Entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie doesn’t tell people he has a company with a mission, but rather a mission with a company. Toms Shoes celebrated its 10th birthday last year. Its USP is specific. For every pair of shoes it sells it gives a pair to someone in need.
To date it has donated an estimated 60 million pairs of shoes – a very worthy mission, to say the least. But having a social purpose has done more than just give its founders a nice story to tell their customers.
It has helped it become a powerhouse, valued at around £500 million when Bain Capital bought a 50% stake in 2014.
‘For me, the best brands with purpose are those that not only stand for something but act on it too. Toms is a brilliant example,’ says Alex Van Gestel, Chief Executive of communications consultancy Verbalisation.
‘As sectors become ever more disrupted and disintermediated, a brand’s purpose becomes the lynchpin to its success. When done properly a purpose should touch everything from hiring policy, remuneration, product development and branding to CSR. However, there’s a clear financial benefit, too.’
Indeed, according to research by author Jim Stengal, businesses with a purpose are 10 times more likely to be profitable. But there’s a right way to go about it. Finding a purpose or mission means looking closely at what a business does and why.
‘To be believable a purpose must be relevant to the brand,’ says Jane Bloomfield, Head of Marketing at Kantar Millward Brown. ‘When Nike talks about sustainability it explains that the brand’s concern for the Earth is rooted in self-interest – a desire not to mess up the playground for professional athletes, as well as the athlete in everyone.’
The increasing trend for brands to champion their purpose, as well as profits, is being reflected in the media landscape. Marketing agency Mindshare launched a new business division – called Purpose – in November last year to support clients looking to focus more on their mission.
‘These sentiments have been bubbling away for decades but it seems to have reached a tipping point,’ says Mindshare Strategy Director Rosie Kitson. ‘There’s a sense that businesses that fail to address purpose will be left behind.’
So do brands now have to stand up and save the world, as well as serve it? According to Bloomfield, this new business purpose doesn’t have to be grand. ‘The more understandable and relatable it is the better. Saying you’re going to “make the world a better place” will sound vague and lofty.
A narrower purpose that describes how you can make lives better is easier to both grasp and believe.’