Dan Dufour is a specialist in brand purpose. His personal brand purpose, the reason he claims to exist is to co-create brands with a positive impact. Dan has worked in a number of different sectors, but he is best known for his award-winning work across all corners of the Third Sector from Shelter and Parkinson’s UK to RSPB and Mind.

Brand purpose is a bit like marmite. Some believe that having a strong brand purpose should form the basis of your organisations strategy while others like Mark Ristson believes that the concept of brand purpose is moronic “I do not want Starbucks telling me about race relations and world peace – I want it to serve me a decent coffee in pleasant locations.”

These polarising views could be attributed to the different perceptions people have of band purpose. Some believe that a brand purpose is simply the ‘why’ behind what organisations do, while others feel that purpose is what a brand offers beyond making money and why they do it. 

Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk ‘Start with Why’ is the third most popular Ted talk with more than 35 million views. He believes that “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”.

A brand’s ‘why’ and purpose needs to reflect consumers’ tastes attitudes, which of course change over time. Take Special K as an example. In the early 90s the cereal’s purpose was associated with helping women to lose weight. They even had a two week red swimsuit challenge.  Today, Special K makes no reference to dieting or slimming down in their marketing. Instead they talk about #poweringyou and how their products ‘help women be the best versions of themselves.’ Whether you believe Special K’s new purpose and positioning is a matter of personal opinion. 

According to a survey by Nielsen, 2 in 3 people will pay more for products and services from brands that are committed to making a positive social and environmental impact. As consumers become more conscious, more brands have began actively promoting their purpose to somewhat varying degrees of success. When purpose is at the core of an organisation like Toms or Patagonia they are championed for their positive impact on society. When a brand’s purpose appears tenuous, brands are quickly ridiculed as Pepsi and MacDonalds have discovered.

I wanted to speak to Dan about the power of brand purpose for charities to get his thoughts. 

Hi Dan. You’ve spoken in the past about how charities no longer have a monopoly on doing good as the lines are blurring between sectors. What impact do you think this is having on the sector?

Commercial brands parking their tanks on our front lawn should keep us all on our toes. If we haven’t yet defined our purpose and embedded it across our marketing communications and fundraising, it should put wind in our sails to do so. 

Being driven by doing good has always been at the heart of charity brands. It is our biggest strength over others as authentic. But charities often find it easier to articulate what they do over why. 

Coronavirus has put the spotlight back on our sector in a positive way after a decline in trust following negative press stories from fundraising practices to safeguarding, so we’ve got to grab the bull by the horns to inspire public support, now more than ever.

Where we need to work harder is embedding our values in culture to guide good behaviour to avoid reputation risks and build trust back up.

Are there any charities that you feel promote their purpose particularly well? 

I believe there is beauty in simplicity. I am drawn to brands that have articulated a clear and emotive purpose and woven it throughout their marketing communications. National Trust (protecting historic places and spaces – for ever, for everyone) and RNLI (Saving lives at sea) are front of mind. Their purpose comes across clearly through digital,  membership, environments, retail and appeals etc. Combined with strong personalities (protector and hero), the strategic foundations of their brands are doing their job well.

 Macmillan Cancer Support is another good example that has eloquently woven their purpose statement (to help everyone with cancer live life as fully as they can) across their brand and fundraising communications since their brand refresh, with Chief Executive, Lynda Thomas, leading the way in her media statements.

The purpose market is becoming a crowded space with some claiming it has reached a tipping point. How can charities cut through with much smaller media spends?

I think all charities can learn from the fundamentals of a good brand strategy and positioning, by having a clear purpose (why), proposition (what) and personality (how). To stand-out from the crowd all brands needs to find a point of difference, called ‘differentiation’ in marketing speak. Exploring your ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ will help you to find one. Weaving your purpose (and acting by it) throughout your comms will make a difference by providing clarity and an emotional connection to your cause even without big budgets.

15 European governments and brands including Loreal, Unilever, Danone, Lego and Ikea have called for Europe to rebuild post covid-19 in a green and sustainable way – do you think that the challenges that we face today will push purpose higher up the agenda? 

The era of brand purpose is driven by an increasing desire by customers and employees for brands to have a positive impact on profit, people, and the planet. I think that will only continue, especially as we have had more time to reflect on what is important to us, including the value and benefits of nature.

Rather than just delivering good through corporate social responsibility (CSR) on the side-line, businesses will increasingly place purpose – and sustainability – at the heart of their corporate, brand and marketing strategies. Sustainability is the focus on reducing negative impacts on the planet. But reducing our impact, even zeroing it, will not be enough. Leading businesses will move from sustainability to ‘regeneration’ moving forward to rebuild the planet.

Thank you Dan @BrandDufour

Further reading

Photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash

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