As more and more organizations are realizing the benefits of building social purpose into their brand, it’s easy to get on the bandwagon without having clear objectives. However, consumers can see through social purpose initiatives that miss the mark — and are increasingly holding companies accountable for using purpose as an opportunistic marketing strategy.

Mistakes in Social Purpose Strategies

In The Purpose Revolution, Dr. John Izzo outlines the mistakes many brands make when developing a social purpose strategy, and how to avoid them. Izzo says that brands should remember three main points when developing a social purpose strategy:

1. Purpose is not a strategy

If you are using social purpose solely as a strategy to gain market share or talent, stakeholders will see through this approach and will write you off as insincere.

2. Money is not a purpose

Although making money should be a clear focus for any for-profit business, organizations that have a purpose beyond increasing sales have been proven to be more profitable, with higher employee engagement, than those who do not.

3. Purpose is not a marketing program

Manufacturing a purpose as a marketing initiative will come off as inauthentic and opportunistic, and will fall short when it comes to getting buy-in from stakeholders. The key is to finding a purpose within the fabric of your organization, that resonates with or without a marketing plan behind it.

Brands that Have Failed at Purpose

Although many brands are succeeding at integrating their social purpose strategies into their overall business plans, some major international brands have missed the mark in delivering authentic, sincere communication around their social purpose. Indeed, brands like Pepsi and Dove have made recent attempts at utilizing social purpose as a marketing strategy, and faced backlash on the international stage.

Most recently, Pepsi seemingly made a “cheap attempt to spin a corporate line out of important protest movements such as Black Lives Matter (BLM) and the Women’s March” with their celebrity-driven campaign featuring Kendall Jenner, and a protest with a happy ending. The backlash was immediate and strong, with over 15,000 ‘thumbs downs’ on YouTube within 24 hours, versus 3,000 likes. The campaign was viewed as an opportunistic and short-sighted marketing ploy, and nothing else.

Dove, on the other hand, has had very successful marketing and branding campaigns based around their social purpose initiative, Campaign for Real Beauty. The company has integrated this initiative into their brand and business values, from top to bottom. However, they have also had missteps, most recently with an ad that attempted to thoughtfully represent women of colour. The ad was widely criticized as racist.

Finding a Purpose that Aligns with your Brand

When it comes to ensuring your social purpose strategy avoids the kinds of issues profiled above, it pays to do a full assessment of your organization’s values, including those of your internal and external stakeholders. The goal: find a  purpose that completely aligns with your brand. (Want to know how? I’ve outlined ways to create a social purpose brand that works.)

So, to sum things up…..ensure buy-in from your stakeholders, fully align your social purpose strategy with your brand’s values, and make sure your organization lives the purpose from top to bottom (and not just within a marketing campaign). In doing so, you’ll avoid making missteps that can undermine your intentions, and you’ll begin to reap the rewards a social purpose strategy can bring.

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