It's time for brands to act on their purpose for the greater

A guide to purpose-led marketing campaigns that are good for business and the world

Purpose-led marketing
is for brands that know
what they stand for

How does your organisation define its purpose?
Purpose is a brand’s reason for being. Its ‘why’. As such, it should inform decisions and give the business direction by sitting at the heart of all departments, including marketing. In 1960, professor, philanthropist, and former HP board member David Woodley Packard gave a speech to HP employees that helps to explain this concept and why it matters:

Purpose (which should last at least 100 years) should not be confused with specific goals or business strategies (which should change many times in 100 years). Whereas you might achieve a goal or complete a strategy, you cannot fulfill a purpose; it’s like a guiding star on the horizon, forever pursued but never reached. Yet although purpose itself does not change, it does inspire change. The very fact that purpose can never be fully realised means that an organisation can never stop stimulating change and progress.

Here at distillery, we believe that businesses can and should make a positive difference in society, and that having a clear purpose at the heart of everything they do and say is key to making this happen. That’s why we help brands be their best selves with content that has substance – content that reflects a brand’s reason for being, not just their marketing priorities, and gets their communities excited to walk the talk with them.

But don’t take our word for it. We partnered with strategic research agency Opinium to learn what people think, feel, and do when it comes to brand purpose, and whether this is in fact a key consideration for consumers. After all, who cares about brand purpose anyway?

Learn More about Opinium

Well, quite a large portion of the UK population, as it turns out. Opinium heard back from 2,000 adults, of which over a quarter (26%) say that they select brands based on their stance on societal issues, whilst just under a third (30%) regularly review their choice of brands to check whether they are upholding their stated values. If brands don’t adhere to these standards, consumers will review their choices.

In fact, 43% of UK adults would go as far as encouraging friends to avoid buying from a brand altogether if they disagreed with its moral values.

As articulated by VP at Alliance to End Plastic Waste Jessica Lee during our roundtable at Spikes Asia 2021, a sense of purpose is the key driver for how consumers are choosing what brands they want to support, not price or product selection alone. Similarly, for an increasing number of businesses and their employees, the pursuit of profit no longer feels satisfying enough as a reward for their hard work.

People want more now – consumers and employees want brands to take responsibility for what they put out into the world, and that includes content. Price, product quality, and customer experience are important, but brand purpose can give a brand a sense of integrity, differentiating it from other similar brands. This extra commitment is what many people seek inside and outside an organisation.

But every day we hear of brands talking about great social causes while falling short when it comes to action.

Understandably, consumers are sceptical about brands’ true intentions. Opinium found that two in five (44%) UK consumers believe that brands say one thing in terms of their values, but do something else, whilst just under half (47%) think brands are taking advantage of social causes only to make themselves look good. Make no mistake:

your customers can tell the difference between genuine social impact and mere clout-chasing.

to make your customers leave
and never come back:

Speak out against toxic masculinity while
charging more for women’s products
wave rainbows on social media during Pride month
but don’t encourage inclusivity within your workforce
Misuse data while boasting about
building communities

It’s no wonder the word ‘purpose’ has fallen under great scrutiny recently when tied to marketing, and rightly so. Consumers are becoming belief-driven buyers who want brands to deliver on societal issues, not only on products and services. Just as they are ready to support companies whose purpose aligns with their own beliefs, they will also reject those that don’t – with one in five consumers walking away forever.

Conversely, consumers also remain optimistic about the idea that brands can contribute to society. In fact, as found by Opinium’s 2021 survey conducted in the UK, 64% of adults believe it’s more important than ever for brands to do something meaningful for their communities other than selling goods and services, and 56% claim that brands in fact have the responsibility to do so – proving that there’s a clear demand for brands to deliver authentic social impact campaigns.

Thanks to the Internet, it’s easier than ever to constantly assess what a brand says and does, and whether that aligns with what it stands for. Consumers’ expectations that brand purpose will align with their values poses a challenge for companies. But it also presents an opportunity for companies to build more differentiated, authentic, and profitable relationships.

Using creative purpose-led campaigns to help businesses deliver on their ambitions to do good, they can also use their influence to persuade more people and brands to do likewise.

Giving plastic the finger

Did you know that each year, 350 million tonnes of plastic are produced worldwide,of which half only gets put to use once?

Determined to do its part in fighting plastic pollution, feminine hygiene brand Lil-Lets asked us for help crafting a purpose-led social strategy campaign. The idea was to
educate, inspire, and encourage women to make a difference every month by saying no to single-use plastic found in applicator tampons.

To help our client connect with people who also care about the environment and spread awareness of the cause, we came up with a series of visual assets across various social platforms to turn plastic pollution into a relatable problem for Lil-Lets’ audience.

The resulting campaign, How much plastic is in your period? surpassed our client’s expectations as well as our own targets: we reached every woman in our target audience, twice.

Through optimisation, we reduced the cost of media below 50% of the industry average. By keeping Lil-Lets’ values and tone of voice in mind, carefully studying our target audience, and basing every decision on Lil-Lets’ purpose, we produced and optimised a campaign that was informative, fun, and strategic. Best of all: it brought sustainable consumerism close to the hearts of a host of new fans for our client.

Brands that know what they stand for can harness the power of marketing to effect positive change in the world.

Good for the planet is good for business

For more than 40 years, Patagonia has supported grassroots activists working to find solutions to the environmental crisis, engaging customers, local communities, and environmental groups on its digital platform to identify where urgent help is needed and take action quickly.

All while donating 1% of its sales to the preservation and restoration of natural environments, whether or not it is profitable.

“At 1% for the Planet, we state our purpose plainly: we exist to ensure that our planet and future generations thrive,”

says Patagonia of its campaign turned global movement.

At 2020’s MadFest, Patagonia’s Marketing Director EMEA, Alex Wellar, explained that these purpose-driven actions underpin all of Patagonia’s marketing work, showing that business as a profit-making enterprise can also be in the service of planetary health and social justice.
of people said they are happy to pay more for brands that promote sustainability.
As Patagonia’s popularity demonstrates, doing good for the planet is also good for business. More and more consumers are identifying as environmentally aware, and are also willing to pay more to help protect the planet: Nearly three-fourths of consumers across the US, Europe, and South America, in all income categories, are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging. Similarly in Asia, 60% of people are happy to pay more for brands that promote sustainability.

Doing the work internally before waving the flag

In 2018, Vodafone demonstrated what it takes for purpose-led campaigns to work: it used its visibility and deep pockets to put people who do real work for the LGBTQ+ community front and centre, starting internally.

The company employs nearly 95,000 people worldwide and wanted to know how its employees felt in the workplace – specifically, whether they felt included whatever their sexuality.

Far from hiding the results of the survey, which showed evidence of homophobic, transphobic, and biphobic behavior in the workplace, Vodafone published its findings to launch an awareness campaign titled Equal at Work.

The video reached
7.5+ million people in 18 countries,
inviting the wider world to join the conversation about inclusivity.

Vodafone didn’t stop there: the company was open about addressing its policies to be more inclusive and supportive of a broader range of sexualities and genders with a zero tolerance stance on discrimination. It also changed its code of conduct and its recruitment process, and developed a support programme for LGBTQ+ graduates to champion inclusivity in the workplace and beyond.

Today, Vodafone is recognised as one of the Top 13 International LGBT+ employers on the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index. Having done the work internally first, Vodafone is well placed to support Pride beyond social media – in fact, in 2020 the company was the proud sponsor of the biggest Gay Pride parade in the UK.

When a brand’s purpose is acted upon and communicated clearly (and does not change on a monthly basis), its reason for being is also clear and memorable in the eyes of consumers, stakeholders, and employees. As a result, it’s easier for people to truly connect with it – and that’s how you know you’re doing it right.

How are other brands doing it right?

Have you ever noticed how colourful social media gets every year around Pride month, when brands paint their logos in all the colours of the rainbow? But how many of these Pride-related promos are genuine attempts at supporting the LGBTQ+ community? And how many are examples of rainbow imagery being co-opted to benefit companies, groups, and individuals that are not doing their part to support LGBTQ+ causes?

Jumping on the bandwagon of whatever cause is picking up speed on social media is not the way to do purpose-led marketing. Colourful logos and a few hashtags may be symbolic gestures of allyship, but they have severe limitations: without action, this is just talk.

Focusing on good hygiene, not on specific products

Did you know that something as simple as hand washing regularly can help prevent 600,000 child deaths every year from respiratory infections and diarrhoeal disease?

These are the world’s two leading causes of child mortality, which Unilever’s soap brand Lifebuoy aims to help prevent. The brand’s purpose is to help people across Asia, Africa, and Latin America to improve their hygiene habits by making hygiene education and soap products more accessible to them.

The brand had set itself the goal of changing the hygiene behaviour of one billion people worldwide by 2020 before COVID-19 hit, bringing a new sense of urgency to the cause. Against this backdrop, Lifebuoy launched a handwashing campaign that put social impact ahead of its own promotion:
The brand aired a public service announcement that reached one billion global households, urging people to wash their hands with soap, regardless of what brand of soap they choose.

Delivering goods while doing good

DHL has always preached about its purpose of “connecting people and improving lives”, and this people-first mentality is deeply rooted in its DNA.

The company is known for taking action when it comes to promoting women in top management and supporting communities in need, so when it started also spreading the message about keeping people safe at home while they delivered goods and services on the frontline during COVID-19, the company’s purpose could not be disputed. Its messaging during COVID-19 was backed up by the fact that DHL had already been delivering on its ambitions to do good for years.

First Direct:
Investing in wellbeing, not just products and services

First Direct, the UK-based online banking division of HSBC Bank, is reclaiming its challenger status with a purpose-led campaign that taps into our anxieties around money.

In 2020, the bank commissioned the first-ever survey of the nation’s relationship with money, working with YouGov to interview 4,000 adults from across the UK.

The key learning was that money remains one of the biggest sources of anxieties in Britain, albeit one that very few people talk about.

Based on these insights, First Direct decided to deliver ‘money wellness’. Initially, this will entail customer support services aimed at establishing a human-first approach to banking that improves peoples’ relationship with money.

With other online banks now rivalling First Direct on convenience and customer satisfaction, turning to a new topic that
brings value to customers beyond product satisfaction
could help the bank carve out a niche in a space its competitors have yet to own.

Google Cloud:
Taking action on
climate change

As the only major cloud provider to purchase enough renewable energy to cover all of its operations, Google Cloud is investing in communication initiatives that explain what the company’s commitment to sustainability means in practice, and encourage more businesses to also take steps towards a carbon-free future.

The purpose-led campaign follows three decades of climate action:

It was the first tech company to buy renewable energy at scale.

Google neutralised its entire legacy carbon emissions.

Google became the first major company in history to be carbon neutral.

it became the first major company to match its entire electricity consumption with renewable energy.

Google aims to operate 24/7 on 100% carbon-free energy while investing in helping key manufacturing regions to do the same and removing carbon from the atmosphere through science-based reforestation. All this action underpins some of the company’s key campaigns, as we know from first-hand experience in helping Google Cloud to bring them to life.


Google became the first major company in history to be carbon neutral.


It was the first tech company to buy renewable energy at scale.


it became the first major company to match its entire electricity consumption with renewable energy.


Google neutralised its entire legacy carbon emissions.


Google aims to operate 24/7 on 100% carbon-free energy while investing in helping key manufacturing regions to do the same and removing carbon from the atmosphere through science-based reforestation. All this action underpins some of the company’s key campaigns, as we know from first-hand experience in helping Google Cloud to bring them to life.

For eight years, we’ve translated Google’s complex technology use cases into human-led stories that explain how its customers use Google Cloud technology to advance their own businesses and serve their own customers and communities better.

This demands finding the sweet spot where we can champion their successes without boasting. Studies show that consumers are skeptical of corporate motivation, based on the assumption that when big corporations help with community projects or social causes, they are doing it to make themselves look good rather than to help people in need.

That’s why our priority is to narrate and amplify the cool things Google Cloud is doing by demonstrating the real-world impact of our clients’ actions over time, which we do through stories that focus on people and problem-solving, not on products.

7 tips for your brand
purpose-led campaigns

Say what you mean, and mean what you say

Remember: purpose-led campaigns are just as much about action as they are about communication. So let’s forget the word ‘advertising’ for a moment, and focus on creating two-way conversations that nurture deeper connections between brands and their audiences.

These conversations live in the sweet spot between your business goals, your audience’s interests, and your purpose.

Do the work internally before you push a message externally

2020 was a tough year for many – leading more people to increasingly rely on businesses, not just governments and NGOs, to solve societal problems. Businesses that are able to convey positive social missions can gain an upper hand, but according to Deloitte, they should start internally.

79% of global respondents are able to recall instances of brands positively responding during COVID-19. Customers are particularly taking note of brands that are increasing measures to protect their employees’ health and wellbeing, making donations to communities, and reducing executive paychecks.

Practice social listening

Navigating consumer expectations isn’t easy, but brands that seek a deep understanding of their customers’ values can factor in their willingness to contribute to the cause as they chart their own social responsibility course.

Nearly 6 in 10 global consumers surveyed in 2020 are willing to change their purchasing habits to help reduce negative impact to the planet. Among those who say sustainability is important for them, this jumps to 77%. They seek products and brands that align with their values, lifestyle, and health goals, and are willing to pay a premium for those that do.

Despite the widespread importance of sustainability and social responsibility, there are notable differences in shopper priorities across regions and countries. To cater to requirements that vary by geography, companies need to truly listen to their target audience to understand what’s most important to them in each local market.

Be creative and clear

When it comes to social responsibility, consumers are looking for brands to show them, not just tell them, what they’re doing. Purpose-driven consumers may be willing to hear a brand’s case for doing good, but their trust doesn’t come without proof. With sustainability front and centre for retail, for example, consumers do more than just check the list of ingredients on a label – they also want details about sourcing, how products are made and by whom, and how they are delivered.

“Brands today need to be even more authentic and real in articulating who they are,” said Claire Tan, Communications Strategist and Branding Consultant, at Spikes Asia 2021, “because as a consumer, I want to clearly understand: how is this brand helping me? We’re increasingly looking beyond the instant gratification of the product itself, and focusing on what brands are doing for their communities.”

Consumers today are always online and have at their fingertips unprecedented access to information about products and services, so brands that are omnipresent and match this need for information with effortless, creative, uncomplicated experiences, are ahead of the game.

Take a stance

While 90% of Gen Zers believe companies must act to help social and environmental issues, 75% will do research to see if a company is really being honest when it takes a stance. In other words: consumers don’t fall for insincere attempts to pull at heartstrings and it takes much more than hashtags and logos to connect and engage with them.

Consumers do, however, reward authenticity, strong leadership, and outspokenness. By standing up for something bigger than itself, its products, and its services, brands can tune into customers’ beliefs and take decisive action on social issues they both care about. This could recast customer relationships and help brands connect with customers and fans on a deeper level in the long run.

For brands that want to make a positive difference in the world but aren’t sure how, Octagon’s Regional Creative Director Lizi Hamer suggests seeking out governing bodies that are being set up globally for causes such as Black Lives Matter. Through them, organisations can step into a movement with guidance and accountability, and support social movements without having to necessarily make public statements to join the conversation.

The bottom line, she explains, is that “[organisations] don’t necessarily need to scream their cause through the rooftops, but they do need to take action. Because by being silent and not taking action, you’re almost being the oppressor,” says Lizi.

Be human

Be personal and up close. Involve your customers, employees, and the larger ecosystem of stakeholders to identify shared values and areas where your brand can make a positive difference in the world – and maintain constant and clear communication with them throughout the process.

Ask them for opinions and feedback. Engage your customers and fans until you all become partners, walking together towards the same purpose. Over time, they will effectively become partners of your brand, acting as influencers and advocates for the common good that you are enabling

The time is now

COVID-19 has thrown much of our routine up in the air and forced us to reassess how we manage our daily lives. For guidance, we watch how others are responding, and this includes brands.

This means that brands and their management teams are being constantly tested live on air and asked to make a significant mark through genuine acts of value, all while trying to stay afloat and supporting their staff.

And yet, there are countless examples of large and smaller brands stepping up to the challenge to help people during this period, such as French luxury brand LVMH, owner of Louis Vuitton, which promptly activated its factories from making perfume to hand sanitiser to help supply hospitals in France when COVID-19 hit the country.

Another example is Intern Magazine, which hosted a weekly Q&A called Extracurricular, aimed at final year creative students who are concerned about the impact of the pandemic on their degree projects and future career prospects.

The pressure has been on for brands to clarify their purpose in peoples’ lives. Against this backdrop, in APAC, consumers are buying on belief: 69% choose to switch, avoid, or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues. Globally, 67% of people agree that it has become more important than ever that the brands they choose make a positive contribution to society, beyond just providing a good service or product.

The opportunity remains for brands’ real purpose to emerge. What’s yours?

Tell us your ‘why’ by getting in touch with our team. Let’s talk about bringing your purpose to life with campaigns that work hard for your brand and the world.

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