An evaluation of the challenges that face “purpose” today, and how to use it to rethink your company’s role and success.
Losing Sight of Purpose
A brand’s purpose is an ongoing conversation in marketing today. The goal of purpose is to build messaging around a brand’s foundational values to provide meaning, and take actions aligned with those same values to build authenticity.
The biggest challenge facing purpose today is impatience. It isn’t when a company makes a decision, or even gets it wrong; it’s a lack of consistency centered around the juxtaposition of who they are vs. who they want to be.
It’s easy for a company to lose sight of their purpose in challenging moments (bad press, trying to capture every seminal moment, etc.), and take the path of least resistance (i.e. an eye on profit vs. values). But the downside to these easy outs can have far more painful consequences; it impacts the employees, and how people – especially young people – view that company. Without a consistent north star, these moments have no grounding, and can add up to whittle away at a company’s ability to capture their audience.
9 in 10 young people say authenticity is incredibly important to earning trust
Purpose sets the foundation, while consistency of that purpose builds your company’s Cultural Power and authenticity.
Defining Cultural Power
How your company consistently contributes to the fabric of culture and people’s lives shouldn’t be a moment. It should be your mission.
To build a company’s Cultural Power you don’t just need purpose; you need it to be consistent with your values, and you need to demonstrate it over time.
Cultural Power is designed to increase the likelihood that a company is in – and stays in– a consumer’s consideration set (cutting through the noise) and leads to a deeper relationship (love & trust) over time.
Brands Need to Stay True in These Culture Wars
Culture wars are prominent today, both politically and commercially, and it’s a challenge for brands to stay the course.
Some are struggling to stay consistent, and taking the “easy” path, when facing down mistakes, or bad faith actors, while others remain steadfast in their purpose.
Bud Light recently tried to expand and build their values by partnering with a trans influencer, Dylan Mulvaney. Unfortunately, they experienced loud pushback from some members of their conservative base (there were public rebellion videos shared across social platforms). Instead of pushing through this moment, Bud Light reacted by placing two executives on leave and pulling their marketing, damaging any Cultural Power they’d garnered and leading to even more backlash from their more independent and liberal consumer bases.
Nike took advantage of the moment to reinforce their message that they stand behind their talent against the incoming backlash, signed Dylan Mulvaney and braced for the pushback, all while continuing to build the goodwill and Cultural Power around their brand.
This has been a consistent approach by Nike since the controversy surrounding their partnership with Colin Kaepernick.
Cultural Power Evidence: Today they test very high with young people on “Dares to take risks” (73%), “Is consistent and reliable” (72%), “Is Authentic” (70%), (according to our Culture of Trust Study).
Wal-Mart experienced public resistance with their Juneteenth celebration last year. This was an example of a powerful brand trying to build an inclusive image, but not getting the right people in the room and missing the message. They created an ice cream line to celebrate the holiday featuring a white model and didn’t acknowledge Black-owned ice cream brands. Juneteenth has a deep and powerful history, so it should be treated with depth and deftness, not as a marketing solution. Wal-Mart quickly pulled the product – a good thing – but failed to follow up with a path forward, likely losing them business.
Google: amplifying voices of underserved communities has been something that Google has become better at over the years. So highlighting achievements of the Black community in a more thoughtful and authentic way to honor a day with such a storied past was something Google was prepared for.
That same Juneteenth, they highlighted a father-son duo who wanted to “symbolize the descendants of those who were emancipated on June 19, 1865.”
Cultural Power Evidence: Today they test very high with young people on “Creates change” (77%), “Is consistent and reliable” (71%), “Is authentic” (69%), (according to our Culture of Trust Study).
Brands Don’t Need to be Perfect
Nobody Is Perfect!
You and your company are not perfect. Things happen. Corners are cut. But too often that fallibility is used as an excuse to not try in the first place. That’s the exact wrong lesson to take away from this. A company cannot be afraid to make mistakes.
Gaffes only matter if you exacerbate them, or don’t own up to them.
Struggling → Remaining Strong
Chick-fil-A was derided for anti-LGBTQIA+ donations and their owner’s previous hurtful remarks, yet they followed up by stemming the issue and re-focusing on what they consistently do best, customer service and building youth community. Their active support to young people in a working world going through turmoil has created a brand with a growing Cultural Power. And they aren’t stopping, powering through the latest cultural dustup.
Cultural Power Evidence: Today they test very high with young people on “Great Customer Service” (85%), “Is Consistent & Reliable” (82%), and “Being authentic” (74%) (according to our Culture of Trust Study).
For young people, mistakes are just mistakes (Both Gen Z and Gen Y), and can be forgiven. A brand can always resume its path in building Cultural Power. Young people know we live in an imperfect world.
9 in 10 say you can win trust back
Are You Successful?
These moments reflect the challenge with purpose: Today, many brands focus their purpose strategies on visceral reactions, rather than the bigger picture.
You can’t just vacation in the world of purpose and respond to each seminal moment without forethought to the bigger picture, it has to be a consistent and well-meaning effort over time. It has to contribute to the fabric of culture and people’s lives.
Companies that focus on positive PR, social media spikes, growth, or shareholder payouts won’t achieve the power they want; these results are tied to success, yet they aren’t true measures of a brand’s power and are extremely fickle.
True brand success is about authenticity and what makes the consumer come back. In other words: Cultural Power.
So, Now What?
So what should we do? There are two paths forward:
1. The Road(s) Traveled: Brands can ignore culture today, push purpose aside and only speak to practical elements (e.g. price, convenience, etc.) to avoid controversy; or try to just live in big cultural moments, and hope they don’t experience a backlash.
2. The Road Less Traveled: Brands can own and harness their messaging, IP, brand values and personal stories to build Cultural Power.
We can’t make that decision for you (but we can help!), but we can help you build your Cultural Power.
Our path to Cultural Power
We believe in sustained purpose and the Cultural Power path, and have been researching it for years with young people. Initially, we sought to understand what makes people fall in love with a brand, which we answered with Companion Brands, and then we expanded our scope to understand what evokes trust in a Brand, with Culture of Trust.
These frameworks highlight and emphasize the role of purpose, and provide a clear path forward for companies. To dive into our research and frameworks for developing cultural power, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.