power. And, now, they’re learning how to use social media to quickly harness and wield it.

So here are a few things Marketing 2020 wants us to know:

1 – 79% of respondents from over-performing organizations said their company has a clear brand positioning. Only 51% of respondents from under-performers made the same claim.

2 – 82% of respondents from over-performing organizations said they are proud of their brand’s social purpose compared to only 66% of respondents from under-performers.

3 – 57% of respondents from over-performing organizations believe their organization ensures that all employees are fully engaged with their (social) purpose versus only 36% of respondents from under-performers.

So purpose, engagement, positioning. Get these things down and your company, too, can advance from under-performing to over-performing.


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