Buyers today care about more than your product. When buyers make purchase decisions, they often factor in whether the brand is one they wish to align with—based on the brand’s social and political stances and other considerations.
Over the past few years, surveys have consistently shown that more consumers are factoring a company’s values into their buying decisions. Two-thirds of consumers around the world will buy or boycott a brand solely because of its position on a social or political issue, according to the global PR firm Edelman’s research.Avoiding social issues entirely is viewed negatively by consumers—as a sign that a brand doesn’t care.
And it’s not just buyers; it’s employees, too. Jobseekers increasingly seek to work for employers that stand for something besides profits.
Navigating the New Expectations of Consumers
How should a brand navigate these new expectations?
You have three choices.
- You can stick to selling your product and stay out of social and political issues altogether.
- You can create a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program, contributing to your community in ways that are ancillary to your business, such as building Habitat for Humanity houses on the weekends.
- You can adopt a social purpose—transforming your brand into one whose entire reason for being is to build a better world.
Brands have every right to choose the first or second option. Consumers, however, are increasingly pushing their favorite brands in the direction of social purpose.
Adopting a social purpose is fusing your company’s product offering with a larger vision for making the world a better place. Embracing purpose helps to unify your audiences, giving your brand an edge over those who appear to only care about the bottom line.
In a 2021 survey of 1,000 U.S. adults by PR firm Porter Novelli, 73 percent said they were less likely to “cancel” a purpose-driven brand.
Social purpose can also give your reputation management strategy clarity and context.
- It provides evidence of your commitment to issues your customers care about;
- it aligns purchases of your product with making the world a better place;
- It provides a steady stream of positive content for social media and potential news coverage.
But social purpose is not like a traditional CSR program:
- CSR programs are often little more than feel-good sidelights to your brand.
- A social purpose is core to your brand. In many ways, it defines your brand.
- Audiences can tell if you are faking it. If your heart isn’t in it or your words aren’t backed by action, your efforts will ultimately damage brand trust.
If you are not ready to embrace a larger “why” for what you do, you’re not ready for social purpose.
Purpose Can Be Profitable
For both B2C and B2B brands, purpose can be profitable.
Danish toymaker LEGO is a $7 billion company that generated $1.5 billion in profit in 2020, a 20 percent increase over the year before.
LEGO has long associated its products with helping children to learn and grow—to “inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow.”
LEGO extends this brand promise to a larger social purpose. The brand has consistently invested in initiatives to enrich, nurture and protect the future of children. These includes
- Sustainability initiatives
- Online safety for children
- DEI programs
Not coincidentally, LEGO ranked as the “most reputable company in the world” in RepTrak’s 2021 annual survey for the second year in a row.
But purpose isn’t just for B2C products like children’s toys. It can give B2B brands a competitive edge as well.
While some B2B brands have begun viewing social purpose as important to growth, many are unsure how to embed their stated purpose into every aspect of their operations. To build brand trust, both with customers and with employees, your brand purpose must be relevant to your company and customer base.
As an example, in 2018 Dropbox and its founders launched the Dropbox Foundation, which focuses on partnering with nonprofits to promote human rights. As a service that enables millions of users to easily share information, Dropbox’s support for organizations that use information to defend human rights fits their brand.
As the company put it: “A big part of our mission has always been helping our users achieve their missions.”
Four Advantages for Purpose-Driven B2Bs
The advantages for B2Bs adopting a social purpose include:
- Differentiating your brand based on values. 2020 alone saw 480 technology initial public offerings, with more companies doubling in value post-IPO than any time since 1999. In a crowded marketplace, having a clearly stated purpose and actions to support it can help differentiate your brand by appealing to buyers’ emotions and values.
- Aligning with your buyer’s vendor selection criteria. B2B buyers are increasingly responsible for upholding their own companies’ social responsibility initiatives, such as sustainability and DEI. Choosing vendors aligned on these issues is increasingly important to them—and in some cases a mandate.
- Making the purchase decision easier. The B2B buying process can take months, even years, involving stakeholders at various levels of the organization. Building strong brand identification and trust with buyers can reduce these sales cycles. Microsoft, for example, makes an even stronger case for its products and services by elevating its CSR programs, such as committing to being carbon negative by 2030.
- Attracting purpose-driven candidates to the company. Today’s workforce increasingly wants to feel connected with the purpose and mission of the companies they work for. Employees want to know they are contributing to the world in some way. Companies with social purpose built into their culture are more likely to attract and retain an engaged workforce.
As you develop your brand's story, don't simply focus on product features and use cases. Start by asking yourself how your brand makes the world a better place, and build your narrative around that.