After a year of on-and-off lockdowns and emotional upheavals, it may come as no surprise that 2021 has people searching for more—more joy, more meaning, more purpose. Even brands are getting into the act and trying to deliver. From Dove’s Courage Is Beautiful to Burger King’s Moldy Whopper and Libresse’s Wombstories, one thing is abundantly clear: Brand purpose is stealing the show.
But look more closely and another significant finding emerges: While purpose in and of itself is enough for a few brands, for most, purpose without action feels like hollow promises.
This is, of course, easier said than done. What are the actions that matter? How do we ensure that people don’t look at the actions and accuse the brand of “purpose-washing” because they’re not perfect in other areas of the business? How do you justify the investment of these actions? Will the activity be accretive to the bottom line?
To answer those questions, we must rethink how we measure marketing and develop metrics that are both predictive and more consumer centric. In other words, we need to get closer to measuring how things really make people feel in order to understand why they take action. Thoughtless clicking and empty likes have helped as a proxy, but they don’t tell us the “why” that sits behind customer motivation. By looking beyond proxies to technologies like vision AI and natural language processing, and voice recognition, we can better understand the emotional impact that creative work relies on to capture human attention. Is content actively or passively consumed? Does the work change the life or the lifestyle of people who engage with it for the better? And, if so, are they using it with regularity and frequency?
These new more customer-centric forms of measurement, in combination with business metrics, can help brands more effectively understand the potential, and impact, of putting purpose into action through experience and service design.
There are three ways that brand purpose can come to life through experience and service design, and, with each, there are metrics to better understand the real impact and potential of the action:
1. DELIVER ON YOUR PURPOSE BY TRANSLATING IT INTO SERVICES.
Straightforward and obvious, this boils down to simply doing what you say and making your purpose central to the products and services you provide. If your brand purpose is about delivering a human or social benefit, then how do you take action, and how do you empower your consumers to take action in ways that allow them to feel your purpose in action?
Take H&M as an example. As a fast-fashion brand, they are committed to delivering quality products at affordable prices that consumers can afford. The realization that the volume of clothing winds up in landfills, they created LOOOP, a garment-to-garment in-store recycling system, to minimize their impact on the planet.
What does this mean? It means that as a consumer, you can bring your old clothes to H&M, watch them get broken down into fibers and re-spun into fabric that is then weaved into a new clothing item of your design right before your eyes. From old to new again, without waste. That is the promise - and the action.
Other brands that translate purpose into products and services include:
Sickbeats by Woojer took their concept of immersive musical experiences and extended the product into the health category by creating 40hz playlists that dislodge mucus and open up airways for cystic fibrosis patients.
The 2030 Calculator from Doconomy created a tool that all brands could use to better understand the carbon footprints of their products, while also opening and sharing the calculation methodology so that all brands can more easily calculate their carbon footprint for free.
Consider these types of measurement:
Use Vision AI to gauge people’s reaction and happiness level after they use the product or service versus what they used prior.
Does the frequency of usage accelerate? And how does it impact other areas of their life?
2. BE INCLUSIVE. MAKE SURE YOUR PURPOSE IS FELT BY EVERYONE, NOT JUST A SELECT FEW.
Two recent examples of this concept being put into practice come from Degree and Mastercard.
As an antiperspirant brand, Degree is committed to allowing people to feel more confident in what they do by knowing that they don’t smell. The brand realized that promise was not made available to everyone equally. People with disabilities have a harder time holding, opening or simply using the product due to the design. So, Degree worked with the People with Disabilities community to redesign the packaging to make it more accessible. They changed the handle, the opening mechanism and added braille to make sure everyone could easily benefit from the odor protection Degree provides.
Accessibility might not be the first thing people think of in a product’s evolution. After all, it’s easy to take for granted. But after seeing the design, and understanding its impact, why would deodorant packaging be designed any other way?
Equally, Mastercard saw how using their product could equate to a moment of stress and tension for the Transgender community. Paying with a credit card with a name associated with a different gender than the gender to which you identify raises stress and, at times, can even put people at risk.
Their solution was so simple: True Name. It lets people use their chosen name on the credit card.
Consider types of measurements for more inclusive products:
How was the community targeted involved in the development of the product or service?
If our audience describes the products, what can we learn from the emotional analysis of their language and voice tones?
What are the barriers to access the targeted community will face in trying to get the product?
Do people continue to use alternatives? This can be answered by working with the community post-launch to see where the new card fits in their wallet. Does it have a top-of-wallet position because of the added human value it delivers?
3. BE WILLING TO MAKE SACRIFICES FOR YOUR PURPOSE AND VALUES.
This is one of the most difficult principles for a business to understand, after all, what is more important than profits. But truth be told, if you’re willing to compromise purpose for profit, it’s likely your customers never recognized your brand as having a purpose in the first place.
The Telco brand Telenor, whose product and purpose revolve around connecting people, saw that an entire segment of people in Pakistan was disconnected. And not just disconnected from each other due to their not having a phone but disconnected from society and essential services such as education and healthcare due to not having a birth certificate.
Those lacking birth certificates were born poor and in remote locations, so their births were never registered. The Telenor product offered the opportunity to help solve the problem, so they created an Android app allowing for digital birth registrations and helped to connect millions to the essential services of the country.
This idea of helping community or giving away IP for social good isn’t new. In 1959, Volvo invented and patented the three-point seat belt. Today, it would be hard to even conceive of cars not having these seat belts. Volvo recognized that their purpose of making cars and transportation safer for people was more important than the potential profit they could make by keeping this invention to themselves—or even the fees they could make from licensing it. As such, they gave it to the world for free to keep people safe.
An act of altruism that shows and proves real conviction in purpose may not yield profit in the short-term, but in the long-term, they allow for the types of brand differentiation that stands out in the market and which increasingly influences consumer choice.
Bank of the West is another successful example. In their desire to be a more sustainable business, they committed to un-funding coal, fracking, arctic drilling and even tobacco from their investment portfolios and products and instead prioritized investments in renewables. After taking this action they saw new customer growth explode to 37%, and the rate remains high at a sustained level of 25%. So, looking past the profits and gains that are appealing to so many banks has actually been good for business.
Because impact is often long term, the metrics are more challenging, but there are still some important considerations:
Are your competitors emulating or adopting what has been created?
What is the impact on human life from your activity, and what is the expected value exchange?
Where does service fit into the routine, and does it become the routine?
Are you innovating to move your business ahead of the market with the belief that culture will catch up?
When it comes to activating brand purpose through experience and service design, the most successful examples are not exercises in political correctness, instead, they’re about aligning business values with human and social values in ways that create positive value for both sides.
New metrics that aim to test the value delivered by brand purpose and brand action can help avoid "purpose-washing" - and subsequent empty promises - to successfully put purpose at the heart of their business. By going beyond traditional KPIs and focusing on Customer Performance Indicators (CPI) that measure the value experienced by the end-customers, marketers can align emotional reaction and human value with real business value.
For brands that truly want to succeed in putting purpose at their core, this is essential.