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Why it's vital for today's companies to have a brand purpose

As Coca-Cola introduces a new brand positioning, Marketing Week contributor Matthew Valentine highlights companies from different sectors that have a strong sense of purpose, with important takeaways for the travel industry

At a time when virtually every market is crowded, and when concerns about issues such as climate change are becoming increasingly important, brands are finding that they have to stand for something more than just being good at what they do.


“Brand purpose” can sound like jargon – but it is an increasingly important strategy in a world where customers are often overwhelmed with choice, helping a brand stand out from the crowd. Fundamentally, brand purpose is what a brand stands for.


What travel can learn from other industries?

Brands such as The Body Shop have always campaigned for human rights and environmental issues. But strategies that used to mark companies as outliers from standard behaviour are now becoming mainstream.


Customers could be forgiven for thinking that a market-leading brand like Coca-Cola had any higher purpose at all. But its new “Better when we’re open” pan-European brand positioning, launched last month, will see it take on a bigger role: in a world that is increasingly divided, Cola-Cola wants to be a brand that unites people.


The brand’s marketing director for Western Europe explains: “There is a fundamental truth that no matter where you look, in any country around the world, we are more divided than ever. Coca-Cola is a brand that needs to embrace different angles and facets, and we need to talk about the problems that are relevant today.”


Coca-Cola has pledged to end the use of plastic shrink-wraps across multipacks, launched pink packaging to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month and introduced new technology that uses ocean waste plastic to create bottles.


Unilever is undertaking similar commitments. It has announced plans to create a “circular economy” for plastics, ensuring it creates zero waste by halving its use of virgin plastic and helping to collect and process more than it uses. The group is being supported by environmental group the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and has adopted a “Less, Better, No” plastic framework.


Dominic Weiss, CSO of marketing group ZAK Agency, says that brands have to know what really motivates their customers if they are to appeal to them with a brand purpose strategy. And he cautions that brands must be sincere. “Youth audiences are smart and savvy. They get how marketing works. If you try and fake purpose, it will not end well for you,” he says.


A purpose for travel

G Adventures has a strong brand purpose, with a mission to support diverse communities through tourism. Managing director Brian Young says it is getting more important for brands to reflect the issues that motivate their customers.


He says: “Most customers now will ask ’What does this brand stand for? If I travel with, or buy a product from this brand, what more is sat behind it? Where is the doing good element?”


Standing for something more than the service you provide is key to motivating both customers and staff, says Young. “It has to be intrinsic to the operations of the company,” he says.

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