Edelman Earned Brand 2018 report is another useful chapter in the development of brands, what they are, how they work, and how they can progress as the 21st century grows up out of its teens.
The big soundbite to come out of this research is that nearly 2/3 (64%) of people around the world say that they "buy on belief" - a massive 13 percentage point increase over 2017. Even taking into consideration the inevitable amount of virtue signalling that this involves, the scale of the increase is pretty impressive.
But somewhere along the line - in this report, too - I have the feeling that two quite different ideas (which may, and possibly should be linked) are being muddled.
Is it about brands taking a stand? Or about brands standing for something?
Taking a recent example, of what might go down in history of as the most unlikely brand taking a stand and achieving a huge impact, at least in the short-term, there's the story of Rang-tan.
I first saw this beautifully-made and moving commercial in Campaign back in August. I think one Facebook friend posted it, and it got a couple of likes. I don't know how many people signed the petition. Now, it's difficult to escape the news coverage. It took Iceland's collaboration with Greenpeace, a "ban" and social media outrage to get the commercial noticed on a wide scale. It's interesting that it was the relatively small and unlikely player Iceland that took up Greenpeace's challenge and not one of the big guys.
No-one can deny that this has been an effective act of brand activism, but I'm not sure how much it has to do with purpose. I may be wrong, but I doubt Iceland's purpose is to save orang-utans, or even to reduce palm oil in their products. These may well be related to the overall purpose, but in my book, purpose is broader than one or two campaigns on social, environmental (or even political) themes.
Purpose is connected to a company's products or services and to its values. It can be high-and-mighty, but it doesn't have to be. Not every brand is Patagonia. In fact, a more down-to-earth purpose that's closer to people's everyday lives is often easier to put into practice, and is more authentic for a brand that has no history of standing on a soapbox and shouting about major issues.
The Effective Use of Brand Purpose Report 2018 from the WARC talks about the idea of "purpose" going mainstream. Here, it's not about campaigns, or jumping on the latest cause bandwagon, but finding a genuine, unique purpose for the brand which can act as a navigation compass for the whole company. With product, purpose and profit working together symbiotically.
In this way, purpose can be seen as the new boss for the 21st century.