Brand purpose: joining up the talk with the walk

Drew Barrand (Getty Images/Lynne Cameron)
Drew Barrand (Getty Images/Lynne Cameron)

Purpose marketing is not a new thing. What's changed in the past few years is that it's now the thing.

What do we stand for? What do we believe in? What are we doing to make people's lives better? Identifying the credible answers to these deep and meaningful questions and then turning them into an engaging narrative to take to market is now the primary challenge facing the modern CMO. Get it right, and the brand becomes a hero in the customer consciousness. Get it wrong, and well... you know the rest.

It's not a straightforward task. Most attempts at purpose positioning fall by the wayside – victims of being overly worthy and uninteresting. More still find the positivity of their messaging turned on its head when the external view focuses more on the things a brand isn't doing then the things they are.

Look no further than the narrative that emerged this month around the COP26 for Exhibit A of these brand pitfalls.

When faced with these dilemmas, its easy to see why more and more brands turn to sport as the solution to their purpose woes. Sport's primary attractiveness to brand marketers has always revolved around two things: volume and fandom. It delivers an engaged audience of enthusiasts and it does it at scale.

When every route to market hinges on consumer choice, that kind of engrained mass buy-in is a priceless commodity. Apply that logic through the purpose lens and you strike gold.

Laureus has been delivering social impact through sport for more than 20 years. It operates as an end-to-end purpose solution – at one end of the scale is its global marketing platform, led by more than 200 high-profile athletes from across the world providing the advocacy and storytelling narrative, while at the other end, its charitable foundation delivers the work on the ground.

Through a framework built around direct contribution to the UN Sustainably Development Goals, Laureus has made a positive impact on the lives of more than six million young people through a network of 230 sport for good programmes in more than 40 countries.

Joining up the talking with the walking is the unique proposition that Laureus has to offer: tangible evidence of change delivered being the key requirement in instilling the marketing narrative with credible belief.

The purpose opportunity with sport is clear. In practice though it is not without its own challenges.

In launching the Laureus Sport for Good Index – our new annual listing of the best brands globally that are using sport to drive social impact – we wanted to celebrate those organisations that are leading from the front and, in doing so, set a case study framework for best practice for others to follow.

Independently judged by a panel of business and social experts, meeting the criteria was a tough ask and, while none of the brands listed has yet hit upon the perfect model for success, they all shared a commonality in approach that produced results and is worth acknowledging.

Clarity of purpose is critical. Brands that talk and deliver in specifics and don't lose themselves in generic grand gestures succeed.
Making the purpose a business-wide proposition is the only route to credibility. This is the open door to tie marketing to organisational governance, to supply chains, to employee engagement, to commercial performance. Doing this at scale is tough but worthwhile. Much as it is for the external audience, sport is a powerful tool through which to bring a business together.

And last, but certainly not least, those that show the business benefit as well as the social impact were the most impressive. Linking the effect of a purpose investment to an organisation's bottom line is a vital component. This isn't about moral crusading. It has to make sense when set against the cold, hard numbers.

The Laureus Sport for Good Index proves that sport is a powerful platform through which to effectively deliver a brand's purpose. It is our hope that by looking at the case studies contained within the Index, more and more brands will follow suit and invest in sport as the impact tool for their social change agendas.

Drew Barrand is head of commercial and sales at Laureus

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