The people demand purpose

Pete Grant, Strategy Director at GOOD, delves into the findings of the agency’s latest research into the public’s expectations around purpose

Brands are finding themselves increasingly playing catch up to staff, customers and shareholders demanding greater commitments for positive change. Seven in 10 GB adults now say “It’s not enough for a company just to make money. They should have a positive impact on society and planet as well”. As the UK slowly reopens, brands need to prove their existence enriches the world or risk extinction.

The GOOD agency has created the Purpose Personified report, an unprecedented deep dive into the British public’s expectations of purpose from business.

Scale up your purpose commitment

We define purpose as “the demonstration of positive impact on relevant social and environmental issues, to create value for individuals, the business and wider society.”

The expectation now falls to business and not the individual to create positive change. Previously, a purpose beyond profit would have been considered a radical idea, but now there is widespread understanding that doing good is good for business. As society reshapes after the COVID-19 pandemic, brands must integrate purpose into their recovery strategy, committing to long-term and authentic purpose in order to remain relevant.

The public is clear on the scale and complexities of challenges our society face. In response, we found that 74% expect brands to make much bigger commitments than they currently do if we’re going to solve today’s problems.

These commitments can’t just be a flash in the pan, they need to be genuine, and crucially long-term. 72% would trust a brand more when they talk about purpose if they have a long history of doing good so it’s clear that longevity and consistency brings credibility to purpose.

Purpose is now mass market

As with any social change, our research uncovered an adoption curve among the public. The public are not homogenous. People are seeking purpose from brands at different rates and for different reasons. Our Purpose Adoption Curve has clustered the public into five segmented personas, based on how much they’d be willing to forgo time and effort to support a purposeful business.

Our spectrum stretches from the most engaged Purpose Pioneers to outright Purpose Rejectors but most significant were middle market – or Purpose Followers. This mass market audience made up one-third of the UK public but accounted for nearly half of those saying they wanted to switch to a purposeful substitute brand in 2021. Expectations of purposeful business has truly moved from the premium consumers and passionate activists into the high street and middle England’s kitchen table.

Purpose action, not talk

The public demand for purpose is matched with a healthy dose of scepticism. Conscious of purpose-washing, people prioritise tangible change to purpose campaigns or communications. 68% of our research respondents were sceptical when brands talk about the good they do in the world. Interestingly this scepticism was recorded at the same levels among Purpose Pioneers as it was Rejectors. A simple truth that action speak louder than words.

Brands need to demonstrate their claim and work hard to ensure their purpose is authentic, with 71% agreeing that what a brand does to solve social and environmental issues is more important than what it says it has done. People need to see brands and businesses genuinely committed to tangible change.

A great example of this is Ikea. As part of their push for sustainability they launched the ‘Buy Back’ scheme, where they buy back second hand furniture for up to half the original price to be resold. This both hugely reduces waste, and encourages footfall to stores and online – aiding their recovery post-pandemic and putting them front of mind when thinking about which brands have a positive impact on the planet – they ranked at number 27 in our ranking of 100 brands.

Purpose shouldn’t be dull

With an influx of brands launching purpose-driven campaigns, the market has become cluttered with similar tropes and cliches. This has not gone unnoticed, with 2 in 3 agreeing that purposeful communications all look very similar. Think about how tackle social issues in a way only your brand could and don’t think that addressing important subjects means you can forgo creativity and cut through.

As we recover from the last year, embracing purpose is now an act of self-preservation for many brands. If they commit and deliver on this they have arguably the greatest opportunity in a generation to create value for individuals, the business bottom line and wider society. They just need to ensure they demonstrate their Purpose beyond profit in a relevant, resonant way that engages their audience and encourages positive change.

Featured image: GoodStudio /

Pete Grant

Pete is Planning Director at GOOD, leading the agency's strategy team working with charity and business on cause-marketing. He leads the strategic transformation of business to direct their positive impact on the world (Kingfisher, Quorn) and with charity to find sustainable growth into the future (RNIB, The Children's Society, Sue Ryder, Christian Aid, RHS). He started his career 10 years ago at DARE, a leading social and digital agency, on clients like Barclaycard, BMW and Aviva. Outside of work he’s deeply rooted in his local North London neighbourhood and has been a community organiser working with young people, seniors and refugees for over a decade.

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