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There are plenty of examples of people talking at length about how today’s young consumer demands that brands take visible stands on social issues. Renowned author Simon Sinek said it best: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

But how does a brand decide which causes to support and what position to take? I believe that brands (and retailers) must look inside themselves and discover what their purpose is; they need to answer the “why they do it” question.

There is a relatively new movement afoot called “purpose-driven brands,” when brands and retailers connect their purpose with the purpose of their consumers. A purpose-driven brand consciously conducts its business according to its purpose.

Customers want to know what a brand stands for and what motivates their decisions. Consumers want brands to align with their values.

Of all the industries that adopted this common sense approach to marketing, the Sports and Recreation industry was arguably one of the first to target the purpose-driven consumer.

So many examples come to mind. Some companies appeal to a larger consumer market simply by focusing on their core customer; Carhartt’s hardworking apparel for hardworking men and women, and Yeti’s outdoor coolers for serious outdoor enthusiasts come to mind. Other companies market themselves as environmentally-friendly, charitable, or take an all-encompassing approach. Patagonia has been a purpose-driven company since the beginning; its stated mission: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

Merrell has two sections on its website pertaining to purpose. One is “What Matters Most,” and the other is, “Causes We Support.”

VF Corporation (owners of Vans, The North Face, and Timberland) positions itself as a “Purpose-led, performance-driven and value-creating organization,” striving to “improve people’s lives and make the world a better place.” From its corporate website: “We don’t just make the world’s best apparel and footwear; we power movements of sustainable and active lifestyles for the betterment of people and our planet. This is our Purpose. It’s why we come to work every day.”

These types of purpose statements inform every company’s decision and initiative. Consumers have a clear view of what drives these brands.

Once a brand or retailer has created their purpose, they then need to communicate that purpose clearly and consistently both inside and outside the company. And, more importantly, they need to act on these principles every day. Brands can use their purpose in marketing to communicate to the public. A brand’s purpose builds a relationship with the community.

Brands and retailers must look beyond their basic functions to discover their true purpose – they should look inside to discover “The right thing to do.” The products that are made and sold must reflect the purpose of the company. In short, brands must walk the walk. It’s not enough to just say that a brand supports a cause; every company action must reflect their purpose.

Consumers’ purchases will continue to be driven by their values. Successful purpose-driven brands will reflect and act on those values.


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