Marketing Brand Purpose Brand Strategy

‘Purpose-built brands’: we don’t want to buy from brands; we want to experience them

By Gokce Ince | Head of Strategy & Insights



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August 21, 2023 | 8 min read

Zone’s Gokce Ince outlines a vision for a new kind of ‘purpose-built’ brand: one that understands its three-dimensional relationship with consumers as one that’s experiential, not purely transactional.

A stylized red paintbrush, painting a thick red stripe

How can brands get out of a straightforward relationship with customers, and into a 'purpose-built' paradigm? / Joshua Coleman

The conscious consumer of today doesn’t spend their hard-earned cash on any old product. From ensuring their voice is heard to making sure they reflect their values, the bar for meeting customer expectations is extremely high.

In the face of a cost-of-living crisis, inflation, and high interest rates, this new way of thinking has presented a hefty challenge for brands. But equally, there’s a gaping opportunity for brands to change how they engage and interact with customers.

Experiences, not marketing promotions, are driving long-term sales now. Deloitte research has shown that satisfied customers spend 140% compared to those left with negative experiences and are likely to remain customers for five years longer than unsatisfied ones.

But amid a crowded marketplace and tough economic backdrop, brand loyalty is becoming a lot harder to build and ever harder to cement.

The loyalty problem

Gaining a customer’s attention is one thing; getting them to engage with and buy from a brand is a completely different battle.

Brand loyalty isn’t built by one-off transactions. Short-term cost-cutting strategies have also been shown to do more harm than good in the long term, as customers soon start to feel let down by lower-quality materials and services.

Gen Z and millennials especially have set high demands for brands. Among other things, they must be seen as sustainable, ethical, and empathetic. People won’t spend money with businesses that don’t fall into these categories.

As if they needed any more hurdles, another challenge facing brands is the disruption caused by emerging technologies and platforms. From figuring out if the toxicity of X is good for their public image to understanding the potential of Threads, brands trying to focus on improving the customer experience are being overwhelmed.

To improve brand loyalty and the overall customer experience, there are three things that ‘purpose-built’ brands need to showcase.

1. Creativity

To build loyalty, brands need to think beyond pure transactions. Constantly being sold to has led to consumers suffering from ad fatigue. Rather than being bombarded by targeted marketing, consumers are craving unique, creative experiences they can show off on their social media channels.

Nike’s flagship store in New York does justice to its name: the ‘house of innovation’. It’s a perfect example of creating new customer experiences. From building a full-sized basketball court for sports lovers to its SneakerLab and in-store customization, Nike has worked hard to differentiate itself from competitors.

Technology is also a big focus for the brand, helping build experiences beyond the store’s four walls. Virtual reality technology means customers can virtually try on products without leaving their homes, while Nikeland (a metaverse experience built within popular gaming platform Roblox) allows users to earn exclusive rewards and create their own Nike-branded products.

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2. Authenticity

Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter (now X) drastically changed the way brands engaged with their customers. And as consumers became much more skeptical with the spread of disinformation online, brands have been forced to change the way they think about marketing.

Today, the brands that do well are ones that show a genuine and authentic tone of voice in their communications. Conversations are natural and almost human-like, while organizations are becoming a lot more empathetic toward the challenges of their customers.

Look at skateboarding shoe brand Vans. As far back as the 1990s, the brand has been developing indoor skate parks in its hometown of California to provide a safe environment for skaters. Fast forward to today, and Vans is more than just a shoe brand; it’s a key part of the wider skateboarding community.

Many modern consumers only buy from brands that seem true to themselves. Of course, no brand can go through its lifetime without creating some sort of controversy, but only those that show a genuine willingness to do right (rather than the bare minimum for good PR) will be forgiven. Consumers know the difference between the two.

3. Inclusivity

The culture of a brand is just as important as the products it’s selling. People want to feel connected, and know that the company they’re buying from shares the same values and basic principles as they do.

The rise of brand activism has forced companies to pull their heads out of the sand. Whereas before brands would shy away from speaking on factors such as gay rights and equal pay, consumers are demanding an answer.

Ben & Jerry’s is one company that has long been doing exactly that. The brand has been a vocal advocate in support for LGBTQ rights and in encouraging black voters leading up to the 2022 US midterms. In engaging customers by allowing them to vote for new flavors, it allows them to feel that they have a genuine impact on the company’s decision-making.

Marketing Brand Purpose Brand Strategy

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Zone is the customer experience agency inside Cognizant. We generate value for businesses by creating transformative customer experiences.

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