Purpose grows up

Hannah Muirhead
By Hannah Muirhead | 23 February 2022
Hannah Muirhead.

Hannah Muirhead is Head of Brand Strategy at The Brand Agency in Perth.

Sometime in 2011, my boyfriend and I moved to a shack in a Colombian fishing village. Our shack had two rooms, no glass in the windows, and concrete floors - not the chic kind. We had gas and occasional electricity. The kitchen housed two saucepans, a wooden spoon, a few chipped plates, two forks, three teacups, and a fridge. I had never been happier.

We all need to consume less, and having lived with less, I know it doesn’t require any personal sacrifice of my happiness at all. And yet… I still get stirred by a sale, sucked in by a Boxing Day deal and overwhelmed by modern life to the point that, yes, I do buy single serve chip packets for my kids’ lunchboxes because I-just-don’t-have-the-time-to-bake.

Like most people, I suffer from a significant intention-behaviour gap. This gap describes the failure to translate intentions into action. Put more simply, people don’t do what they say they will do.

As spoilt westerners with high disposable income, we are too comfortably conditioned to follow through with our best intentions. Our attitudes only take us so far.

Way back in 2010, Jason Clay VP of WWF gave a TED Talk where he shared the frightening statistic that a cat in Europe has a bigger ecological footprint than a human in sub-Saharan Africa. The position then, was that rather than try to engage with individuals to save biodiversity, we need corporations to step in.

It was radical at the time: the idea that sustainability could be above competition.

And yet here we are.

Environment, social and governance initiatives (ECG) – largely driven by staff and investor pressure – have become a core focus for business leaders. We are seeing bold ambitions for net zero by 2030, for reduction in packaging wastes and other social initiatives. And no surprises they are making a better go of it than the days when brand purpose was stuck in an endless loop in the marketing function. Thankfully, it’s happening faster and is having a more widespread impact than any one in adland could have hoped for.

So, Brand Purpose: it’s time to grow up.

Real systemic change is happening (slowly, but surely) to face the myriad crises on the horizon. As we set our intentions in the new year, it’s worth reflecting: what role do we, as brand creators, play in supporting this shift?

As has always been the case, the role for brand in the shift to purpose is this: make it interesting, make it relevant, make people feel something.

Most of the storytelling surrounding purpose in business is neither competitive, differentiating, or interesting. Like most things created at boardroom tables, the language can become jargonistic and staid. Quite rightly, it involves the language of compliance, governance, and policy. Leaden commitments and monotonous position statements.

But for customers and staff, purpose messaging is most compelling when it emotionally resonates with them. Step up to the plate, creative agencies.

No longer do we need to convince our clients of the role of purpose in driving business growth. No longer do we have to convince ourselves that by creating brand purpose strategy, we are going to make the world a better place.

What we can do is support the ESG initiatives of clients by helping to translate the buzzwords into benefits. Using our specialised talent for connection and storytelling we need to help make purpose relevant to customers. Through the power of branding, we can make our purpose-led clients not the preferred choice, but the easy choice. For this is what branding has always excelled at and this is how we can contribute to helping purpose thrive across the corporate world.

By crafting compelling brand messages to share their purpose in meaningful, relevant, and motivating ways we can help convert the distracted, irrational consumer battling their own intention behaviour gap from the dark to the light, no personal sacrifice in sight.
comments powered by Disqus