influencing human behavior in marketing

The Purpose-Driven Brand

Since the beginning of time to this very moment, we humans have been driven by purpose. Consciously and unconsciously, we seek meaning in our lives and the need to actively make a difference and leave a personal legacy of good when we move on from this existence. Jung addresses this in his Individuation process and so, too, do modern and past psychologists and researchers of human behavior drivers.

Rick Warren, founder of The Saddleback Ministries, and best-selling author, discovered just how powerful our need and drive for purpose is when he wrote, “The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?” Written in 2003, this book became the bestselling hardback non-fiction book in history, and is the second most-translated book in the world, after the Bible.

Today’s consumer seeks purpose outside of the traditional methods of religion, volunteerism, and random acts of kindness toward friends and strangers. Many of us, in fact most of us, seek to further our sense of purpose with our choices at the grocery store, online shopping carts and more. According to research by Cone Communications and Edelman, consumers in the U.S. are more likely to trust a brand that shows its direct impact on society (opens as a PDF). Others, upwards of 80 percent, are more likely to purchase from a company that can quantifiably show how it makes a difference in people’s lives—beyond just adding to the investment portfolio of a very select few.

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, purpose is defined as:

  • the reason why something is done or used
  • the aim or intention of something
  • the feeling of being determined to do or achieve something

Consumers are not just expecting big business to define a social purpose for the brand, they are demanding it by how they are making purchasing and loyalty choices. Edelman’s “Good Purpose Study,” released in 2012 and covering a five-year study of consumers worldwide shows:

  • 47 percent of global consumers buy brands that support a good cause at least monthly, a 47 percent increase in just two years.
  • 72 percent of consumers would recommend a brand that supports a good cause over one that doesn’t, a 39 percent increase since 2008
  • 71 percent of consumers would help a brand promote its products or services if there is a good cause behind them, representing a growth of 34 percent since 2008
  • 73 percent of consumers would switch brands if a different brand of similar quality supported a good cause, which is a 9 percent increase since 2009

Another research group, Cone Communications, showed that 89 percent of consumers are likely to switch brands to one that is associated with a good cause if price and quality are similar; and 88 percent want to hear what brands are doing to have a real impact, not just that they are spending resources toward a cause.

This new state of consumerism doesn’t just show people still have a heart and soul, it is a big flag to brands in all industries to integrate CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility into their brand fiber, customer experience and marketing programs.
I interviewed William L. “Toby” Usnik, Chief CSR Officer for Christie’s in New York City, who maintains that CSR has moved far beyond writing a check and then emotionally moving on from a cause or community in need. It is about a brand’s purpose being bigger than developing its return to shareholders. Validating Usnik is a recent article published in the March 21, 2015, edition of The Economist, quoting Jack Welch of GE fame as saying “pursuing shareholder value as a strategy was ‘the dumbest idea ever.’ ” While that might be debatable, it is becoming less and less debatable, per the statistics above that show how defining a brand’s purpose in terms of the social good it delivers to communities related to its business is anything but “dumbest”—and rather, is getting smarter and smarter by the day.

Charting new territory in his role as Chief CSR Officer for Christie’s, Usnik’s first step was to define CSR as it relates to human psychology and the values of the Christie’s brand. For Usnik, it starts with building a brand’s purpose around Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and helping your constituents get closer to self-actualization, or that state of reaching a higher purpose for a greater good.

“Moving customers upwards through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is critical to address,” says Usnik. “Customers of all ages, and especially Millennials, are moving toward a state of self-actualization and looking to define their purpose and place in communities and the world. They seek relationships with brands that are doing the same within their own value set. As a result, any business today needs to ask itself, ‘What is the impact of our activities on each other, the community, the workplace, customers and the planet?’ ”

Defining your brand’s purpose and corresponding CSR efforts is the first step to developing emotional and psychological bonds with internal and external customers. When you make your CSR actionable by engaging others in your cause, you can build passion and loyalty that not only define your brand, but also your profitability. Coke defines its brand through its happiness campaign that involves delivering free Coke and other items, like sports equipment and toys, to villages around the world, and through water sanitization programs.

Tom’s Shoes, an example that is known to most as one of the pioneers in philanthropic branding, went from $9 million to $21 million in revenue in just three years by being a “purpose-driven brand” that enables people to give back to others simply by making a purchase. With a cost of goods sold of $9 and a sale price of more than $60, that is not hard to do.

At Christie’s CSR, is a big part of CRM. According to Usnik, Christie’s helps many of its customers sell high-value works of art. Many customers then donate the proceeds to social causes that align with their personal values or passions. By helping customers turn wealth into support for charitable causes, they actually create strong emotional bonds with customers, rooted in empathy and understanding—which is far more critical for securing lifetime value than points and reward programs.
In just 2014, $300 million in sales were facilitated through Christie’s that benefited non-profit organizations. Additionally, Christie’s regularly volunteers its charity auctioneers to nonprofit events. And in 2014, he estimates they’ve raised $58 million for 300 organizations.

The key to successful branding via CSR programs and purpose-driven strategies that transcend all levels of an organization and penetrate the psyche of we humans striving to define our role in this world is sincerity. Anything less simply backfires. Brands must be sincere about caring to support worthwhile causes related to their field, and they must be sincere when involving customers in charitable giving.

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Concludes Usnik, “You can’t fake caring. If you pretend to care about a cause you align with, or a cause that is important to your customer, [you] won’t succeed. Caring to make a difference must be part of your culture, your drive and your passion at all levels. If you and your employees spend time and personal energy to work closely with your customers to make a difference for your selected causes and those of your customers, you are far more likely to secure long-term business and loyalty and overall profitable client relationships.”

Takeaway: The five primary drivers of human behavior, according to psychologist Jon Haidt of the University of Virginia and author of “The Happiness Hypothesis,” are centered around our innate need to nurture others, further worthy causes, make a difference in the world, align with good and help others. When brands can define themselves around these needs, we not only influence human behavior for the greater good, we can influence purchasing behavior for the long-term good of our individual brands. And per the Edelman research, 76 percent of customers around the world say its okay for brands to support good causes and make money at the same time. So define your purpose, build your plan, engage your customers and shine on!

This post originally appeared in Target Marketing Magazine.

Jeanette McMurtry
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