Today, brand purpose is more than side investments or small gestures to improve relationships with your community. The way your brand operates—from the values and objectives that drive your value chain to the way you give back in a larger sense—is a cornerstone of what attracts investors, employees, press coverage and—most importantly—customers.
According to the 2018 Cone/Porter Novelli Purpose study, “Purpose isn’t just the latest marketing buzzword. Businesses are changing how they operate and what they stand for to have an authentic—and impactful—role in society. Purpose is more than just a mission statement or a commitment of values. It defines an organization’s value in society, which allows it to simultaneously grow its business and positively impact the world.”
For marketing teams this raises an important question: How do you effectively communicate your brand purpose, especially when you’re dealing with a host of other content marketing strategy objectives?
Image attribution: Doan Tuan
As our options for content format, delivery, and consumption continue to grow, marketers have a range of tools at their disposal. Content strategies have become increasingly sophisticated, targeting different audiences, business goals, product lines, and more. Your overarching strategy might include plans to showcase your executive thought leadership, promote products, reach different groups of customers, and tee up future product plans.
One area that can’t go overlooked in your content strategy mix is your brand’s purpose. Whether you’re discussing your origin story, the customers you serve, your ethical approach to business, how you source your products, or the way you give back, today’s customers care.
“An important trend that I think is really taking shape now is brand purpose as a competitive differentiator. In the past, brand purpose has been ‘What’s my corporate social responsibility?’ and ‘What are we doing in our communities?’” says Skyword’s VP of brand partnerships, Dan Baptiste. Historically, he emphasizes, there’s been reluctance to discuss these topics because brands didn’t want to feel like they were proselytizing. Today, it’s become an essential part of any organization’s content mix.
Shifts in the market are driving a change in the way businesses discuss these efforts; they may actually be a cornerstone of connecting with customers and prospective customers. The Cone/Porter Novelli study referenced above notes that 78 percent of customers no longer think it’s enough for companies to make money.
As a marketer, what’s your plan for articulating your organization’s larger impact and vision?
“The expectations of consumers or people, whether it’s businesses that you want to spend your money with, where you want to work, or where you want to spend your time, all those things now are being evaluated on a different plane. Now it’s ‘does this company share these values, how are they treating their employees, are they advancing causes that I believe in?’” notes Baptiste.
Suddenly, businesses can’t be shy about discussing what makes them unique and the values-driven choices they make in how they do business. These aspects are an essential part of their value proposition. Baptiste explains, “Now when you’re looking at values and purpose as a business, instead of talking about yourself, what are you doing with your content to advance causes that either your customers, your employees, all those folks believe in so that you can essentially create a movement around your value system and really have a dramatic impact?”
Image attribution: Nathan McBride
In my background in economic development, it was essential to always be telling stories that showed an impact. One thing was clear: those stories drove investment in economic development projects. But more importantly, they gave people courage—to dare and to believe that significant change was possible.
How many development workers have been inspired to dig a well or build a school or launch a healthcare program because of stories they’ve seen—of heartrending needs or of a success story? Frankly, countries have set their sights on a higher economic trajectory and taken on the challenge of poverty alleviation thanks to the examples, stories, and insights of countries that have made some progress in the same area.
When the private sector wrestles with the same issues, however, it’s not as clear. Articulating your brand purpose in the context of your other content is important. Marketers face tough questions. Let’s say your budget allows for 20 new pieces of content per month. How many of those should be dedicated to your brand purpose?
While there’s no single approach that works best, it’s important to tie these efforts back to your goals. Exploring your brand purpose can help you attract customers. It can also help fuel the larger content marketing objectives of your organization.
Customer demands aren’t the only factors changing the role of purpose-driven content within the organization. The changing context of content in the organization—from its role in sales to the integration of marketing and corporate communications—is also important.
One Fortune 500 company I work with looks at its purpose-driven content in a variety of contexts. These types of content used to strictly be the purview of the CSR group and mostly were captured in an annual report. Over time, they created a dedicated digital publication. Yet few people are going to follow an individual channel on this topic unless they’re a very specific audience. The client reimagined their coverage of this area and began embedding it throughout the organization. Product-specific blogs carried stories and pieces relevant to those audiences. The corporate-level blog tackles executive and organizational-level pieces. Internal communications and investor relations have a different spin on similar stories.
By looking for ways different parts of the organization can support the story, you’re able to tell it in a much more compelling way that’s right for specific audiences.
“It’s almost different functions within an organization. You might have a PR team that’s managing corporate social responsibility. You’ll have a marketing team that may have content and social, and then you’ll have a product team that is working all the way down the funnel at like creating relevance for the product. What you’ve seen in the past is those elements are all operating independently. But when you pull them together, it’s really fascinating,” says Baptiste.
Consider an example where a technology company wants to tackle women and technology. The top line story might focus on closing the skills gap and providing a roadmap for getting more women into technology. The public relations and CSR department might focus on coding camps, investments, and other partnerships. Customer profiles might highlight women in the industry who are doing amazing things with the product. The HR department might take the angle of saying, “We’re the place for women in tech who want to change the world.” All these different, yet related, messages work synergistically to help the market more clearly understand where you’re coming from and what you’re hoping to achieve.
“By having a focus across the organization, you can satisfy those individual functions but also start to link them together. When you start to say, ‘How does this connect across an organization?’ that’s where you really make a big impact,” advises Baptiste.
Marketers and content strategists have a significant mandate: talking about your brand purpose is no longer optional. However, there’s a call to go beyond the static annual reports or the occasional disconnected blog post. Instead, look at how your brand purpose informs your function across the organization and the different ways each part of your organization can tell that story.
By weaving your brand purpose into your larger content marketing strategy, you’ll not only tell that story more effectively, but you’ll integrate it more fully with your organization’s larger narrative.
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Featured image attribution: Maxime Agnelli