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Purpose Driven Marketing. What is it Exactly?

By Femke van Zandvoort

If you ask several Corporate Marketing Officers to define purpose-driven marketing precisely, you will probably get a different answer from each of them. The term is widely used, but the meaning is not always the same. What is ‘purpose’ in a business context? In this article, we’ll discuss three definitions, that, all in their own right, add value to a brand. We’ll explore what works, and why and finish with some great examples.

  1. Purpose Marketing

The first definition of purpose marketing we often come across is closely associated with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). In this case, you are dealing with issues relating to the location of your company. Creating value for the community or the environment that a company operates in is as important as creating economical value for its stakeholders. The purpose marketing is the reasoning behind investing in the company. Consumers are not just people who buy your products, they are also citizens who are sensitive to what is happening in their environment and society. If done well, citizens are more involved, creating value and a positive image for a brand. If the brand seems insincere, it will lose its credibility and be accused of greenwashing, ultimately damaging its image.

  1. Purpose Brands

A second take on purpose is a brand that was specifically built around an existing issue that needed to be resolved. Here the impetus lies more on the job to be done and not so much on the consumer and other stakeholders. The marketer in this case monitors consumers closely to see how a product or service is used and how it solves a specific problem.

  1. Purpose as Purpose

The third type of purpose we’ll discuss is the one closest to the dictionary definition of purpose: “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.” Although not necessarily the case, the contribution your company provides to solving people’s or society’s problems at large is embedded in the company’s vision and mission statement. Brands like these are created with a shared value mindset; social interest is part of their DNA. The tackled issues don’t all have to be world-saving; they can be anything. If a product or service fulfills a need, it inherently has a purpose.

Why now?

"ANA members selected Brand Purpose" as the ANA Marketing Word of the Year not long ago. Does this mean that needing a purpose is a recent phenomenon? Not entirely, but the rise of the Internet and social media has taken brand purpose to a higher level.

With the birth of the internet and then email, the influence of the consumer on multi-national brands picked up a notch. However, with the introduction of social media, brands began to take an interest in hashtags and social media groups to gain a better understanding of what was driving their customers. With a better understanding of what their customers wanted, brands started taking positions and addressing some of the social concerns of their customers. This gave rise to today’s purpose-driven brands.

Today, consumers - especially millennials - are more self-aware and more conscious of their purpose and place in the world.

Talking about the why

It turns out we are more likely to remember a story than fact: In their book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath experimented with students at Stanford. Students were asked to prepare a one-minute speech on whether non-violent crime is a severe problem. On average, the students used 2.5 statistics in their one-minute speeches, and only one in ten students used a story to get their message across. When it came to remembering the presentations ten minutes later, however, only 5% of the audience could recall individual statistics, whereas 63% could remember the stories.

In turn, the power of brand storytelling helps people understand what a business does, how it’s done, and, most importantly, why it’s done. Or, as Simon Sinek puts it: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it”. The more people understand and believe the brand’s purpose and story, the more they’ll engage with the brand.

Why purpose-marketing is effective

Although we believe we act rationally and think through our decisions, purchase decisions are often not made entirely consciously. We not only buy products because we need them, but also because of how those products make us feel.

When people associate brands with positive memories, good feelings, and meaningful causes, they’re far more likely to choose that particular brand. Companies like Nike and Tesla have understood this concept very well. Whether it is to “bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” (Nike) or "accelerate the world’s transition into sustainable energy" (Tesla), these brands understand how to share their purpose in a way that resonates with others.


Like with all advertising and branding, the audience needs to believe what you do. When brands try very hard to look good, but reality exposes a different picture, this can potentially backfire on the brand. Authentic brands have progressive ideas, behave transparently, show passion and commitment, and are sincere and consistent. Those brands exude stability and confidence and therefore have the edge over the competitors. To trust a brand, our brains build a model of what the brand is likely to do and why. If your customers trust your communication around environmentally friendly production processes but find out the opposite is true, the purpose marketing attempts are useless and even harmful.

This article was initially published in Insights Magazine. Become the smartest in the room and get immediate access to the largest neuromarketing article archive in the world!