Hey creators! We've all been let down by big companies making empty promises. Fraud scandals seem to pop up all the time—remember Apple with their planned obsolescence or Brita's recent issues with not actually purifying water? It's frustrating to see that profit often seems like the only thing these companies care about. As customers, we've become pretty good at spotting BS and we've learned to set high standards for brands, looking for those that genuinely care about making a positive impact. Fortunately, our customers’ habits have created a shift; we expect and support brands that stand for bigger than themselves which results in seeing brands with genuine purpose rise and thrive. Brands now have the power—and the responsibility—to truly change the world and here is why.

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"If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything." - Malcolm X

What is a brand with purpose?

All brands have a purpose, but some are more noble than others. Purpose is the foundational block of building a brand; it’s the reason why it exists. This essence informs the mission, vision, and values, as well as every decision the brand makes (if you need to know more about the elements of branding, we get into it here). Profits used to be the primary purpose of brands, and we all know too well that this focus often led to the creation of useless products, manipulation, cheap materials, exploitation, pollution…. We’ve seen it repeatedly, leaving us, the customers, feeling used and frustrated.

Now, a brand that focuses solely on profit can’t make it. We expect them to stand for something. Conscious branding is when the reason for the brand's existence is to address a problem in the world, creating change and offering solutions through its products or services. A brand with purpose strives to make a difference by leveraging its visibility, influence, and resources to give back. It recognizes that customers' money should return to them in a positive way. Brands owe much to their buyers because, without their support, they wouldn’t exist or be successful. Thus, it is only fair that customer money be reinvested in issues that matter to them. That means that just saying they stand for something isn’t enough, it is about demonstrating it with every action.

Why does purpose matter?

It matters because choosing who we buy from is one way for us, customers, to exercise power and try to make the world better. Holding big corporations responsible with our buying choices shows what we believe in when we support a brand. We decide how the world will move forward: a world led by profit and destruction, or one led by positive change, support, and stronger communities. We have woken up from a feeling of powerlessness and realized that we can decide who is making money, which means we are changing how the market works. Nowadays, people care more about a brand’s impact on the world than just the products or services they offer. In fact, 57% of consumers stick with brands that address social issues, and 66% believe that brands can create real societal and political change.

Beyond losing customers if their purpose is not aligned with customers' desires, a brand’s purpose matters because it is hard to make a change individually. However, rallying behind a brand that takes a stand on what we believe in and demonstrates real engagement is a way to make a difference. Brands have the power to create a community, listen to the needs of customers, invest in what matters to them, and respond with actions, donations, services, products, and raising awareness about these issues. Brands have platforms with sometimes millions of followers; having so many people involved in a movement makes it harder to shut down. Brands become an alternative resource to political leaders; supporting a brand is another way to vote for change when we don’t feel heard by powerful people.

Image source "The power of the people is stronger than the people in power." - Wael Ghonim

How to build a brand with purpose

Building a brand with purpose starts with being honest. Honest about the desire to make an impact not simply a dollar. Customer will know right away if it is dishonest. Then it is about asking ourselves some questions; What injustice or issue in the world do you care about? What do you want to solve or at least alleviate? What can you do?

Purposeful brands put consumers at the forefront of every decision and are upfront with their values. While the brand’s purpose won't resonate with everyone, it will deeply connect with and creates brand loyalty with those who are just as touch by this issue.

Even though the brand won’t be everyone cup of tea, it should be inclusive. Inclusive and diverse in all forms and creates campaigns that resonate with people from all backgrounds. It’s about genuinely reflecting and connecting with the audience, not just featuring diverse people in ads. Accessibility is also key, considering physical accessibility and offering content in multiple formats.

It is essential to be authentic and not simply try to mimic what brand believe their customers want to see them do as chances are it will fall into one of the many traps of performative activism. Customers will know right away if something isn’t genuine and that is why transparency should be one of the most important practice of a brand with purpose.

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What are the traps of brands with fake purpose?

I know we’ve been insisting on it a lot, but the effort of the brand has to be sincere and honest. Sometimes a brand will put on a smoke curtain in the form of an impactful purpose but yet keep profit as their main reason of existence. This becomes obvious when a brand creates a special product for pride month but is silence about LGBTQ community the rest of the year, for example. That is what we call performative activism, and it is all about pretending. On the other side though, over doing it is also an issue. When the whole marketing campaign is about every good deed the brand makes, and they make sure that everyone knows, it also feels like a marketing coup.

Tokenism and cultural appropriation are another pitfall. Brands may try to appear inclusive by featuring diverse individuals in their marketing materials without actually embracing diversity within their organization. Brands must ensure that their employees and spokespeople genuinely reflect the diversity they promote. Cultural competence is essential, as it involves respecting and understanding cultural nuances, traditions, and customs to avoid appropriation and insensitivity.

To create a truly inclusive and purpose-driven brand, purpose must be deeply embedded in the brand’s identity and practice. It’s not about a one-off stunt but about consistently demonstrating commitment through actions. Consumers need to see continuous, authentic efforts towards the brand’s stated purpose, which involves real changes and contributions to societal issues.

Examples of brand with purpose

Soccer Tots

Soccer tots is a brand we are proud to be working with. You can find them in Vancouver with their program for young children. They are all about building community, supporting each other and giving back any way they can. We love to work with brands that are all about the heart.

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Ben & Jerry's

Ben & Jerry's advocates for fair trade, supports LGBTQ+ rights, and campaigns against systemic racism. They use their platform to raise awareness about important social issues and inspire change.

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The Body Shop

Beyond skincare and beauty products, The Body Shop is committed to cruelty-free practices and sustainability. They actively campaign against animal testing in cosmetics, promote fair trade practices, and use their influence to advocate for environmental protection and women's rights.

Image source "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." - Mahatma Gandhi

Smart brands know that their customers are more than buyers—they're the one who determine their faith. Successful purpose-led brands align with their customers' values and want to give back. They think beyond profits and ask how can they serve the customer? They focus on building real relationships because they know that their customers can make or break them. Now branding is about being transparent and serving the people and the world instead of some CEO’s dream of owning 22 houses around the world.

If you love this theme, we have a whole article about Innovative sustainable practice in design & another one about MAC as an activist brand!

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