In recent years, consumers have been increasingly looking to support brands that not only align with their own values but also implement practices that make a positive impact on society. As a result, terms like “brand purpose” and “social purpose” have become more prevalent in marketing messaging and customer engagement. While these terms are increasingly being used interchangeably, it’s important to understand their differences.
Brand purpose refers to a company’s reason for being beyond simply making a profit. It’s the underlying belief or values that drive a brand’s strategy, culture, and decision-making. A brand purpose is connected to the company’s product/service to some degree and how it can contribute to making its customers’ lives better in a tangible or emotionally perceived manner.
One well-known brand with a strong brand purpose is Airbnb. Its brand purpose is to “create a world where anyone can belong anywhere.” This purpose is seen in everything from its marketing campaigns to its user experiences. By providing a convenient platform for people to connect with one other and experience different places and cultures in personal, home-like settings, Airbnb is helping to create a more inclusive and interconnected world.
Allbirds is another company with a strong brand purpose—in this case, using materials and processes to create comfortable casual footwear that doesn’t harm the environment. Its purpose is reflected in its product design and materials, as well as its marketing campaigns, which emphasize the company’s commitment to sustainability in its shoes’ manufacture.
In contrast, social purpose refers to a company’s commitment to making a positive impact on society that is often independent of its brand or products. It’s about using the brand’s resources and influence to make a difference and/or address injustices and inequalities in the world.
For example, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream has long been seen as a champion of social and environmental issues—all of which have little or no connection to its product. For many years Ben & Jerry’s has taken notable stances on issues such as racial
inequality, climate change, LGBTQ+ rights, criminal justice reform, and others. The company often brings attention to its views on these issues through flavor names that reflect specific causes. One example that can be currently seen in grocery stores around the country is its “Change the Whirled” flavor, of which proceeds go to activist Colin Kaepernick’s programs to elevate voices of racial justice leaders.
Patagonia is another widely known brand with a strong social purpose. The outdoor clothing company has been active for decades in supporting environmental causes, such as donating 1% of all sales to environmental programs and organizations, advocating for polices that protect the planet, and encouraging customers to take action against threats to wildlife and the natural world.
As consumers have increased their awareness of social and environmental issues and become more vocal about the changes they want to see, several other areas have recently gained greater visibility.
- Community impact: More and more brands are recognizing that their customers want to make a difference in their own neighborhoods and towns, where individual efforts and contributions can yield impact that can be readily seen. Support from brands can take the form of donations to local charities, investing in local infrastructure, and creating job opportunities.
- Employee engagement: Brands are increasingly understanding that today’s employees want a voice in their business practices and social purpose activities. Accordingly, companies are growing volunteer opportunities, sustainability training, investment in career advancement, as well as involvement in decision-making processes.
Overall, both brand purpose and social purpose are important for modern businesses and organizations. Both can help a brand connect with customers, attract and retain talent, and drive business growth. It’s clear that as consumer values evolve, a focused purpose on these fronts will continue to be a major factor in a company’s success.