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Brand Purpose Brand Strategy Sustainability

The ‘purpose drops’ paradigm: How brands are making purpose tangible

By Alex Lewis, Co-founder



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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October 11, 2023 | 8 min read

Most brands now realize that a clearly communicable purpose is table stakes. But how to make that abstract commitment feel real? With things, says Revolt’s Alex Lewis.

A drop of water against a colorful background

Purpose drops: the answer for making brands' commitments tangible to consumers? / Kyaw Tun via Unsplash

How do you make purpose tangible? This is one of the key questions facing marketers today. With brands and businesses making big commitments to help create a better world, many audiences are left asking what change is going to look like. Bold visions and audacious targets help set the direction, but they are distant and abstract. What’s needed to bring purpose to life are things you can see, hold, feel, and engage with.

This is where purpose-led innovation ‘drops’ can play a big role. Innovation drops are usually limited-time, localized products or services aimed to enthuse fans, trial new designs, and push into new audiences. Purpose drops do the same for impact. Small-scale releases of purpose-led products or services help signal the direction of the business overall. They don’t claim to have fully solved a problem but rather show the ingenuity and commitment of a brand to its cause.

With almost half of consumers viewing purpose activity with skepticism, taking action has become more important than ever. Drops have the advantage of being relatively quick to deliver and can live as a compelling story long after their time on the shelves. So rather than waiting for some multi-year program to deliver a cluster of PR-able results, more and more brands are choosing to make ‘a thing’ that audiences can wrap their heads around and engage directly with. Drops are telling stories, creating statements of intent, and generating buzz to cast halos around brands. Let’s take a look at some of the best examples.

Leveraging the potential in the byproducts of your production

A good example here is South African beer brand Castle Lager, which spotted a bread-making opportunity in its spent grain, and is now committed to feeding over a million disadvantaged South Africans over the next three years. As well as communicating its ingredients’ quality credentials (ie.‘it’s good enough to make bread’), the initiative reinforces Castle Lager’s position as a rooted and proud South African brand.

Creating a ‘proof of concept’ for a sustainable solution

Fashion brand Stella McCartney produced 100 luxury handbags that use lab-grown mycelium as a leather alternative. Despite its small-scale run, this demonstrates the brand’s ongoing commitment to sustainable fashion, while setting a precedent for others to use the material in the future.

Is there a pressing issue that connects to your audience?

In response to Germany’s ‘Tampon Tax’ (which classified tampons as luxury goods alongside caviar and fine art), womenswear brand The Female Company created a limited run of tampons packaged in books. The move raises awareness while playfully circumventing the tax. The books sold out in supermarkets, amassed huge amounts of attention, and surely played a role in getting the tax abolished.

Using scale to support an industry

Revolt worked with Budweiser to create the Budweiser Energy Collective. As an extension of its pledge to brew 100% of its beer with renewable energy, Bud deployed its purchasing power to secure hugely discounted prices for electricity before passing the supply and savings onto SME partners who drive the physical availability of the brand.

Purpose drops can put a wide range of possibilities on the table. But brands need to determine their ‘right to play’ within an issue. The starting point is to look for alignment between the action you’re taking and who you are as a business. Often, the opportunity and your right to play will be linked; for example, answering ‘yes’ to any of the following questions could set the stage for credible impact.

1. Can you extend your offer to meet an underserved group’s needs?

Ikea created a series of 3D printable open-source ‘add-ons’ designed to make its furniture more accessible for people with mobility and dexterity issues. Alongside reinforcing its age-old brand purpose of ‘democratizing design’, the initiative’s launch saw a 33% uplift in sales for products featuring the devices.

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2. Could an intervention improve behavior in your category?

Good examples here include Italian owned food brand Barilla created a ‘passive cooking device’ that helps people cook pasta with 80% C02 emissions.

See also Makro Supermarket’s fruit and vegetable stickers that prevent food waste by educating consumers on ‘adequate ripeness’.

3. Is there an issue your business’s specific expertise could help resolve?

Koushi Chemical Industry Co applied its engineering and materials expertise to create a solution for the thousands of tons of scallop shells discarded on Japanese fishing shores every year. Recognizing potential in the shell’s calcium carbonate, the company developed a way to upcycle them into a new compound – creating helmets (now sold to industrial giants), and setting a new materials standard for others to follow.

Purpose drops provide a practical route to impact. Even though they’re small-scale, if done right, they can have a disproportionate effect – both on your brand and your issue. But that’s not to say they can’t scale. Drops can act as a method for trial and feedback. What starts as a tactic could end up informing wider strategy.

A successful initiative could lead to a more considered pilot, or it could serve as a business case that generates internal alignment and more resources for bigger projects down the line. Who knows, a drop could end up landing you on your brand’s equivalent of Greggs’ vegan sausage roll.

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