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Picture: 123RF/ismagilov
Picture: 123RF/ismagilov

The idea of purpose is nothing new to marketing — brands have always needed purpose to explain why they exist and what they are in business to offer. The pandemic, however, accelerated this trend with a renewed appreciation of the fact that businesses and brands don’t exist in isolation from society.

There is no question that more is expected from brands than ever before in terms of leadership, vision and action, says Astrid Ricketts, client partner Africa Insight/sustainability director at Kantar. “Purpose is no longer a nice-to-have. Instead, it drives real business value when done authentically and for the right reasons.”

She says that staying relevant to consumers is one of the biggest arguments for brand purpose. “If brands want to matter, they have to understand their audience and what really matters to them.”

Purpose also helps to build brand equity and value, maintains Ricketts. “Responsibility and leadership are drivers of corporate reputation, which in turn drives brand equity. In addition, brands with a strong purpose grow value at a faster rate.”

SA consumers attach the most importance to social issues affecting their immediate wellbeing such as poverty, hunger, health and wellbeing, education and gender equality, according to Kantar’s sustainability sector index. The index identifies the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) around which consumers show the most concern.

Other priorities include environmental concerns including clean and affordable water, sanitation and energy. Access to health care, vaccinations and mental health have also become more prominent concerns since the onset of the pandemic.

Ricketts says brands need to link their brand ambitions with their brand purpose to prove they are making a meaningful contribution to society and are addressing what is relevant to the communities they serve. “A brand’s positioning, credibility and proof points are what earns it the right to address relevant issues of the day, while its behaviour will endorse its claim to purpose,” she explains.

The essence of a sustainable purpose, she adds, is authenticity and crystal clarity around what the brand stands for — and why.

Purpose needs to be a human truth that is articulated in the sharpest way possible to connect with consumers
Sydney Mbhele

Sydney Mbhele, CEO of brand at Sanlam and chair of the Marketing Association of SA, agrees that in a vastly changed environment purpose is, first and foremost, what makes a brand distinctive and able to stand out from the clutter.

He describes purpose as that existential articulation of why a business exists and how it makes a positive difference in people’s lives.

“Brands should not promise what they can’t deliver, so it’s important that their purpose is congruent with their values, their communications and their actions,” says Mbhele. “Purpose also needs to be relevant to the brand category. That means that purpose for a soft drinks company will be different from the purpose of an insurance company or a bank, for example. Purpose needs to be a human truth that is articulated in the sharpest way possible to connect with consumers.”

For Sanlam, brand purpose is premised on the idea of ensuring customers are able to seek a better life and have confidence in their financial future. Its purpose acts as the business’s north star, providing it with ideals it strives to live up to.

Sanlam is the sponsor of the purpose category in the Marketing Achievement Awards (MAAs). “We’re involved with the MAAs because we believe in the power of brands to make a difference in people’s lives. We have experienced first-hand the benefits of relaunching as a purposeful brand in our own business,” says Mbhele.  

He says the winner of the purpose category will need to be able to convey how the brand has responded to a universal insight and how the customer has been put at the centre of the brand response.

The winners of the 2022 Marketing Achievement Awards will be announced on July 13 2022. To register for the event click here

The big take-out: “Purpose is no longer a nice-to-have. Instead, it drives real business value when done authentically and for the right reasons.”

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