Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

James Clifton

Brand purpose x brand bonds = brand value

By James Clifton, CEO of Mission Group

At Mission Group, we have long been advocates of brand purpose as an organising rationale for our clients.

Recently, we’ve seen some new Purpose evangelists join our ranks. The Worldwide Economic Forum (the Davos folks), the UK Institute of Directors and the US Business Roundtable all now advocate a broader stakeholder definition of business rather than just a shareholder perspective. It’s not just altruism, it’s a deep-seated conviction that Purpose drives brand value.

Now, we have proof.

A new study released by US-based Zeno Group, shows global consumers four to six times more likely to trust, buy, champion and protect companies with a strong purpose over those with a weak one (or none at all). And that customer sentiment feeds right through to enterprise value. The study spanned eight countries (including the UK and US), seventy-five brands and 8,000 consumers covering multiple generations.

Of course, claiming to have a purpose and actually delivering it are very different things. While 94% of consumers believed a strong purpose important, only 37% felt companies actually had a clear and strong one.

A key factor in delivering purpose credibly was a brand leader walking the talk, not just paying lip service to it. Leaders need to embody a brand’s purpose personally and communicate that fervour throughout the organisation. Think Sir Richard Branson, Jo Malone, or Elon Musk, personally living the brand’s ethos publicly.

But you can’t just let the boss do all the heavy lifting. Purpose needs to bleed through your entire organisation and culture. From supply chain management to the hiring policy. From R&D to packaging. From where you get your power to how you recycle your waste. And the same principle applies to every touchpoint on the customer experience journey. You’re only ever as good as your weakest link, so you need to ensure everyone, everywhere is delivering the brand purpose 24/7. Think of purpose as the magnet that gets all the iron filings facing the same way.

My favourite example is Ritz Carlton hotel group where “the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission”. Every single employee is empowered to spend up to $2,000 to create a ‘wow’ moment or resolve an incident for a guest without asking for approval. Every single one. That’s purpose made tangible.

Tempted to take a short cut to signal purpose, brands can resort to social media to champion a new initiative (ESG being a current favourite). But, if what’s behind the curtain is way off target, social media can prove fatal. Customers have a knack of finding the stuff you thought invisible and dragging it into the light, where social media only amplifies the pain. Ideally, communications should follow purpose deliverables: do then tell, not the other way round.

Customers actively favour brands whose purpose they know and identify with, advocating their support to others. But their displeasure can be brutal: 76% of consumers had taken punitive action against a brand whom they disagreed with.

As much as the Zeno study is a game-changer for us purpose disciples, there’s still a variable missing in the equation that translates brand purpose into brand value. And that is brand bonds.

These bonds – feelings of closeness, preference or identification with a brand – are the levers driving the results reported above.

A bond can be as simple as a latent preference for Coke over Pepsi, or as deep as driving an extra 10 miles to shop at a Whole Foods. A bond can be the feeling of comfort you get trusting your healthcare to Bupa or the thrill of going back to a Disney resort for your family vacation, despite the premium asked.  Respected and nurtured, these bonds often last a lifetime and are the mechanism by which preference, loyalty, advocacy and trust manifest as tangible value.

It’s these individual behaviours, millions of them, large and small, that translate a brand’s potency into measurable, real-world results.  So, it’s worth brand managers spending time really thinking about them deeply: how to craft them, encourage them, develop them and leverage them to make your brand even stronger.

Despite the past year’s challenges, I’m more optimistic than ever that we finally understand how to turn brand purpose into real brand value, through the medium of brand bonds.

Which means the future just got even more valuable.