Chances are good that you’ve heard the term “Brand purpose” recently.  It’s quite the buzz right now in the marketing world.  There is a growing demand in the market that companies go beyond the “P’s” that used to define a successful business:  Product and Profit.  This cultural shift has both consumers and employees seeking companies that do good in the world. A purpose.  In theory, this seems like a win-win for everyone: Companies are viewed favorably, customers feel a closer bond with the brand and the world (hopefully) becomes a better place.

This movement has grown so much that marketers are focusing on this more than ever before. According to Fast Company’s article “Brand purpose is a lie”, “Purpose has been touted as the key to 21st-century success by both the Harvard Business Review and Fast Company.” 

And it’s usually at this inflection point where things go off the rails.

“Purpose has been touted as the key to 21st-century success by both the Harvard Business Review and Fast Company.”

Marketers view this as another best practice and they want to be able to check that box.  Brand purpose?  Yep, we’re doing that.  After all, a well-produced television spot that tugs at the heartstrings is all it takes to prove to your consumers that your brand is doing the right thing, right?

That might work for brands in the short term.  However, brand purpose is a long-term commitment to do good.  It’s not something that is used in marketing messaging when it’s convenient.  It’s not something that is used strategically to increase consumer demand.  It’s not something a brand should do because everybody else is doing it.

“What a brand says is less important than what it actually does.”

Mark Ritson’s article on Marketing Week “A true brand purpose doesn’t boost profit, it sacrifices it” hits home on this problem specifically: “What a brand says is less important than what it actually does. Is the positioning driving every aspect of the company’s activities? Purpose, like any other attempt at positioning, should align absolutely with how a brand operates.” 

With brand purpose, there is no faking it until you make it.  Kevin Keohane’s article “Beyond the Purpose of Brand Purpose” put it bluntly: “Most of these “charlatan brands” that try to paint lipstick on the proverbial pig will underperform as a result, and probably cease to exist altogether, eventually.” 

For purpose to be successful, a brand needs to consider these additional three “P’s”.  Permanent, pledge and persistent.  A brand’s purpose needs to be a permanent part of the foundation of the company and its identity.  Everything the company does inside and out must align with that purpose – it’s culture, hiring, operating, marketing and strategy.  All employees must pledge their buy-in into the company’s purpose.  It simply won’t work if this is carried out by the marketing department and the CEO isn’t 100% on board or vice versa. Finally, it needs to be persistent in all of the company’s communication.  New marketing campaigns can come and go, but the brand’s purpose should be present in all of them.  It should be your absolute favorite story to tell and it should never get old.  A brand purpose is evergreen.

Does your company embrace Purpose-Driven marketing?  Or does is focus more on a marketing-driven purpose aimed at doing whatever it takes to increase profits?