As the competition in a market increases, the challenge of attaining and retaining customers for a company in that market increases as well. Customers quite rightly believe, until they are shown otherwise, that hidden motive of any brand is to sell something. This reduces their affinity towards a brand, and with the growing number of options available in the market, it is easier than ever for a brand to loose customers to competition. But if the brand is able to prove to the customers that its profit making is only a by-product of a larger purpose, it gains affection of the customers making it harder for the competition to break this customer-brand bonding. This concept of branding, where a company works towards a larger purpose considering profit-making to be a by-product, is known as purpose-driven branding.
Now let’s look into how this purpose-driven branding works. Each company has a mission which gives it the direction in the long run. Any company that is successful has a very clear mission statement. The company founders and leaders have a vision which is the primary driver for attaining that mission. Some brands have a mission that is more than just selling something or being a market leader in some area. This “larger purpose” mission is something that, knowingly or unknowingly, sets the brand on this incredible path of purpose-driven branding, making success a definite “by-result”.
The first brand that comes to mind while talking about purpose-driven branding is Whole Foods. Whole Foods clearly states that its a company that works towards setting the standards of excellence for food retailers. You visit a Whole Foods store and you get a vibe that this is not a place where making profits is the primary objective (even though the items at Whole Foods are more expensive than those at a Krogers or Safeways). Whole Foods creates an affinity with its customers by making them realize that its primary objective is not to sell them groceries, but to work towards a larger goal of providing them with better stuff, stuff that is good for them and is also good for the environment. You hear Whole Foods founder John Mackey talk, or read the company blog, and you will certainly get a feeling that this company is doing more than just making profits, placing it right at the top of the list for Purpose-driven brands.
Another brand that is able to do purpose-driven branding successfully is Google. Google made its customers believe that its primary objective is not to make profits but just to organize the World’s information and make it universally accessible. Google does not alter its search results to push up sponsored pages and marks sponsored links clearly to prove that they are sticking to their mission. This has won the brand great customer affinity in a market where barrier to entry is almost negligible.
A not so typical example of purpose-driven branding is Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. It’s a brand driven by volunteers who maintain the most up-to-date information repository in the World. It’s not so typical, because making profits is not even a by-product over here. Another purpose-driven brand to watch for in the future is Wikia, which is founded by Jimmy Wales (the founder of Wikipedia), and has profit making as a by-product.
Purpose-driven branding is not something that can be easily faked by the brand managers. Brands should really keep themselves away from posing as if they are working towards a larger purpose to attract customers. Customers are too smart to identify a poser and such tactics can lead to permanently damaging the image of the brand. The drive towards the larger purpose should be there in the roots of the brand. It should be something that the customers are able to sense, not something they are to be told explicitly. Authenticity is very essential for the success of purpose-driven branding, and if a brand gets that right, it develops the muscles to even take on competitors with far deeper pockets than theirs.