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Posted on Jan 26, 2018

Removing the Barriers to Purpose-Driven Marketing

Removing the Barriers to Purpose-Driven Marketing

I recently obtained a copy of the Fourth Annual State of Marketing: Insights and trends from 3,500 global marketing leaders. This report is produced by Salesforce Research.

One of the insights that grabbed my attention was the increased focus on Purpose-Driven Marketing, defined by the researchers as “any positioning that represents an organization’s greater purpose and beliefs.” To understand this trend, we have to look no further than recent Super Bowl commercials.

Here are a few examples.

  • Hyundai’s positioning of “Better Drives Us” demonstrated through the company’s support of the U.S. military, as shown in their 2017 Super Bowl ad.

  • Audi’s positioning of “Progress is for everyone” demonstrated through the company’s support of equal pay for equal work in America, as shown in their 2017 Super Bowl ad.

  • Stella Artois positioning itself as giving back through a partnership with Water.org where a donation of fresh water to impoverished nations is made with the purchase of a Stella Artois chalice. This is shown in their 2018 Super Bowl ad.

However, while purpose-driven marketing (as we’ll call it here) might be appealing to marketers, it’s not so easy to do well.

Big Ad Campaign Gone Wrong

Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 84 Lumber is one of the largest privately held building-materials suppliers in the country. Its annual revenues are estimated to be $2.5 billion.

For it’s first ad ever in a Super Bowl, the company tried to take a stand and make a political statement about the proposed border wall between Mexico and the United States. But their agency’s creativity may have been a little TOO creative when they ran their ad in the 2017 Super Bowl, teasing viewers with the first part of an emotional story that then required them to view the rest of the story online.

According to this article, 84 Lumber’s ad campaign:

  • Said little about the company, which was unknown to many viewers.
  • Portrayed a rather negative emotion, right before a high-energy half-time show.
  • Proved to be a bad experience for many viewers when the website crashed.
  • Was rejected by the network (Fox), forcing the company to significantly alter the ad, and thereby reducing the impact of the message.
  • Overall was viewed as a failure by ad scoring companies.

So why would any company take the risk to even consider purpose-driven marketing?

Because consumers are demanding it, and business professionals expect it.

According to the report by Salesforce Research:

“60% of consumers are likely to switch brands if a company isn’t socially responsible and 80% of business professionals believe companies have a responsibility to go beyond profit to make an impact on society.”

This data is rather compelling, and may explain why some businesses have pursued certification as a B Corp (or “Benefit Corporation”), and why more and more companies are producing “Corporate Sustainability Reports.” It would appear that business leaders now see profit attached to being seen as good corporate citizens and as good stewards over the environment.

So what’s the problem?

Barriers to Purpose-Driven Marketing

There is another aspect highlighted in the report that is of great concern to me. The researchers highlight the top 3 issues hindering marketing teams from delivering purpose-driven marketing:

  1. Marketers don’t want to risk putting out a message that polarizes their audiences.
  2. They are unsure how to connect their values to their marketing strategy.
  3. There is insufficient executive buy-in.

The first concern is obvious, and I respect it. No marketer wants to alienate even a portion of their target audience. And the third issue is a common challenge for any major initiative.

But the second perceived barrier actually contains the solution – it’s just reversed!

Purpose-driven marketing works when you connect the marketing strategy to the company’s values.

To do this, a company must first take the time to identify the few values that make a difference – for THAT company – the ones that separate it from competitors. Generic or common values won’t work.

For purpose-driven marketing to be successful, the leaders of a company must be crystal clear on the few differentiating values that are unique, relevant, and sustainable. These are the ones that already resonate with existing customers, and will attract even more customers if the messaging is aligned to them.

Once the right values are selected, connecting the marketing strategy to them should be as straightforward as explaining the company’s purpose. In addition, executive buy-in to the strategy should be organic as the values already resonate. And the target audience will not be polarized as the values are the brand promise.