Pandering to Purpose or Courting Brand Disaster

As awareness grows of Millennial expectations for greater social responsibility from brands, it is tempting for marketers to windowdress their brands with purpose. This typically takes one of several forms:

  • A generic, purposeful message that seems unrelated to the heritage of the brand or its products.
  • Cause marketing campaigns that tout values but show little regard for real impact, accountability or feedback.
  • Raising the volume around the values and purpose of the brand without making any substantive changes to its behavior.

As this McSweeney video above shows, today’s well-informed and activist consumers are far too media-savvy to be fooled by such behaviors. Exposure commonly can come in one of four forms:

  • Disgruntled employees revealing the truth from the inside.
  • Cyber attacks that reveal the company’s true intentions and commitment.
  • Media attacks that expose a lack of authenticity.
  • Consumer activism that attacks the brand for disingenuous messaging.

To avoid this and demonstrate an authentic alignment between your company values and its contributions, a brand must do the following:

  1. Clearly define its purpose, values, and mission and communicate that internally to employees and externally to customers and consumers.
  2. Demand an alignment of values from suppliers and partners to mitigate the risk of reputation damage through association.
  3. Ensure the values that underscore the brand’s purpose are reflected in the supply change, management style, treatment of employees, products, marketing, and customer engagement.
  4. Lead a cultural conversation based on its purpose and demonstrate an industry-leading level of accountability and transparency for its behavior.

Only then can a brand avoid being lost in the noise of ‘me too’ purposeful marketing so artfully captured by McSweeney and inspire all stakeholders to rally behind the company’s mission based on shared values to have real impact.

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