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It seems like everyone’s banging on about brand purpose these days. Theories abound about millennials only interacting with brands that have a purpose that aligns with their values.
But my gut—along with countless hours watching focus groups from behind two-way mirrors—tells me this simply isn’t true. When push comes to shove, people don’t always behave the way they say they do. In research groups, people give answers in line with how they want to be perceived. But these responses are not always—if ever—a true indication of how they actually behave in the real world.
Research company IPSOS found only 12% of millennials have chosen a brand because of its responsible behavior. And only 16% have boycotted one.
Our industry is quick to highlight cases where everything aligns; where customers’ needs are met by a brand that also reflects their values. And there is immense truth and power in this. Look at brands like Nike and Dove, and objectively in recent times, Gillette. But in a majority of real life scenarios, folks are quick to forgive bad actors (Volkswagen) and almost ignore examples (Apple’s use of child labour, and Uber’s blatant underpaying) that don’t suit a projected stance. If it benefits us personally, social conscious be damned!
So let’s keep it real. Most of us accept that companies are driven by profit. Millennials have stronger bullshit radars than any other generation and are more than willing to call it on brands that try to use a higher purpose to flog their wares.
A brand’s true purpose should be to meet its customers’ needs and deliver a clear commercial benefit. If it should happen to help society along the way—like Nike helping people get fitter—then that’s the holy grail.
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