Marketer’s adoption of brand purpose

Last week, I traveled to Dana Point, California to attend the ANA Brand Masters conference, a 3-day event focused on marketing and advertising, with many sessions led by CMOs for national and multinational brands. This year’s theme was “Highly Effective Brands that Drive Results”, with a focus on driving sales and maximizing return on investment. As the CEO of a brand consultancy that specializes in purpose, I typically attend sustainability and social impact conferences such as Sustainable Brands and Green Biz. As such, I was expecting to hear a different story told by marketers who prioritize profitability, not purpose.

However, I was surprised that a recurring theme of the conference fell in my own wheelhouse: brand purpose. My colleague and I were almost shocked to hear how much purpose was integrated into the overarching marketing strategies of these major brands. Vineet Mehra, the CMO of Ancestry.com, demonstrated how brand purpose acts as a guiding north star for both the company’s internal culture as well as their external campaigns. Twitter also spoke extensively on purpose’s paramount role within their culture, and how other organizations can benefit by integrating purpose to attract and retain an exceptional workforce.

Even State Street Global Advisors, the third largest asset manager in the world, focused their entire presentation on women’s empowerment, demanding that more women serve on the Board of Directors for the companies in which they invest — not just for gender equality, but also because their research indicates that businesses deliver stronger financial results when women hold senior positions. The company even commissioned The Fearless Girl, a statue in New York’s financial district that represents their advocacy for women in executive management. The $250k investment garnered an unbelievable amount of positive press for the company — the equivalent of $38 million worth of earned media. While it was certainly a risk to take a stand, CMO Stephen Tisdalle emphasized the importance of aligning their business strategy and marketing with a cause they support, even if it’s one that you wouldn’t immediately associate with one of the largest financial investment firms in the world.

Beyond these sessions, conversing with business leaders, consultants, and agencies about brand purpose throughout the conference reassured my belief that business is headed in a positive direction. Discussions of purpose and impact have permeated beyond the sustainability niche and into the broader marketing world.