Purpose has become a critical metric in brand success, and leading brands and businesses are not only figuring out how to incorporate purpose into their overall strategy, but also to clearly communicate those intentions to their audiences. But many are having a hard time determining how to turn their purpose intentions into action.
New research from marketing transformation firm Razorfish unpacks changing consumer attitudes toward brand purpose. The study, The Truths, Myths and Nuances Behind Purpose, with research partner VICE Media Group, seeks to understand how consumers across generations and demographics view purpose and the role it plays in purchase decisions and brand loyalty. It found that, while consumers are increasingly wary of “purpose signaling,” their expectation that brands have a positive impact on society remains high.
Research findings indicate that Gen Z is a driving force behind the call for change. Gen Z is 2x more likely than millennials, and 3x more likely than Gen X, to feel that brands—more so than media companies and institutions—are more likely to make the world a better place. This generation also prioritizes purpose when making purchasing decisions, with 76 percent stating the brands they buy stand for a greater mission/purpose.
Millennials and Gen X are no different, albeit by varying degrees, and the new report cautions that it’s important that brands not focus their purpose efforts exclusively on Gen Z. In fact, 62 percent of consumers of all ages surveyed say that when it comes to making purchase decisions, a brand’s values are important or very important to them, with 40 percent actively researching a brand’s values and practices. Brand purpose (41 percent) also outweighs other benefits, including innovation (32 percent) and discounts (26 percent), when choosing a brand.
Purpose is on the brink of losing its purpose
The pandemic has changed how people think about brands, their missions and values. Consumers place a greater importance on purpose when making purchase decisions, but many brand efforts fall flat.
“Most brands have jumped on the purpose bandwagon, but few actively drive it forward,” said Nicolas Chidiac, brand strategy lead at Razorfish, in a news release. “We’re at the peak of purpose washing, and it’s imperative that brands not only clearly communicate their purpose but authentically put it into practice in everything they do. Brands are beyond the ‘why’ and are struggling with the ‘how’ to follow through and tie purpose to performance.”
Purpose holds value(s)
The study also found that:
● Purpose influences purchase
Eighty-two percent of respondents stated that the brands they buy personally (and 75 percent of the brands their friends buy) stand for a greater mission/purpose.
● Consumers care about both societal and personal benefit
Seventy-six percent of respondents say the brands they buy make the world a better place and 67 percent said the brands they buy make them a better person.
● Purpose is amplified by proximity
Forty percent of respondents stated that buying local food/drinks became more important to them during the pandemic, while 7 in 10 respondents agreed that it’s important/extremely important for brands to give back to their local community.
“The meaning and value of purpose in society have evolved significantly over the past couple years. It’s no longer enough for brands to simply have a purpose. That purpose has to be accessible and attainable through their everyday work and culture,” said Julie Arbit, Global SVP, Insights at VICE Media Group, in the release. “Brands need to demonstrate their purpose in everything they do and invite consumers to join them. Acting on purpose is what builds authenticity and trust and gets today’s consumers to buy in—both figuratively and literally.”
Putting purpose into practice
Brands today have a great opportunity to put action behind their words and to positively impact society. The report recommends that brands:
● Keep it 100 – Purpose appropriation has led to an erosion of consumer trust. Take stock of where you stand and what purpose you serve your consumer, both personally and societally.
● Take small steps – Purpose, like people, is complicated. Focus on your immediate impact, your local community, and the power of your voice.
● Invite consumers in – Purpose isn’t always accessible. Reduce the time it takes for consumers to discover and trust your purpose by revealing it across all touchpoints.
Razorfish and VICE Media Group conducted three phases of research in the US between May and June 2021. Phase 1 consisted of 12 x 60-minute in-depth phone interviews. Phase 2 included an online survey of 900 consumers. Phase 3 consisted of further testing and analysis with a subset of 150 participants across demographics. Generations were evenly represented across respondents, with Gen Z, Millennial and Gen X+ as the categorical breakdown.