The brands that will thrive in the future are the ones whose essence would remain even if the company ceased to exist – the ones of which the leaders and team members, you imagine, would continue to live and breathe that passion, purpose, raison d’être long after they’ve stopped selling – finding other means to bring their cause to life.
According to this Forbes article, purpose-driven, social brands are the future. “CSR, cause-marketing, sustainability” are must-have departments, which, along with marketing teams, can no longer operate in silos, but must “align to bring a cohesive brand story to life.” But lest you think this is only about doing good, these purpose-driven organizations outperform the general market 15-1.
Three brands for which I have a personal affinity come to mind as examples.
Whole Foods Market. Whole Foods has become such a prominent crusader of all things health and wellness that to distinguish it as purpose-driven rides on the border of cliché. Nevertheless, it’s a brand I trust and feel confident putting my stamp on.
As a health enthusiast, I rely on brands like Whole Foods to curate and provide produce that align with my health philosophy (organic, non-GMO, allergen-free, etc.). Most recently, Whole Foods dropped Chobani from store shelves, due in part by Chobani’s refusal to meet Whole Foods’ non-GMO standard.
Whole Foods represents a community of people that care deeply about health (and the environment), and as someone who is part of that community, I can feel confident that despite how expansive Whole Foods has gotten, it hasn’t lost sight of its purpose and can be trusted to act in the community’s (my) best interest.
Moleskine. Though Moleskine doesn’t aim to solve “real world” problems – tangible causes such as concern for health or the environment – it transcends the blank pages of its iconic black notebook to the abstract ideas of “culture, travel, memory, imagination and personal identity.”
It brings these ideas, this philosophy to life by not only showcasing user art with myMoleskine (an online community where brand fans can post artwork they’ve created using a Moleskine notebook), but also with its clever use of social media (see #HandwritingDay and Creativity Challenge contest) and collaboration with Evernote – combining digital and analog, and keeping the handwritten spirit alive even when everything is floating onto the cloud.
The Moleskine notebook itself is simple, containing no branding whatsoever – perhaps suggesting that it is not as interested in spreading the word about its products as it is about celebrating the art and ideas that reside within its pages, created by its customers.
Patagonia. Patagonia is the ultimate purpose-driven brand – an outdoor apparel company committed to sustainability and the preservation of nature. How does Patagonia support its cause? The better question is how does it not? Almost as much of the brand’s website is dedicated to its Environment and Social Responsibility initiatives as is dedicated to actual retail and product sales.
Not only is Patagonia completely transparent about the type of materials used in its products, the company chronicles its entire thought/production process, revealing all the considerations on environmental impact it makes in all aspects of its business – from safe working conditions for textile workers, to producing fleece jackets from recycled bottles and recycled fleece jackets.
Patagonia doesn’t stop there – it has even gone as far as telling customers NOT to buy its products. With its Common Threads Partnership program, Patagonia asks customers to take a pledge that they will reduce (the amount of products they buy/consume as Patagonia builds products to last a long time), repair (the company repairs worn clothing and even shows different ways customers can repair on their own), reuse, recycle, reimagine (a more sustainable world).
The paradigm is shifting. Customers want to invest in brands that have a social purpose, that care about the environment, that are transparent and act responsibly. Brands with a purpose are the ones that will last because their customers share their interests and vision, actively support them and are the most loyal. Like Patagonia, which painstakingly ensures that it’s delivering on its promise (protecting the environment) every step of the way, brands should evaluate their raison d’être and work to create a cohesive story – making sure they are delivering on their promise and their passion at every customer touchpoint, in every aspect of their business.