June 18, 2024

Higher purpose matters to your customers and your sales


Here is a paradox for the times.

A brand’s higher purpose is the reason it exists beyond making money. But brands that have a clearly understood higher purpose frequently have the greatest financial growth.

That conclusion comes from a Millward Brown analysis of the 50 fastest growing brands over the 10-year period 2001-2011. All of the brands on the list were built on an ideal of improving peoples’ lives in a meaningful way. They accomplished this by touching on human values that are authentic to the brand promise.

The analysis uncovered five human values associated with a brand’s higher purpose:

  • Joy – how the brand creates feelings of happiness, exhilaration or unlimited possibilities
  • Connection – how the brand makes meaningful connections between people and with the world at large
  • Exploration – how the brand expresses the idea of exploring new horizons or experiences
  • Pride – how the brand creates a sense of greater confidence, strength or security
  • Social impact – how the brand challenges the status quo or redefines business categories

One example from the top 50 list is Red Bull. The reason it exists is more than merely to sell energy drinks. Red Bull exists to energize the world and uplift the mind and body. It appeals to people who identify with the human value of exploration.

Rather than spreading mass advertising, Red Bull expresses its brand ideal by sponsoring extreme sports events. One of its most talked-about events was the world record-breaking free fall parachute jump from the stratosphere in 2012.

Not only did it generate epic word-of-mouth, it connected its brand ideal in a dramatic way to what matters to its customers.

The customer focus is what makes a higher purpose different from a mission statement or corporate social responsibility.

Corporate mission statements tend to be more inward focused and self-serving. Corporate social responsibility programs tend to be self-regulatory mechanisms aimed to reduce legal risks and generate positive public relations.

But a higher purpose is “the brand’s inspirational reason for being,” says Jim Stengel, author of the Millward Brown study. “It explains why the brand exists and the impact it seeks to make in the world.”

Of course you are in business to make money. But having a higher purpose helps you focus on making a difference to customers and engaging with them in meaningful ways. Good things happen when you do that. Last year Red Bull earned $6.6 billion in sales.

[BONUS: We recently talked about the higher purpose and living out your brand promise on The Heart of Marketing podcast. Listen below to hear our discussion about the brand promise of The Honest Company.]


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