Ben Hayman — Managing Partner at Given London — predicts the biggest brand purpose trends in the year ahead. For brands getting it right in 2020, purpose will be viewed as a comprehensive and systemic approach to change, rather than simply a marketing platform.
Brand purpose agency Given London works with some of the UK’s biggest brands, including John Lewis, Aviva, Nationwide, IKEA and P&G (among others), devising and delivering their purpose and sustainability strategies. Ben Hayman, the agency’s Managing Partner, uncovers what are set to be the biggest brand purpose trends for organisations in the year ahead.
1/ A little less conversation, a little more action
In 2020, as brand purpose becomes a more mature and integrated discipline, we expect to see a new tone in how it is communicated by brands. The key to unlock this new creative execution is simple — delivery: A restless approach to delivering change. Rather than jumping on a marketing bandwagon, successful brands will see purpose as business change, as innovation, as opportunities to deliver products and services in new and better ways. This takes real work and real sacrifice. For those brands getting it right in 2020, purpose will be viewed as a comprehensive and systemic approach to change, rather than simply a marketing platform.
For the brands that establish, with confidence, their direction of travel, there will be many more opportunities to communicate purpose with both more integrity and creativity. Or they might choose to say nothing at all — and just let customers, and the world, benefit from a better way of doing business.
2/ Fill the political void and stand for something
We expect to see brands getting more political in how they tackle purpose next year, although we will need to wait until Brexit has died down — at the moment there is just too much risk and ‘bad blood.’ Consumers like brands that have a point of view on issues and are bold enough to campaign about them. Having an activist spirit and agenda can be very impactful and is one of the reasons why brands such as The Body Shop and Lush have achieved standout.
However, for those brands courting controversy in 2020, it is critical that they know their audience. Knowing your audience can help manage and control the risks associated with aligning alongside political causes. A political perspective isn’t right for everyone, but as trust in politics and politicians continues to fall, there is an opportunity for brands to fill that void and create more meaningful connections to people through a strong perspective.
3/ Culture change: Office activists required
In 2020, we will increasingly see organisations reap the rewards of brand purpose as a means to engage and inspire internal workforces. More and more, people want to work for brands that are investing in making a difference, and they want to be part of the change. In 2020, this will need to have integrity and bite to be effective. Research by LinkedIn showed how an organisation’s purpose is a deciding factor for more than half of UK professionals when they consider whether to take a job offer, with an obvious focus on younger recruits. As we go into 2020, we will increasingly have youth-aware businesses turning their attention to “Gen G” (Generation Greta), challenging big businesses to do more.
Of course, the cost of attracting talent by shouting about purpose credentials is increased scrutiny over the way a business operates. The potential risk was recently illustrated by the hypocrisy of Nike’s handling of its female athletes’ maternity pay, when contrasted with its purposeful ‘Dream Crazier’ messaging around inspiring women to achieve big.
4/ The rise and rise of circularity
2019 saw the principles of business circularity turning into a mainstream idea, shaping new thinking across business categories. It is becoming part of the business vernacular and consumer landscape, as well. More conscious decisions about how we manage resources, how we create and use products, and how we capture the value of materials afterwards are essential… and major brands are beginning to realise this and working it into their business models and purpose approaches. From high fashion to new enterprises, circular thinking is driving innovation and disruption, and this is set to gather pace in 2020.
What is interesting about circular thinking is that it feels more business-focused than most of the sustainability world. It encourages business leaders to question the status quo, to redefine ingrained processes, and to transform the ways that they understand their own business. Circularity also creates new sources of value for businesses and customers alike.
The danger, of course, is that circularity is seen as a panacea. We need to turn the heat down on consumption, not just look for more sustainable ways to consume. In 2020, we predict more businesses will develop a deeper understanding of a circular economy and a more sophisticated approach to circularity. It will offer a new approach to brands’ ‘business as usual’ and will give their purpose approaches greater depth — the real question is, which brand will lead the way?
5/ Partner to win
Over the last five years, partnerships between innovative NGOs, social enterprises and manufacturers have enabled breakthrough innovation. We expect to see many more of these partnerships emerging in the coming year, as big brands look for support to help solve new problems and small businesses achieve rapid scale with their new global partners. Partnership and collaboration between businesses will also be critical to solve category-wide challenges.
There are many new forms of partnership emerging — from sustainable range creation to more comprehensive integration. There are exciting new incubator approaches, such as the Sky Ocean Ventures fund, set up to invest in ideas that can help solve the ocean plastics crisis. Sky is also partnering with bigger organisations including WWF and National Geographic for lobbying and scientific research, raising awareness as well as innovation.
There are challenges inherent in the partnership approach, of course — brand fit, buy-in; and most importantly helping smaller, specialist organisations scale rapidly. But in the next 12 months, will see more interesting partnerships emerging, more investment and innovation as the race to sustainable solutions hots up across many categories.
Purpose 2.0: Not a trend — a hope for 2020
Over the last 5 years, in marketing circles, ‘purpose’ has been heralded and scorned in equal measure. There has been widespread bickering on the subject, but the main problem with purpose lies in language. Marketers rightly point out that the concept of purpose in brand strategy has been around a long time and represents the highest-order benefit a business or brand can bring to customers. For many, ‘brand purpose’ doesn’t have to be ‘for good’ — it simply demonstrates an understanding of the most ambitious role a brand can play in the lives of its customers.
When businesses such as Given talk about purpose, we are thinking specifically of the unique, positive contribution a business can make to the world. It is not about corporate responsibility; it is about opportunity. This difference is critical. All businesses must be responsible; treat people fairly, pay their taxes, mange supply chains, behave ethically. However, businesses also have the opportunity to contribute to the world in new and better ways, using their resources and scale for good. And this, in turn, can enhance their brand. Purpose is “less bad + more good.” And this is an idea that can transform businesses, engage cultures and build new value into brands.
So, this is brand purpose as we see it; and as the demand for ethical, sustainable brands becomes increasingly more mainstream, we believe purpose will become a vital ingredient for all contemporary brands and business.