An Ode To Brand Purpose!

In the world of marketing we hear a lot of talk about “brand purpose” and this notion that people care about what brands think or the principles that brands purport to have.

It is all BS.

Friday, Ad Age shared a story that talked about how half of consumers favor brands that spoke out about the unrest in Washington, DC on Wednesday.

The story and the accompanying study unload a massive amount of BS for a story that is still unfolding less than 72 hours later.

This is a prime example of a few things that as marketers or consumers, we have to watch out for:

First, we can use data to skew things in any direction we want.

As an example, take the case being made about how Millennials and Gen Z voters expect CEOs and businesses to take a stand on social issues.

When you peel through the data, you see that it is about 50/50 between do and don’t want a stand taking and depending on the way the question is asked, a coin flip may have as much relevance.

Second, we really have to be careful about using demographics and/or one specific variable to make any decisions about what people really think.

A popular research technique to sound smart but do little is to group folks by demographics and proclaim that everyone looks the same.


Demographics is a bad way to segment or survey because you really need to know about behavior.

In the case of this survey, you could make this research much more impactful by doing a meaningful/actionable grid to pull together 4-5 things that are impactful. In this scenario you might come back with the following significant variables:

  • Voter or non-voter
  • Democrat or Republican
  • Registered voters vs non-registered voter
  • Location
  • Income level
  • Education level

From there, you would want to figure out how people act so that you could know why they are going to say these things or what actions they take that drives their feelings or behaviors.

Or, you can just shout, “Millennials hate TRUMP! Love Ben & Jerry’s! And, don’t want a paid version of TWITTER!”

Because, millennials!

Finally, asking people’s purchase intent when there is nothing on hand to actually hold them to their statements is pretty useless to future behavior.

If you ask me if the Mets make a trade for Kris Bryant, I’m going to tell you I’ll definitely be more likely to buy some new merchandise.

It doesn’t mean I will.

But I definitely intend to.

In truth, what is more likely to happen is that I’m going to file the idea away and when I’m confronted with baseball season and something Mets related pops may way, I’m maybe more likely to buy the product because of several factors like:

  • I’m a Mets fan
  • Paying attention the moves they make in the off-season has increased brand awareness.
  • The team’s new owner is very active in the media, again, raising awareness.
  • The Mets bring back the black jersey and that sparks nostalgia.

I can go on here, but you can see that the touchpoints that lead me to a decision aren’t clear and they aren’t in a straight line.

So asking questions like what people are willing to do if someone does X is meaningless. Because consumers never really know what they are going to do until they do it.

Research is great!

Brand Purpose, not as much.

Not because the idea of a brand having principles that they stand up for and act upon is a bad thing. I think it is a good thing. But most brands only pay lip service to brand purpose and most consumers aren’t going to say that brand purpose doesn’t matter.

But when you look at their behavior down the line, you might just see something different.

And you have to be careful not to give yourself the answer you want.

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