Building a compelling sense of brand purpose through sustainability and innovation

As we approach Sustainable Brands Paris 2019, I’ve started to think more about brand purpose and its relationship with people.

I work alongside some of the world’s leading brands and one thing that has always remained true is that people are essential in developing an authentic, compelling sense of brand purpose. To start off with, what does purpose actually mean? Typically people think of it as your brand’s reason for being. The only problem with thinking about it like this is that it’s easy to make it all about you.

I often ask the people who work for the brands I’m consulting with whether they had ever considered what would be said about their brands if they no longer existed – would people notice.  I think that’s an easy way of thinking about purpose. It forces you to think about what other people, who aren’t part of your company, value in your brand.


In understanding your brand purpose, there are two sets of stakeholders you should consider: internal and external. Not surprisingly, companies today are doing a great job at understanding their internal stakeholders and place a concerted effort on engaging their employees and giving them a sense of pride in what the company does.

But attention should equally be paid to your external stakeholders and understanding what they think about your brand purpose – otherwise you miss two sets of perspectives. The primary external stakeholder will of course be your consumer. Most companies will include their consumers in areas like product development and marketing efforts, but there’s an opportunity for consumer opinion to inform your sense of purpose.

Similarly, the beneficiary perspective is crucial, as these are the people you’re trying to serve and engage through your sustainability and innovation programmes. Their collective experience will affect your credibility and licence to operate in their communities – and they also are often your consumers.


We set up a partnership with a leading UK based customer agency called C Space, who solve business problems from the customer perspective. We wanted to really understand whether a brand’s consumers cared about purpose, and why. Firstly, we gather deep insight from consumer communities to learn how they talk about the themes around brand purpose in their own language, and what they really care about. We then take this qualitative analysis, augment it with quantitative research, and then pull out the key themes from consumers.


Secondly, we work to embed brand purpose within a company. We do this using the lens of CSR and sustainability, because we believe that these areas are the clearest manifestation of how you embody you values, and particularly within that the work that is done in local communities. So, we take disparate business functions and bring them all around the table in a collaborative campaign geared around CSR and sustainability. This means that the idea isn’t diluted or distorted as it’s passed back and forth between teams, and it also means that other teams feel a sense of ownership in the idea and take it into their part of the business.

Where these two areas meet – there’s where you have the really powerful ideas that should inform your brand’s sense of purpose.


For me, the way we think of beneficiaries in sustainability programmes is shifting. We are increasingly moving from being funder-centric – telling communities about the programmes we run – to beneficiary-centric and learning what the needs of the community are before designing our programmes.

Brand purpose belongs to people, not just to the company. Listen to what these people think, need and care about; and then enable them to engage with your brand purpose and feel it.

This article was written by our partner CAF.