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Saving charity brand mojo with purpose

15 October 2019

There is no doubt that charity brands have been in for a bashing over recent years, with a stream of negative press focusing on everything from fundraising practices to safeguarding. Sadly, trust in charity brands has clearly been knocked.

Meanwhile trust in businesses ability to deliver social change has been rising, as seen in the results of the latest annual Edelman Trust Barometer. A reflection of the fact more and more businesses have been defining and delivering their social purpose, whilst B-Corps like Ella’s Kitchen – a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit – are growing exponentially.

So with the boundaries between charity and business brands blurring, the recent Brand Breakfast explored how organisations can save their charity brand mojo by embracing purpose.

Shifting landscapes: what can we learn about purpose from the business world?

As Ali Fisher, Director of Plans with Purpose, explains it the business landscape is changing. Rather than just delivering good through corporate social responsibility (CSR) on the side-line, businesses are increasingly placing purpose and sustainability at the heart of their corporate, brand and marketing strategies. But she predicts a further shift to purpose and regeneration in the future.

“Since the Great Acceleration of the 1950s, the impact business has had on the environment and society has skyrocketed. Sustainability is the current business focus to reduce negative impacts on people and planet. But decades of impact must be addressed so reducing impact, even zeroing impact, will not be enough. Leading businesses will move from sustainability to regeneration and rebuild people and planet for a better future”.

Ali shared her ‘secret sauce’ for purpose in business, highlighting that when it’s done well it can benefit business, beneficiaries and citizens. A triple win. She also consciously used the term ‘citizens’ over ‘consumers’ to support the drive for sustainability.

From a business perspective, the purpose (social issue championed) must link to their offering (products and/or services). They must provide a point of view and should act with humility, rather than rushing in on a social issue like a caped crusader.

From a citizen perspective, the purpose must be relevant to them, be motivating and be ambitious enough to encourage talk-ability. Then from a beneficiary perspective, the purpose must make a relevant contribution with a genuine long-term investment.

Ali illustrated these points by sharing three case studies, she felt ticked most of the right ingredients.

The first was Jigsaw’s award-winning Love Immigration campaign which bravely highlighted immigrants contribution to fashion against the backdrop of Brexit. The campaign attracted positive attribution across social media and the press including the Huffington Post and even the Mail Online!

The second was the partnership between Adidas and Parley, making trainers from plastic bottles to save our oceans, resulting in a massive rise in sales.

The third example was Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, which Ali worked on during a 17-year stint as purpose in business leader Unilever. A highly successful purpose-led innovation that has reached millions of people through continuous campaigns and a self-esteem project for young people over many years.

So where does that leave charities?

In the Brand Breakfast panel discussion there was agreement that the rise of purpose in business increased opportunities for cross sector partnerships. Whilst similarly there was also the feeling that charity brands could learn from business by embracing more brand-led innovation and even becoming B-Corps.

Very much sticking to this theme was WWF, who used the Brand Breakfast to share how they have been reinvigorating their brand mojo with the unifying proposition For Your World. The aim has been to broaden public perceptions to include sustainability and climate change in addition to saving iconic species.

As WWF Founder Max Nicolson said: “WWF is not just about saving whales and tigers and rainforests, and preventing pollution and waste, but is inescapably concerned with the future conduct, welfare, happiness and indeed survival of mankind on this planet”.

Brand & Design Manager, Jacqueline Dragon, added that WWF has worked to dial up the urgency of its brand with inspirational generational messaging and by giving people a stark choice: “We are the first generation to know we are destroying the world and the last that can do anything about it. Are you for your world or against it?”

The new messaging has been tied together visually with a striking monochrome look across channels and has been successful in helping the charity boost its brand metrics, including awareness, consideration to support and trust.

But whilst WWF has undoubtedly become more campaigning in nature Jacqueline was keen to point out the need for brand differentiation and where WWF’s brand attributes differ to other organisations like Extinction Rebellion’s.

“Whilst they are fearless, political and controversial, we’re still inclusive, protective and kind at heart” she said.

Overall whilst Plans with Purpose provided inspiration from outside the sector and put wind into our brand sails, WWF gave us all hope that we can save our charity brand mojo with a clear brand strategy and activation in place, delivered with energy and a collective effort.

Find out more about Brand Breakfast events here.

Dan Dufour

creative brand strategist, BrandDufour

Dan is specialist in brand purpose and one of the sector’s leading brand strategists. He has worked on brand development across all sectors including Rightmove, London 2012 and Cancer Research UK. He's best known for his award-winning work across all corners of the charity sector, including Shelter, Parkinson’s UK, RSPB and Scope. Dan established CharityComms Brand Breakfast and is an author of our best practice guides to branding and integrated communications.