Purpose-driven brands need to find their purpose
I was recently interviewed by David Brown from The Message, a national online publication for a new age of Canadian Marketing, regarding my transition from Marketing Executive to Cleantech Venture Capital. During the interview process, David asked me what my thoughts were about purpose-driven brands. My initial response was very much related to an article I had just read which highlighted that although many consumer brands have been creating purpose-driven campaigns, such as the successful yet controversial Nike Kaepernic campaign or the more recent Gillette ad - the data shows that it's not resonating with their Millennial target audience. But a simple google search for purpose-driven brands and millennials shows quite the opposite. For the past few years, the marketing industry has been talking about how purpose is THE best way to connect with the younger generation.
So what’s happening?
First, I think it’s important to define purpose in this context. We are not seeing most brands doing this with an inwards focused exercise, where they look at their vision and mission and communicate outwards from there. Rather, what we are seeing is brands piggy-backing on an external purpose that matters to their audience. With the current political climate in the US, it is no surprise that brands like Nike and Gillette made a lot of noise with their new campaigns. But these polarizing views clearly do not speak to all Americans, and when you zoom out and consider the rest of the world, it resonates even less. Furthermore, purpose needs to be about more than just fighting for a belief with words and images, brands need to act.
Some brands get it
A great example of a brand truly taking action towards a greater purpose, and one that resonates worldwide with the majority of audiences, is Adidas. Adidas is clearly zeroing in on Climate Change by designing shoes that are made with ocean plastics and most recently launching a 100% recyclable shoe that lasts forever.
Some brands are starting to get it
Marriott and other brands are getting rid of their plastic straws. Others are looking at ways to lower their carbon footprint. But one has to ask, with such small improvements, so late in the game, are these brands doing it because it is their purpose, or are they reactively making changes to survive?
If brands truly cared about their consumers and their environmental impact, then they would make drastic changes, even if it made their shareholders and executives less money. Imagine if McDonalds took a stand and decided to no longer sell soft drinks which have clearly been linked with zero health benefits, obesity and health risks. What if Starbucks invested in solar roofs for all of their brick and mortars? In all fairness, there are brands that are really making an effort and impact. Walmart for example is not only taking solar energy seriously, they are leading the pack in terms of corporate deployments. And then there are brands that are trying with the wrong methods, like this recent Coca Cola campaign which basically tries to distract the consumer from any real corporate responsibility on their part.
It’s not enough to reduce your carbon footprint, I think that these large brands have a bigger responsibility. They need to aim for what I call the Brand Offset, where they are working towards carbon neutrality. Even more, some newer brands are claiming to be “Climate Positive”, for example simbly.com who makes climate positive furniture, or Max Burger, the Swedish company offsetting 110% of its carbon emissions.
And so, to truly compete and stay relevant, brands are going to have to dig deeper. And for the executives who might ask, why should we? My answer is that for large consumer brands who have global reach, it is their responsibility as corporate citizens of the world, to leverage that power for good. If they don’t, someone else will.
Mick brings 18 years of professional services experience to Inerjys and is responsible for both operations, marketing and helping portfolio companies with their commercialization challenges. Mick founded Twist Image in 2000, grew it to one of the largest Digital Marketing agencies in Canada which was later acquired by WPP in 2014. Throughout his career, Mick has worked with Fortune 500 companies in developing business strategies, marketing plans and helping them transform their businesses into the digital age.
Inerjys is not an advertising agency, nor are we consultants. We do however go above and beyond what a typical VC offers by bringing our expertise to the table on day one (sometimes even before). It all starts with identifying which levers will make the biggest impact to the bottom line as our portfolio companies get ready to take on the commercialization hurdle.