• Brand Strategy
  • Sustainability

A lesson in living brand purpose


  • Brand Strategy
  • Sustainability

Curious MD Nikki Cunningham recently wrote an article praising Patagonia’s decision to donate itself to charity. Their dedication to their brand values is admirable, and it got us thinking, which other companies put their money where their mouth is when it comes to purpose? And what happens when brands miss the mark?

School’s in session

The model student: Patagonia

Perhaps the ultimate example. We recently wrote about Patagonia’s decision to donate the majority of their shares to charity is only the latest in a long history of actions that aid their purpose. Patagonia proudly proclaim their purpose and because they consistently perform actions that support their pledge to save the planet, consumers with a strong environmental conscious chose to support them.

Still learning: boohoo

At the same time as Patagonia made their big announcement, Kourtney Kardashian Barker unveiled her new position as ‘sustainability ambassador’ at boohoo. In her own words, she admits that she ‘doesn’t have all the answers’ but believes any progress towards sustainability is ‘a step in the right direction’.

This is a nice sentiment, but it is hard to believe boohoo are genuinely committed to a more sustainable agenda. They add 700 new styles to their site every week (Source) and have a reputation for treating staff poorly. Even within the capsule collection that they have released to celebrate the partnership, not all the clothes are made from recycled materials. Less talk, more action needed.

Star pupil: Bodyform

Period product seller Bodyform are on a mission to dismantle taboos and shame around women’s bodies. They have a clear image of their audience and know what makes them tick: their bold brand communications speak directly to them and speak about issues they care about.

Bodyform will be well aware that acknowledging the complicated relationship women have with their bodies will offend and displease some who see their marketing material, but for their target audience, this frank approach is what might ultimately convert them to becoming customers.


Class clown: McDonald’s

In 2019, McDonald’s swapped their plastic straws for paper. On the surface, this seemed like a great idea; single use plastic was a big issue at the time. But, when it was revealed that the new paper straws couldn’t be recycled, whereas the plastic ones could, McDonald’s was left looking foolish.

The unfortunate (and let’s be honest slightly comedic) incident made appear to consumers that McDonald’s cared more about having green associations than reducing their environmental impact.

A dedicated student: Who Gives a Crap…

Do one thing really well. That’s what we can learn from toilet paper brand Who Gives a Crap. Purpose has clearly driven the creation of their brand. Their way of generating income (loo roll subscriptions) is undoubtedly related to their core purpose of ending toilet poverty. It’s easy for their consumers to understand and link them in their minds.

They experienced exponential growth in popularity over lockdown but kept their activities simple. This has meant their purpose has not been diluted.

Could try harder: Knorr (H3)

Knorr proclaim that wholesome, nutritious food should be accessible to all – an admirable goal. But when you look at their range which contains products like ‘Butter flavour’ pasta you have to wonder if their taste team might have let purpose slip their mind.

Lessons learnt

Looking at the examples above, there’s a lot we can learn from the way they approach purpose – both good and bad.

Keep purpose front of mind (H3)

Purpose is your brand’s reason for existing. For it to be authentic, purpose can’t be something you arbitrarily decide on when starting your business. It needs to be true to you, and you need to be able to demonstrate continually.

To grow your reputation as a purpose-led brand may take time and will require commitment. One reason Patagonia has succeeded where Knorr has failed is that they have consistently completed actions that further their aim of helping the planet. Purpose comes through all aspects of their business, including how and what they make – not just in their marketing.

Mass appeal isn’t everything

When considering purpose, it can be tempting to pick a popular issue, but you need to be honest about what motivates you and go from there. Not everyone will buy into your brand, and that’s okay. If you resonate with your target audience, that’s all that matters.

Bodyform’s success comes down to how well they know their audience. They know they might offend or put off some consumers, but they don’t care: if you’re offended, then you’re not who they’re talking to.

Stay in your lane

You don’t need to comment on every issue. If a topic something isn’t related to your product, purpose or business, you might appear inauthentic if you try to claim it’s important to you.

boohoo make fashionable products that are up-to-date and affordable. They are a fashion brand for a social generation and have their finger on the pulse of popular culture. However, their production model and attitude towards fast fashion makes them seeminsinsere when they comment on sustainability.

Want to enrol?

Building brand purpose is Curious’ bread and butter – we work with all kinds of brands to discover, verbalise and visualise their purpose. We’ve put together a guide on how to do it. But the SparkNotes version is, you need to start by asking yourself why. Why does your business do what you do? Not how you do it, or what you do, but why. If you can answer that question, that’s your purpose.

It can take a lot of thought and head-scratching, but if you can find your purpose (and stick to it), it can bring your business lots of benefits. Purposeful brands have credibility and respect from consumers and increased loyalty from consumers who share the values they represent. They also tend to have good brand recognition and high public opinion. So, what are you waiting for? Time to get to work.

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