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Make An Impact With Brand Purpose: 3 Models To Drive Change And Your Bottom Line

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When your purpose and brand strategy make sense together, your brand will be more successful.

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to host a panel at Social Media Week in New York that delved into brand purpose and “How doing good is good for the bottom line.” I interviewed three leaders from Sonos, Absolut and Peace First who are changing the way we think about purpose in business. It was a conversation from the heart, one where we really dug into the importance of a brand’s “Why,” and why it feels meaningful to us individually. While there are multiple ways to bring brand purpose to life, we focused on three ways in which the companies on that stage are doing good in the world. I’d like to dig a little deeper into these three models, and how to apply them to make an impact.

Purpose Inside Out (also known as Purpose Baked In)

In this model, purpose is built into the brand from the ground up. While there are a number of disruptive startups that are built around purpose—ones like TOMS and Warby Parker—it’s been less common to see brands at scale successfully making it work. Jeremie Moritz, Director of Digital Marketing from Absolut Elyx, shared what they are doing from seed to sip to build a sustainable spirit brand from the inside out. Absolut Elyx vodka is distilled from winter wheat harvested from local farms; the bottles are made from recycled glass, manufactured at the local glassworks; the water is pumped from underground aquifers; biofuel that transports the vodka is made at the distillery. Absolut has even partnered with the nonprofit Water For People on a five-year mission to provide access to safe water for 100,000 people. There’s more, but you get the picture: they are building transparency and sustainability into their entire supply chain, and while it’s become part of their marketing story, that’s not the only reason they’re doing it. They strive to always act with integrity, even when no one is watching. Absolut is not shouting this mission from the rooftops; they are living it. As Jonas Tahlin, CEO of Absolut Elyx, put it, “Today, it’s not enough to be made with integrity. We, as a brand, must also act with integrity. And giving back is not just about selling cases or making us feel good, this is what any contemporary brand today has to have as part of their business plan.”

Purpose-Aligned Impact

For this model, your social impact strategy is directly related to your purpose. There are a number of well-known companies that have pursued this approach, but newer brands and startups like Sonos are incorporating it just as successfully. Joe Dawson, Head of Cultural Marketing and Social Impact at Sonos, introduced the remarkable programs they have implemented in support of creative expression that resonate with the brand’s core purpose, “Listen better to Live Better.” Sonos recognized that while they didn’t have a legitimate history of activism, they did have a powerful platform, a deep passion for artistic expression, and the right resources. Rather than starting from scratch, they ‘listened’ to the nonprofit organizations and community leaders already deeply engaged in the conversation around music censorship and artists’ needs and rights, and found ways to offer partnership and provide support such as Listen Better grants, meeting spaces at Sonos stores, and a platform to amplify their voices. Sonos’ initiatives extend to digital rights and defense of net neutrality and are brought to life through innovative marketing campaigns. All are part of a cohesive strategy, connected to the brand narrative, and therefore all the more impactful.

Purpose Allies

The Purpose Allies model encourages brands to work directly with nonprofits on values-aligned issues. Bobby Jones, co-author of Good is the New Cool, is a proponent of this particular model in his role as CMO of Peace First, a nonprofit that engages youth to solve the problems that matter most, helping them to emerge as powerful peacemakers. Rather than brands trying to tackle issues where nonprofits are the expert, the partnership among the nonprofits, brands, and ‘architects of cool’ generates the necessary reach, cultural momentum, and social capital, driving the success of the program while making it worthwhile for each partner in the alliance. The Peace First Challenge is an initiative in partnership with Allstate (values-aligned in their support of ensuring a successful future for young people) that asks the youth of the world to identify an injustice that they care about and solve it. Peace First provides then them with the tools, resources, trained digital mentors, and mini-grants to do so.

These are just three models by which brands can bring their purpose to life. They are by no means exclusive of one another, and there is no “right answer” for which is best. The most important part for any company is finding an approach that works for you, and ensuring that your purpose is relevant, clear, and aligned with your brand. As these three companies and nonprofits show, when your purpose and brand strategy make sense together, your brand will be more successful and your message more impactful.

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