Digital Marketing Lessons from Purpose-Driven Brands

August 20, 2021

Rick Knutsen


Summary: Globalization and digital marketing have led to everyone feeling like they’re a part of something bigger, which has paved the way for purpose-driven marketing or cause marketing. When cutting-edge digital marketing is combined with a greater cause, everyone wins.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2019 and has been updated with additional content in August 2021.

In the past, many people opted to stay neutral on certain causes and issues to prevent retaliation from others. Nowadays, everybody wants to feel like they’re a part of something bigger. Whether it’s by supporting a local/global cause or living a particular lifestyle, many of today’s consumers are actively seeking to make a difference these days. The desire to make a difference is now highly reflected through consumers’ behaviors and purchasing decisions. Several key examples include supporting cruelty-free beauty brands (e.g. BECCA), the zero-waste packaging movement (e.g. bare market), the climate change crisis (e.g. Patagonia), and more!

Consumers who are passionate about their causes are constantly on the lookout for purpose-driven brands and businesses that also advocate for and support the same causes as they do. This new movement has paved a way for what we know today as purpose-driven marketing or cause marketing.

What is a Purpose-Driven Brand?

A purpose-driven brand goes beyond the corporate bottom line and is fuelled and centered around a particular cause, mission, purpose, or vision. As mentioned earlier, this is a relatively new movement that many businesses and brands are centering their business models around to connect with their audience. According to a Forbes interview, a purpose-driven brand is a successful brand, and a brand’s purpose should be the center of attention in order to be successful. We have now entered an era of “radical transparency” and believe that customers are, in fact, more than just buyers.

As a result, brands are encouraged to adhere and be more committed to their customers’ beliefs. This is where purpose-driven marketing plays an integral part in your business’ brand marketing strategy.

Why is Purpose-Driven Digital Marketing Important?

63% of global consumers prefer to purchase products and services from purpose-driven brands. Moreover, over 70% of customers are more likely to recommend a brand that supports a good cause. Here are a few tips to 3 purpose-driven marketing lessons to learn 3 innovative brands:

1. Find a mutual cause both you and your audience can connect with.

One of the most effective ways that you can use purpose-driven marketing to connect with your audience is to find a cause that matters to them. At the same time, make sure that the cause also aligns with your brand.

Blue Patagonia Windbreaker

Patagonia is a prime example of a purpose-driven brand that effectively tailors its marketing efforts around a cause that its audience can deeply connect with. Patagonia’s mission is to save the planet in the midst of the current climate crisis we are in. They see this as an opportunity to build the best products while doing no unnecessary harm to the planet. Their business is centered around protecting nature and this is a cause that their audience cares deeply about.

It’s extremely important that you get to know your customers and what they care about. Using data-driven creativity can help map out your customer journey and deliver the experience that your target audience expects. The right data can make all the difference, and finding a cause that your audience can connect with encourages them to get involved with your brand’s mission.

2. Drive social change by being transparent with your online audience.

88% of consumers want to know that the brands they are supporting have a real impact. Purpose-driven brands need to be transparent with their audience through their marketing efforts in order to prove that they are truly driving social change. In other words, this means reporting on the impact your brand has made on the cause you are supporting. Many brands do this by capturing and collecting data to communicate the impact it has made over a certain period of time.

Tom's Website Screenshot

As a marketer, take this as an opportunity to create original content by reporting on the impact that you and your customers have made together. For example, the TOMS Stories website displays first-hand how their customers’ purchases are creating change and making an impact. You can read up on the cause behind their Unity Collection, which is dedicated to equality and inclusion. You can also read up on how they are also taking a stand on ending gun violence. TOMS’ content marketing strategy is what makes up its strong narrative as a purpose-driven brand. This is significant because it can help build stronger brand trust and loyalty in the long run.

3. Always realign your purpose-driven digital marketing efforts back to your brand.

Keep in mind that purpose-driven marketing is a two-way street. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Not only do your marketing efforts impact your customers, but it also defines your business as a whole.

Adidas and Parley blue and white running shoes on sand

Take a look at the Adidas and Parley product line for example. Adidas’ purpose-driven marketing efforts for this collaboration are centered around the ocean plastic epidemic. Their campaign video takes us on a journey and does a real deep dive into how ocean plastics are negatively affecting our oceans’ ecosystem. Adidas effectively realigns its efforts to their brand by spinning the problem into a solution and creating high-performance sportswear that is made out of plastic. The lesson here is that the cause you are supporting becomes a part of your brand narrative, which is a driving factor that determines who will support, buy from, and invest in your business.

Why is Becoming Purpose-Driven the Path to Success in Today’s Market?

Simply put, purpose-driven businesses perform better and attract more customers and better talent. Employees who feel motivated by a stronger sense of purpose and clear social incentives tend to be more productive on average. Everyone in your company knows that one of your key objectives is to generate profits, but having a purpose beyond the bottom line is what motivates staff to push towards profitability. Today’s customers are more conscious of social issues, from environmental matters to charitable causes, and are more likely to respond favorably to a company that shows their commitment to being part of a larger social and environmental context, with a stated purpose of improving the lives of all its stakeholders. Purpose-driven companies win hearts and minds rather than simply offering products and services, and that is the secret to their success.

How Can a Purpose-Driven Brand Change the World?

Purpose-driven brands attract and cater to conscious and ethically-driven consumers. In return, these consumers demand that brands lead with their purpose and their ethical and environmental values. This dynamic creates a market that is driven by both ethics and service delivery, by both profit and the greater good. The combined effect is a happy medium between purpose and profit, where companies can serve ethical causes while continuing to provide products and services that satisfy their clientele. Purpose-driven branding proves that profit and ethics need not be mutually exclusive and that they can and must work together.

More Examples of Purpose-Driven Marketing

Several leading brands have already shown the way in purpose-driven marketing, working hard to fuse their business goals with greater aims that serve all of their stakeholders. Here are some great examples:

Patagonia: #CrudeAwakening

The outdoor and sporting clothing brand Patagonia have long shown their commitment to raising awareness about the various risks that our planet currently faces. Their #CrudeAwakening campaign was aimed at protecting the world’s coastlines against oil spills. With the help of the company and its strong base of supporters, three laws were passed to impose stricter rules on offshore oil drillers.

Australia Metro Trains: Dumb Ways to Die

Marketing agency McCann-Melbourne created an innovative campaign for Melbourne’s rail network, aimed at the thousands of commuters who use the trains on a daily basis. The cleverly designed campaign, which spanned all media outlets and made use of sharp but tasteful humor, was intended to make train commuters more conscious of their own safety. The messaging was intended to cut through the traditional safety announcements, which the public regarded as boring and had come to ignore. The result of the campaign was a 30% decrease in near-miss accidents over a year.

Uber and MADD – Get Home Safe

In July 2017, in the midst of the July 4th celebrations, Uber partnered with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). The rideshare company offered a discount code that, when redeemed, triggered a donation to MADD. Uber thus showed itself to be a supporter of an important social cause and presented itself as a purpose-driven company.

Ripple Foods – Our Progress, Your Impact

In 2018, Ripple Foods introduced a milk alternative made of pea protein to the market. Instead of targeting vegetarian and vegan customers, it decided to market the product to established milk drinkers, creating a series of communications that showed how they could help the environment by changing from dairy to the pea protein alternative.

Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Friends vs. COVID19

In March 2020, seven tech giants came together to demonstrate their shared commitment to supporting the fight against COVID-19 and fighting misinformation about the disease.

2020: The Year the Consumer Demanded More From Brands

In a year filled with uncertainty and massive change and upheaval, consumers expected brands to put up or shut up. It wasn’t enough to simply continue supplying products or services, companies had to show that they were as committed to important causes as their customers were – or their customers would simply go elsewhere, or raise the alarm on social media and spark a boycott. BlackRock Inc. showed its support by committing to keep all its staff on the payroll even as lockdown forced contractions and layoffs elsewhere. UnderArmour got political with a campaign to promote voter turnout. Customers insisted that brands stand up and be counted on a range of important issues, and brands responded.

Create a Sense of Purpose that Resonates with Customers

It is important for your purpose to resonate with your brand, your products, and with what is important to your customers. If you just try to adopt a purpose because it seems popular, customers will likely see right through it. Let your purpose and your business intertwine effortlessly, and you are almost certain to resonate with your customers.

Don’t hijack a trend for the sake of it

Don’t underestimate the intelligence of your audience. They can tell the difference between a heartfelt message and a mere attempt to jump on the bandwagon. Purpose-driven marketing must be authentic or consumers will reject it instantly. That is why it is important to choose causes that are close to your heart and that resonate with your brand.

Focus on the experience, not the trend

Your focus should remain on creating a pleasant experience for your customers, creating brand loyalty through the entire buyer’s journey. Don’t shift your focus to a particular trend, rather build your purpose-driven marketing into your marketing campaigns, keeping the experience as your priority and letting your purpose-driven messages work with it.

How Any Brand Can Use Purpose-Driven Marketing

Purpose-driven marketing actually shouldn’t be something you need to wrack your brain over. The fact that your brand exists means that it already has a purpose. All you have to do is bring that purpose to the forefront and create synergies between matters that your customers are passionate about. Once you do this, you can build stronger and more authentic connections with your customers.

Find your purpose and stick with it

Purpose-driven marketing is a long-term approach. You can’t just choose something that is topical and try to build a marketing campaign around it. You need to decide what your purpose is – if you don’t already know – and keep focusing on that throughout your branding and communications going forward. Be consistent with your purpose, core values, and messaging.

Develop a foundational strategy

All marketing campaigns require a strategy that you can use to direct your messaging towards your overarching goals; purpose-driven marketing is no different. Draw up a plan and stick to it, ensuring that your purpose-driven marketing flows naturally with your core values, and preferably, that it connects directly to your products and services.

Remember: It’s not about you. It’s about helping others

Approach purpose-driven marketing with an open mind and with a focus on helping others, rather than thinking about how it can serve your brand. Be authentic and honest, and deliver on what you promise.

Why Purpose-Driven Marketing Matters

The main benefit of purpose-driven marketing is that it demonstrates to your customers that you see the bigger picture and that you care about more than just making sales and turning a profit. It also gives you a chance to make what you do mean more in the long run, to make a lasting impact, to make a contribution to something important. Your customers will reward you in the short term for showing what is close to your heart and making your voice heard, but in the long run, committing to a cause will bring its own rewards.


At the end of the day, not every company is obligated to go as all-in as brands like Patagonia, TOMS, or Adidas. However, working towards a common goal or a shared set of values with your customers creates a strong emotional link with a huge impact. Ultimately, this will help drive your purpose-driven marketing efforts forward and continue to build a community around issues and causes that matter.

About the Author

Rick spent 20 years in the insurance industry in finance, primarily developing reporting platforms for B & C stakeholders.   His ability to speak to consumers of data (managers and analysts) and translate their needs to programmers led him to start his own digital marketing agency in 2004 to develop data driven solutions for business owners. 


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