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How Marketing with Purpose Drives Business

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Brands are playing an ever more active role in society today, but if many are to thrive over the next five to ten years, ‘purpose’ has to be embedded at the very heart of business and culture.

Doing good is good business and social purpose drives sales. In what has been a tough year for consumers because of the Coronavirus pandemic, a brand’s purpose has taken center stage. Consumers are buying from businesses that show empathy and long-term commitment to issues that matter to them. And brands are realizing that authenticity and trust is fundamental is driving these connections with consumers.

“Prior to the pandemic there was this movement towards wanting sustainable, accessible and inclusive products, but this has all accelerated,” said MJ DePalma, head of inclusive marketing for Microsoft Advertising. “In the pandemic we’ve seen businesses double down on what is their purpose. It’s about looking at your brand mission and understanding your role in the world. How can you step into the most important needs when there’s a crisis? That is where you find relevance and authenticity. We found that authenticity is the number one brand attribute to building one of the most important things that brands really need to focus on: trust.”

DePalma was referring to Microsoft’s ‘Marketing with Purpose Playbook’, which details three strategies and five inclusive behaviors that are the building blocks of trust. The aim is to help businesses understand the mechanism of building trusting relationships with their customers.

Melissa Noakes, head of sponsorship & events for Santander UK, agreed that: “Purpose is no longer a peripheral ‘nice to have’ in a presentation. The vision, mission and promise that you make has to be embedded within your business; authenticity and trust is fundamental.”

Noakes added that being a brand with purpose “drives a different mentality within the organization that drives results outside the organization” and noted that what drives a brilliant company is having ambition and goals, and not being afraid to reach for the stars.

“You know that you’re not perfect but you’re not afraid to go on that journey,” she said. “There’s going to be some bumps along the way but, to have your board behind you or your chairman championing that message from the rooftops is a very unique position to be in.”

“It’s about understanding how you fit into solutions and making sure that you are pivoting correctly and quickly,” added Jeffrey Whitford, head of sustainability and social business innovation and branding, Merck, a life science company which plays an important role in the pandemic response. “Part of our mission is core to this whole purpose aspect. The purpose is right there. Transparency and authenticity come through so loud and clear and you can tell when you hit that note and you’re in that space, it’s such a sweet spot.”

For Steven Moy, CEO of Barbarian, the same rings true. “We have to think, what do we stand for? What is our purpose and our belief in how we guide our clients? Because there’s a lot of sensitivity in terms of what we should and should not be saying. We have to ask ourselves what our purpose is - which, to us, is our vision, mission and promise to our client.”

Starting with the right foundations is essential to marketing with purpose. This includes building trust and being inclusive - not only internally but for the customers you serve. It’s not a one-way street and you need to create shared values.

“The core of what we’ve always said is data and transparency is our keys to the kingdom,” said Whitford. “As long as we’re able to demonstrate those, the rest of the road will work its way out. Once you build those bonds, you have to be very careful to protect them.”

For some businesses, this new approach will require destroying the old in order to create the new, says Moy: “If you want to create something new, you have to unlearn everything you think you know about your people, your customer, even your brand.”

MJ DePalma, head of inclusive marketing, Microsoft Advertising, Steven Moy, CEO, Barbarian, Melissa Noakes, head of sponsorship & events, Santander UK, Jeffrey Whitford, head of sustainability and social business innovation and branding, Merck were taking part in the ‘How marketing with purpose drives business’ panel at The Drum Digital Summit 2020, moderated by Gordon Young, co-founder & editor-in-chief, The Drum