This article was originally published on CMO.

All you have to do is turn on the news to realize that the way consumers view, engage with, and interact with brands has fundamentally changed. Across all industries, the experience a brand offers is, of course, integral to defining a place in people’s hearts and minds.

Also of importance? Communicating what your brand, and your branding, stands for. Consumers—largely influenced by millennials—care. Deeply. Indeed, “belief” is now a real factor in their decision-making process.

Belief-Driven Buyers  

Recent research from Edelman, the company I work for, polled over 14,000 consumers across 14 countries to better comprehend the relationship regarding how beliefs inform their decisions about brands. The results show us that they matter—and it’s a trend on the rise. Approximately half of the participants we surveyed identified themselves as “belief-driven buyers.”

In addition, 57% told us that they are either buying or boycotting brands based on their societal positions.

Now, CMOs haven’t had their heads in the sand about this trend. Last year’s Super Bowl witnessed numerous brands, including Airbnb to Audi, more than willing to take on societal issues. But what CMOs still must grapple with is the difference between efforts at the campaign level and the bigger meaning of their brand’s–and organization’s–purpose.

The latter is driven by why a company exists in the first place. I can point to a handful of brands that are truly purpose-led and not shy about it. Patagonia, for example, says it exists to “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Initiatives such as “worn wear” support this.

Crayola is another example. It doesn’t just exist to sell crayons; its purpose is inextricably linked to helping cultivate creativity in children. In the company’s words: “Our purpose is to help parents and educators raise creatively-alive kids. We want to help kids ask those ‘what if?’ questions that keep them curious.”

Brands like Crayola could simply stop short at surface-level value propositions that tap the fun nature of a child’s creativity, but it delves deeper, approaching it as if it were a calling. (Crayola, and its newly appointed VP of marketing, will need this type of clear north star in place as it deals with an increasingly digital world where children are spending more time on an array of devices.)

The Value(s) Proposition

In order for CMOs to lean into this increasingly emerging belief dynamic, they’ll need to rethink the notion of how a brand is built and preserved in a belief-driven economy. Brands have traditionally been built on a promise expressed as their “value proposition,” focused on the value a brand brings to the life of a customer. But that is no longer enough. Brands must also, inherently, address the values it stands for.

This transcends campaigns. It transcends traditional brand-building. It’s not something marketer should do once, for a quick win, or to make themselves seem more relevant to the consumers they know are thinking about this stuff. Answering the question: “What is our values proposition?” starts with a re-examination of mission, values, and purpose and how they are brought to life in the brand experience.

No one single individual, department, agency, or partner owns the modern-day value proposition and how it comes to life. For the CMO, it’s a great time to align with those around, including your peers responsible for CSR and HR.

In truth, only a handful of truly “purpose-led” brands will achieve the aspirational goal of walking the talk, but that doesn’t mean marketers are any less accountable to these changing dynamics consumers now demand.

The choice becomes leaning into what a brand stands for meaningfully or adding a “purpose veneer” to appear more relevant and in tune with what consumers expect. Brands that succeed in this space will build on what’s true in their DNA and apply that to how consumers experience them in ways that answer the “what do you stand for?” question—authentically and supported by action.

The Author

As global strategy director for Edelman, David Armano’s remit includes partnering with the firm’s senior clients across a handful of key U.S.-based accounts with global reach. His focus is strategically activating integrated marketing efforts that are social to the core, while leading various strategic partnerships across Edelman.

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