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Business Case
For Those Still Wondering About the Business Case for Purpose …

In its latest research to understand consumer expectations of responsible brands, Porter Novelli used social psychology to unpack why consumers prefer Purpose-driven brands — and the importance of strong storytelling to complement sound business strategies.

In the past few years, consumer demand and preference for brands that align with their values has become undeniable — and more and more studies are proving it:

  • In 2018, a Porter Novelli/Cone Communications study pinpointed Purpose as one of three critical dimensions of a brand's overall reputation; and explored the "Purpose Premium," or brand affinity, that it built among consumers.
  • Seminal 2019 research from NYU Stern revealed that products marketed as sustainable grew 5.6x faster than conventionally marketed products, and 3.3x faster than the CPG market.
  • And, in a 2020 global study from BBMG and GlobeScan, 93 percent of respondents said that the more socially and environmentally responsible companies are and become, the more motivated and loyal Gen Zers — now the most influential market segment — will be as employees and customers.

Now, Porter Novelli’s newly released Purpose Perception study delves into social psychology to get to the root of how consumers react to Purpose-driven brands, vs conventional brands, on an emotional level.

For nearly 30 years, Porter Novelli has conducted Purpose research to understand consumer expectations of responsible brands. In 2019, it implemented biometrics technology to understand how consumers psychically and emotionally respond to Purpose messaging. For this study, it used social psychology to build on the biometrics research — and a research methodology called Implicit Association Testing (IAT) to uncover our automatic, unbiased perceptions of brands — to further unpack why consumers prefer Purpose-driven brands. The findings add another layer to the business case for Purpose — and the importance of strong storytelling to complement sound business strategies.

Key findings include:

  • Purpose creates stronger mental connections: When evaluating brands, respondents made higher (aka faster) associations between brands and Purpose attributes (ex: responsible, compassionate, ethical, inclusive) versus functional attributes (ex: reliable, convenient, affordable, practical) — suggesting when consumers store information about brands, they make stronger mental connections with Purpose words. So, Purpose-driven brands stick in consumers’ minds in a way other brands just don’t. In fact, 78 percent of exit survey respondents indicated they are more likely to remember a company with a strong Purpose.

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    Purpose brand attributes trigger beneficial action: Marketers’ main job is to not only inspire goodwill and strong reputations, but also drive action. To more directly connect brand association with desired consumer behaviors, the research then explored what types of brand attributes most motivate consumers to take specific actions. The research uncovered that, when compared to functional attributes, Purpose attributes were more likely to drive certain desired behaviors. Test respondents were more likely to indicate Purpose as the motivator for behaviors — including deciding which brands to trust, work for, be loyal to and, ultimately, form deeper connections with. This reinforces that Purpose can act as a signal to consumers to engage with a brand in myriad ways.

  • Purpose drives purchase and impulse: In a grab-and-go situation, Purpose prevails. 66 percent of respondents said they consider a company’s Purpose when making purchasing decisions, and 62 percent said a company’s Purpose is an important factor when making a quick or impulse purchase. This shows that Purpose is a differentiator not only on the shelves, but in a brand’s overall perception.

Overall, the study found that when a brand is Purposeful, it connects with consumers on an emotional level — while a brand that is merely functional connects with consumers on a rational level. We feel Purpose automatically, but have to think through function rationally — which means Purpose becomes more deeply embedded into our psyche and, ultimately, our purchasing decisions.

But the findings also show that merely defining and embedding a corporate Purpose alone will not necessarily win customer loyalty — brands must actively communicate their Purpose, too; and authentically embed it into their brand ethos. However, a caveat for marketers: As consumers become more educated on the nuances of being a responsible organization and take the time to do their own research, they will be better equipped to more correctly identify a Purpose-driven brand over a brand that relies on strong marketing and great customer experience.

Read more findings from Porter Novelli’s Purpose Perception study here … 

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