As companies look to connect with consumers in more meaningful ways, brand purpose has rapidly moved up the agenda. But with an increasing number of businesses making it a focus of their marketing, consumers are understandably getting a little sceptical – particularly when there is not a clear line between the brand and its purpose.
People are beginning to question whether it is really the responsibility of a biscuit brand to try to combat loneliness or a beer brand to make people think differently about feminism.
New research shows 60% of businesses that launch brand purpose initiatives fail to actually measure their impact on society, which completely undermines what they are doing.
In order to conduct the study, Dentsu Aegis looked at the the winners of Cannes Lions Grand Prix and Gold awards. Over the past four years, 29% of the awards have been given to ‘purposeful’ campaigns, and in 2017 alone this number jumped to nearly 50%.
But the analysis shows not enough effort is being put into measuring the impact of these purpose-driven campaigns on society, with marketers preferring to evaluate their campaigns using marketing metrics alone. Campaigns promoting diversity and health have the fewest relevant metrics, it finds.
It also says brands could be accused of “corporate greenwashing” if they fail to show evidence of improving society with their purpose work, either in the short or long term.
So it’s time companies get their act together and start showing consumers – as well as their employees – that what they’re doing is more than just a hollow marketing push.
Setting an example
One brand looking to support its claims with an evidence-based approach is The Body Shop. Head of global campaigns Jessie Macneil-Brown believes brands that fail to measure the social impact of their purpose are missing out on building trust and engagement with customers.
The ethical beauty retailer has a long history of engaging consumers through its commitment to activism. First launched in 2009, The Body Shop’s ‘Stop Sex Trafficking’ petition has to date received over seven million signatures, while its ‘Forever Against Animal Testing’ campaign has garnered 5.7 million signatures.
Already the biggest campaign ever to call for an end to animal testing in cosmetics, The Body Shop is clear about its aim to reach eight million signatures in 2018. It is calling on all member countries to pass a resolution at the UN General Assembly to initiate the proceedings that will lead to the convention, with the ultimate goal of enforcing harmonised rules that end the practice.
To give the campaign a high-profile boost, in January The Body Shop teamed up with 11 dogs that have popular social media accounts – as well as their owners – to protest outside the United Nations headquarters in New York, calling for an end to animal testing in cosmetics. The protest was broadcast on Facebook Live and saw the ‘dog influencers’ wearing placards saying ‘Dogs Against Cruelty’, while the human activists wore ‘Forever Against Animal Testing’ T-shirts and tote bags.
Macneil-Brown describes the activity as a creative and positive way of getting consumers interested in a serious message, which is fully in-keeping with The Body Shop’s brand DNA.
“If you want to get your purpose to your customers and the general public you need to make sure it’s omnichannel and you’re inspiring customers every time you speak to them,” she explains.
“We’re sending customers emails and we embrace new technology, but a lot of it is still down to the stores and that’s the beauty of The Body Shop – we’re in 70 countries, we have 3,000 stores around the world – so we have the opportunity to talk to customers on the high street. It needs to feel like it’s more than just signing a petition and if [customers] want to take that further they can be part of that journey with you.”
The Body Shop communicates with its supporters on a daily basis, pushing messages out via mobile and updating till points with the latest fundraising target. Macneil-Brown recommends any brand to make it clear and quantifiable to consumers how each campaign is driving social change.
Keeping pace with society
Mastercard chief marketing and communications officer, Raja Rajamannar, agrees that failing to measure the impact of your brand purpose on both wider society and internal culture is a missed opportunity.
The payments company has aimed to measure the social impact of its Priceless brand positioning ever since it was launched over 20 years ago. Acknowledging the desire among young consumers to engage with brands that have a clear core purpose, Mastercard hopes the campaign’s latest iteration – ‘Start Something Priceless’ – will resonate with society in 2018.
The new positioning was unveiled in January to support Mastercard’s sponsorship of the Grammy's via a short film featuring five-time 2018 Grammy nominee SZA and six emerging artists covering ‘You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover’ by blues musician Willie Dixon.
The UK launch in February marked Mastercard’s 20-year sponsorship of the Brit Awards. The brand commissioned Grammy award-winning British music producer David Arnold to compose a highly emotional piece of music and then invited people whose relationships have broken down to reconnect while listening to the track. The song was performed by Eden, a music student at the Brit School.
The impact of all Mastercard’s Priceless activity is measured across a variety of metrics. The company analyses perceptions beyond traditional awareness, looking at whether the company is seen as a purposeful, likable or trusted brand. The team also looks at a how the campaign is connecting emotionally with consumers and whether this encourages affection for the brand.
“We always measure the sentiment on social media. Not just what the sentiment is, but the qualification of the sentiment,” Rajamannar explains.
“It’s not enough to say is it a positive or negative comment? What kind of positive or negative comment? What do we understand from the social conversations?”
From a business metric perspective, the team analyse what the purpose campaign is doing for the business in a positive way in terms of driving more volume and sales for Mastercard or helping to retain consumers. The company also takes into account the results of independent third-party ratings and rankings from the likes of BrandZ and Interbrand, alongside Y&R’s brand asset valuator.
Driving social advocacy
The marketing strategy at The Economist is designed to match the overarching editorial mantra around promoting progress. All marketing is content-led, meaning the editorial DNA is built into every digital ad or piece of marketing activity, says The Economist’s Michael Brunt, who has recently taken up the role of chief operating officer having previously been managing director of circulation and CMO.
“Our experiential activity, for example, looks to link our content with real life experiences. One of our most famous experiential campaigns brought our article on food sustainability to life by giving out insect-laced ice cream around major cities throughout the world,” he explains.
“It gave people the chance to experience what it will be like for future generations to consume protein through insects instead of meat, which will be in short supply in 50 years.”
With regard to wider purpose campaigns, The Economist has committed to tackle inequality through its Educational Foundation by helping give disadvantaged young people the skills to think for themselves about current affairs.
Central to this is the Burnet News Club, a network of state school news clubs that develop young people’s thinking skills and literacy through challenging topical discussions. Students take part in weekly teacher-led sessions at school and join online discussions with other young people across the UK, alongside leading experts on current affairs.
The most recent virtual event attracted over 1,000 pupils from 37 schools, who were assigned the task of helping a fictional first-time voter decide which of her local MPs to choose.
In the short term, The Economist’s Educational Foundation hopes the Burnet News Club will help arm 9- to 14-year-olds with in-depth knowledge of the issues affecting their lives and give them the confidence to join the wider debate.
Brunt explains that in terms of brand strategy, The Economist does not shout about its Educational Foundation, because it does “phenomenal” work on its own.
“Investors like it because it’s a genuine campaign, already doing great work, that’s naturally aligned with our core values. The Foundation also produces very detailed impact reports. The results are vigorously surveyed and quantified, which is advisable for any brand aligning a marketing strategy with social purpose,” he adds.
The impact report from the 2016/17 cohort shows the Burnet News Club doubled the number of 9- to 14-year-old pupils it works with to more than 700 students, 48% of whom are disadvantaged students eligible for Pupil Premium funding.
The program works with 61 schools (36 primary and 25 secondary) across the UK. Some 98% of students taking part in the program said they were more knowledgeable about current affairs after taking part. Furthermore, 81% reported they had developed their logic skills, 84% had boosted their curiosity, 76% had increased their skepticism around current affairs, 74% had upped their negotiating skills and 72% had improved their storytelling.
Of the teachers surveyed, 88% reported that the Burnet News Club had had a positive effect on student literacy, while 90% of students said taking part in the programme has helped with their school work.
“I think it is always good to measure the impact of your activity whether it is a traditional marketing campaign or a campaign that raises awareness about an important societal issue,” says Brunt.
“Our marketing will always be closely aligned with our brand values of advocating for positive change. And we are proud of the work that our Educational Foundation (which sits alongside The Economist, not inside it) does each year. But at the end of the day, we don’t claim to have a brand that will save the planet – just inform it,” he concludes.