Purpose-Driven Marketing: Following Your North Star

Hummingbird CreativeAdvertising & Marketing, Branding & Creative, Business Strategy

What can we say… it was the eighties. Madmen still roamed the earth unevolved. They were brilliant and creative… they fashioned ad campaigns out of thin air… they twisted the truth… they preyed on human fear and desire…

That’s the premise of the 1989 movie How to Get Ahead in Advertising. Madman Denis is feeling blocked about a campaign for a pimple cream. While flailing for a creative toehold, Denis has an unpleasant epiphany: advertising is about greed and deception.

Denis develops an unwelcome alter ego in the form of a boil that becomes an extra head on his shoulder. (Get A-head… get it?) To preserve the status quo of the ad world, the boil takes over. The real Denis dies, and the boil rides victoriously into the sunset, greed and deception safe for at least another decade. Yikes.

Marketing’s Evolution

Ok—the eighties are behind us, and the sixties madmen have become dated fodder for TV drama. But even a couple of decades ago, marketing and branding groups still called themselves ad agencies. We put brilliant creatives in a room with dartboards to come up with ridiculous ideas, attempting to fool the public into buying. Those creatives were amazing brainstormers, but nothing they did made much sense.

So… what’s changed? Well, greed is (mostly) less of a thing. Lying is no longer actively encouraged or accepted. Marketing has evolved from its early days of creating a need for a product (product driven) to… tapping into the customer’s need (customer and data driven) to… connecting with the customer through shared values and interests—becoming purpose driven.

In the mid 2000s, Jim Stengel, former global marketing chief for Procter & Gamble, led the charge toward purpose-driven marketing. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he stated, “Marketing is in need of a major overhaul…trust in brands is at an all-time low.” His solution was an emphasis on purpose, focusing on what the company does to “make its customers’ lives better.”

We’ve learned to drive sales and marketing activities in more evolved, sustainable ways. In 2020, nearly all new companies think of purpose before anything else. Entities strive not just to make their customers’ lives better, but to make the world better.

What Exactly Is Purpose-Driven Marketing?

The definition varies, but most agree that purpose-driven marketing involves appealing to customers and prospects not only with a product or service but with shared values and interests—whether it’s supporting a worthy cause, taking a stand or focusing on the company’s reason for being. In purpose-driven marketing, the company’s Why is center stage, with higher purpose guiding the spotlight.

Purpose-driven marketing is based in authenticity. It gives a structure to messaging, a connection to target market and a voice to shared values. You’re not guessing. You’re not pretending. You’re honing in on meaningful human connection and engagement.

Brand, Strategy and Collaboration

Depending on the company, purpose-driven marketing takes various forms. At Hummingbird, we pay attention to three differentiators of healthy purpose-driven marketing:

Brand is no longer just agency talk. Brand is born with the company, as founders define the company’s essence and values. Back when madmen roamed, they started with message and target market, which they retrofit to customers’ values (never mind the company’s). But today we start with values.

Connected from the beginning to the outdoors, Patagonia has moved further and further into environmental activism. For years the clothing and gear company’s mission was to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Two years ago, its mission statement became “Patagonia is in business to save our home planet.” Its values are its brand.

Warning: When an ad campaign comes out of left field to connect a brand with a social issue the company has never supported, it may seem insincere and opportunistic. Purpose can’t be invented. It must be and feel organic to your brand.

Strategy is top of mind in every board room. Focusing on purpose guides overall marketing strategy, integrating it with vision and core values. Purpose-driven brands have the opportunity to implement creative strategies such as:

  • Let customers participate in your mission. With its adventure-proof rings and belts, GrooveLife “exists to serve people, inspire adventure, and reflect God.” GrooveLife’s Education Scholarships are awarded applicants who best describe their “greatest adventure.” And the company’s YouTube subscribers can win “the adventure of their life” through its Project Adventure.
  • Walk the walk. For the past five years, REI, an outdoor gear-and-clothing coop, has closed its stores on Black Friday—the biggest day of the retail year. Employees get a paid day off to #OptOutside and enjoy nature. In 2019, REI upped the ante, asking that members and employees “opt to act” to reduce their environmental footprint.
  • Leverage other brands. In 2018, Uber began partnering with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) on their Reasons to Ride campaign. “We want to remind you that just because you drove to the party, doesn’t mean you need to drive home.” The alliance makes sense, but it required a creative leap.

Collaboration drives purpose-driven marketing. Instead of the brilliant madman creating unconnected campaigns alone in a corner office, we work in teams that include diverse viewpoints. Many pieces of the marketing puzzle come from the company itself; as marketers, we listen for changing values and priorities and guide a collaboration that drives innovation.

Meaningful Connections

Dove has been around for 60+ years now, producing personal care products for women. Its 2004 Campaign for Real Beauty was a natural way for Dove to connect with women, who have “always been our inspiration.” Now Dove reaches younger generations of women with its Self-Esteem Project to “help the next generation of women realize their full potential.”

Today’s marketing world is much different than madman Denis’. We don’t convince the world to buy and then create a reason. We start with the reason: women deserve empowerment, people want adventure, nature must be preserved for future generations.

Consumers expect those reasons, and they expect a lot from companies. In a 2018 study, “78% of Americans [said they] believe companies must do more than just make money; they must positively impact society as well.”

Reasons for adopting purpose-driven marketing include attracting socially conscious customers, yes. But it also allows us to foster deeper connections with customers, employees and stakeholders. These connections will be stronger and last longer than a sale or a contract.

Purpose-driven marketing also helps us remain true to ourselves. We see when we’re drifting away from our truth. We know when we’re inventing a need instead of serving one. Purpose-driven marketing gives us a compass and a way to connect, as well as a way to get where we’re going.


where ideas take flight

At Hummingbird Creative Group, we build business value through better branding. Contact us to find out how we can build your business’s value:

919 854 9100   |   info@hummingbird-creative.com