THE BLOG
11/04/2010 12:43 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Give Purpose a Chance, It's a Plan for all Seasons

A new 2010 Edelman good purpose consumer study reveals four-year personal commitment to purpose and growing expectations of brands and companies to do even more.

The holiday season, which is fast approaching, will surely herald the ever-growing spate of cause-related projects for brands, companies and citizens alike. Tis the season after all for giving -- from the corporate halls and charity balls to the endless brands trying to differentiate and make a difference in grocery stalls and malls across America. All this seasonal goodwill, however, may just be masking a greater truth. Purpose is not just a one season trick pony, but a year long and -- dare I say -- lifelong societal and corporate responsibility.

Purpose branding and marketing are here to stay, making the same permanent home in brand activation as sports and entertainment marketing have for decades. And beyond marketing and communication, more brands and companies than ever are ingraining purpose into their DNA. So, what is the evidence you ask? It lies in the fourth annual Edelman goodpurpose® Study of over 7,000 consumers in 13 countries (1,000 consumers in the United States alone) and in the roster of ever-growing brands and companies that are covering the purpose spectrum from purpose brand development and the supply chain through to marketing and communication.

Let's start with the data
In the United States, after quality and price, social purpose (at 47 percent) ranks higher as a purchase motivator than brand loyalty (27 percent) and design and innovation (26 percent). In addition, if a brand of similar quality supports a good cause, 75 percent of consumers claim they would buy it and 76 percent claim they would recommend and share positive experiences about such a brand. Sixty-two percent of U.S. consumers say they would also switch brands if a brand of similar quality supported a good cause. Finally, U.S. consumers' willingness to actually promote a brand that supports a good cause jumped 19 percent from 2008 (47 percent) to 2010 (66 percent).

Purpose is the Fifth P of Marketing
I believe "Purpose" now qualifies as the fifth P in marketing, joining the classic formula of Price, Placement, Product and Promotion. Purpose is the only "P" that courts a substantive emotional engagement allowing people to put their own mark on brand marketing. Recent examples of this include the Pepsi Refresh Project (disclosure: an Edelman client), the American Express Members project and various campaigns from Starbucks (disclosure: an Edelman client) which in different ways enable consumers to select and elevate their own brand of cause that most reflects their personal passions. All of these brands are engaging in purpose throughout the year -- not just as a seasonal holiday promotion. And this shift may be in response to consumer expectations and the transparency now afforded by the internet.

Eighty-six percent of global consumers believe that business needs to place at least equal weight on society's interests as on business' interests and 62 percent of U.S. consumers believe it is no longer enough for corporations to give money; they must integrate good causes into their everyday business (read: not just between Thanksgiving and New Years).

Brand Evidence
The rewards for putting Purpose into marketing benefit the multitude of worthy causes as well as the brands supporting them. Purpose has helped revitalize and differentiate brands like Dove (self-esteem), Tide ("Loads of Hope" for disaster relief), Dawn (protecting wildlife with environmental clean-up) and Brita (environment and health). A new roster of brands with built-in purpose are entering the marketplace and especially commanding the attention of younger consumers who are eager to embrace brands with Purpose. Tom's shoes and Ecover in the United States, U.K. smoothie brand "Innocent' and German soft drink brand 'Bionade' are just some of the new purpose brands entering the scene and creating new models for purposeful brand development and marketing. They of course join the classic ranks of Anita Roddick's the Body Shop, Newman's Own and Brazil's Natura. Even charities, purpose designations and NGOs are being viewed by consumers as purpose brands in their own right. Fairtrade, Oxfam and WWF are just a few of those.

Why Now more Than Ever?
Why does purpose seem to be gaining ground and taking root, establishing more Consumer Citizens, Citizen Brands and Corporate Citizenship than ever before? It could be that the spirit that was once reserved for the holidays and the goodwill that was seasonal has been affected these last few years by the prolonged recession. We may be realizing that the beneficiaries of corporate and brand purpose as well as more involvement in social issues from the public, may now be us at home, who are perhaps closer to the need than ever before. According to our study, the top cause U.S. consumers care about most this year was hunger and homelessness whereas globally the top cause remained the environment. Online social engagement with the BP crisis, the disaster in Haiti and economic devastation in cities from Braddock, Pennsylvania to Detroit, Michigan contributed to a year-long involvement with compelling social issues happening at home and abroad.

The potential for a permanent reset in economic fortunes might just make the need for purpose stick. And a new generation of Millennials (18 to 29 year olds) who demand purpose in everything from careers to cars are sure to ensure that purpose remains a vital part of business and society for years to come. The fact that across generations, 75 percent of U.S. consumers believe projects that protect and sustain the environment can help grow the economy also point to the possibility that profit and purpose are no longer such strange bedfellows.

No One killer Cause, but Many
The new reality is that there is no one killer cause for consumers, brands or companies. Green is becoming the price of entry, not a brand differentiator unless there is an equally unique idea. But the evolving nature of Purpose means there are more ways to define doing good, personalize it and make it relevant. There will never be a shortage of causes to champion or social issues to address and new ones (or hidden ones) crop up every year. The issue of Bullying emerged this year in the United States as an important social issue that has had dire consequences from social network abuse to gay teen suicides. This relatively newly identified cause is receiving much needed exposure and is ripe for a relevant brand or company to champion, as are many of the social issues from intolerance and domestic violence to poverty, animal rights, hunger and health.

In honor of John Lennon's 70th birthday and to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the green movement this year, let's give purpose as well as peace a chance 365 days a year. Or as Winston Churchill so eloquently said, "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." That old adage speaks loudly today to citizens, companies and brands alike.

For more information about Edelman's 2010 goodpurpose study, please visit goodpurposecommunity.com.