Purpose is increasingly important to building brands, say global and local marketers

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Nine out of ten marketers think purpose is important but nearly half still struggle to measure the impact purpose has on sales

Marketers define purpose as CSR, while consumers say it starts with CRM

Global and local marketers vote Unilever and P&G as purpose leaders

Sydney March 27th 2014: New research released today by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) shows that marketers around the world overwhelmingly believe purpose needs to be part of a successful brand building strategy.

Nearly nine out of 10 marketers (88%) who took part in the survey agreed that purpose will be increasingly important to building brands and 87% agreed that it was important for brands to have a sense of purpose. 74% also believed that having a sense of purpose is critical to hiring the best talent.

However marketers also agreed that they were less successful in communicating purpose to consumers. While 71% said their brands had a sense of purpose only 63% said that brands they had worked for brands that had been successful in communicating it.

The WFA Global Brand Purpose Survey 2014 is based on the responses of 828 brand marketers from 33 countries. The survey was conducted by WFA corporate members and the corporate members of its National Advertiser Associations, giving an unprecedented level of detail about global and local marketers' views on purpose and how it fits into brand strategy. Together respondents account for roughly US$170 billion in global marketing spend.

Presented as part of the Global Marketer Week in Sydney, Australia, the study also highlights the differences in what purpose means to marketers and what it means to consumers. Comparing the results to the same research the WFA conducted in 2013, it also shows a shift in marketers' definition of purpose.

In 2014, marketers mainly define purpose as creating programmes that positively impact communities and having ethical business practices, which scored 55% and 47% respectively. Interestingly, protecting and improving the environment and helping to address global issues were definitions employed by just 39% and 35% of respondents this year. These were down significantly from 56% and 52% respectively when compared to the same research run last year among WFA members, suggesting marketers are perhaps becoming less global and ambitious and more internal, local and CRM-focused in their articulation of purpose.

This may also reflect the consumer view as expressed in the latest iteration of Edelman's Good Purpose Research of 8,000 consumers in 16 countries. Rating highest among consumer definitions of purpose was listening to customer needs and responding to feedback then simply having high quality products and services. The only overlap in terms of the top three criteria identified by marketers and consumers was in terms of ethical business practices, or as consumers put it, 'treating employees well'.

Marketers agreed that purpose can provide less tangible, 'feel good' benefits, yet they continue to struggle to identify clear metrics which prove the benefit of purpose to the bottom line. 94% believe it is possible to assess the impact of purpose on positive PR and reputation, 91% on consumer engagement and 89% on employee satisfaction.

This figure falls to 78% when it comes to customer satisfaction and 51% for sales. Just 30% think the impact of purpose on share price can be assessed, although 36% said this was not possible.

In terms of who shapes purpose in an organization, marketers believe that purpose needs to come from the top with 68% of marketers saying that the CEO should be involved in designing and shaping purpose. Corporate communications were tied with the Chief Marketing Officer on 54%, with all employees scoring 50%. However, 89% of respondents agreed with the statement that purpose needs to pervade the entire organization and have buy-in from all business functions.

Seventy-five per cent agreed that shaping purpose should involve people outside the organization, including customers and the supply chain while 68% agreed that it is important to work with third parties including NGOs and governments. As many as 65% respondents even agreed that their company was fundamentally re-evaluating their corporate positioning in light of a renewed sense of purpose.

When asked to pick a purpose leader, tied at the top with 14% of the vote were Procter & Gamble and competitor Unilever. Google and Apple were next in line on 11% and 10% respectively. Broken down by region, Apple was perceived to be the purpose leader in North America, Coca-Cola in Latin America, Unilever in Europe, Danone in Africa and the Middle East and Nestlé in Asia-Pacific.

Speaking about the results, Stephan Loerke, WFA Managing Director, said “This is unprecedentedly detailed research which throws up fascinating results. It clearly tells us that there is an emerging realization that marketers need to put purpose into their marketing, and increasingly so in order to be successful. Secondly, it becomes clear that purpose isn't necessarily about saving the planet. It doesn't have to be worthy per se; it can be about taking small and meaningful actions. Finally, there is a strong sense that it needs be top down but requires the buy-in from everyone. There is even a certain understanding that purpose cannot come only from within the company but the company should look outside itself in order to help shape brand purpose.