How can you develop a purpose-led brand strategy?


Ed Farley, Executive Vice President, Senior Strategist at Crosby Marketing Communications, is here to share the importance of a purpose-led brand strategy in today’s environment.


He’ll cover:

  • Why authenticity is crucial
  • Creating a consistent message across channels
  • Building a team that lives your brand’s purpose
  • Thinking about consumers as your family
  • The 3 best practices for adopting a purpose-led brand strategy
  • And more


Mentioned in this episode:



Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered, Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.


Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host Steffen Horst. In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about strategic development of a purpose led brand strategy. Here to speak with me is Ed Farley, who is the EVP, Senior Strategist at Crosby Marketing Communications. 


Crosby helps clients make powerful connections with their customers, constituents and communities to shape attitudes, inspire behavior change, and motivate action. Ed is a seasoned growth marketing executive with experience in developing and executing transformative marketing, sales enablement and business partnership strategies for brands. 


He is proficient in broad based brand, and product management, digital content and traditional advertising campaigns, integrated consumer experience planning, and creative development leadership. He has proven results in competitive categories such as beverage, healthcare, philanthropy, financial services, and media technology advisory. Ed, welcome to the show.


Edward Farley: Hi, Steffen. Thanks very much. Great to be here.


Steffen: Now Ed, before we start talking about today’s topic, tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself. How did you get started in your career and what led you to Crosby?


Edward: It’s been quite a while. It’s been probably close to 25 to 30 years or so. And six industries. So I started out like most of us do in marketing, in advertising. A big ad agency in Chicago, DDB. And that just led to a migration over to corporate marketing. Spent a lot of years with the largest beer company in the world, Anheuser Busch. And that’s really where I think the love of marketing took hold. All of the wonderful things you learn at a company like that across many, many functionalities. 


But brand management really stuck with me. And specifically, how do we do it globally? And so that really led to my interest in all things global and fed over time an interest in how might transformational brand strategy relate to multiple categories. So that’s, you mentioned beverage, you mentioned health care, you mentioned philanthropy and financial services. 


And so all of the categories and industries that I’ve had a good chance to be involved with, have been the beneficiary, certainly from my perspective, on what I’ve learned over time. And it’s really an always be learning kind of a culture, kind of a mentality. And so it’s really been helpful for me to learn from some really smart people in all of those companies and some great agencies as well, in all corners of the world. 


So really, at the end of the day, the story for me has been how can brand resonate across multiple industries and categories? And what have we learned along the way? And how has marketing changed? And why is brand so important? And now today, talking to you a little bit about purpose led brand strategy is really leading us into the 21st century and younger audiences and Gen Z. And it’s just a really exciting time to be in this area.


Steffen: Now Ed, can you explain the concept of a purpose led brand strategy, and its importance in today’s business landscape?


Edward: Yeah, it’s a little bit different from what we all have come to know and love about something more of a transactional brand strategy. It’s really a purpose led brand strategy is sort of centered around a brand’s clear and meaningful purpose. Beyond just profitability. It spends considerably more of an effort focusing on a brand’s core values, its beliefs, the positive impact it seeks to create in society. 


So it’s an approach in today’s world that is critical in the business landscape, because consumers today, particularly the younger consumers, increasingly are seeking authentic and socially responsible brands. They’re looking for businesses who can connect with them on a deeper level, building trust and creating that type of loyalty. 


So the direction that brands take in their actions and their decisions and how they become a part of our consumers’ lives are really aligning itself over time to an evolving society. The way we’re looking at society now. It’s really manifested well through kind of how the brand is shaping itself up.


Steffen: Now, how does that differ from a traditional brand strategy?


Edward: Yeah, as we all know, traditional brand strategies, they tend to focus, as I mentioned a little bit more on profitability and the functional benefits in differentiation of a product or a brand, quite frankly. A purpose led brand strategy, in contrast, goes well beyond product features. Well, beyond the focus of the delivery on the product itself. It gets to a deeper emotional and societal impact of the brand. 


We’ve been looking at this for a long time, and it’s no surprise that while traditional strategies aim to sort of establish a competitive edge with competitive sets, purpose led strategies are a little bit further out front. They create a sense of belonging, a sense of shared values with an evolving society. 


And you might imagine how important that is, and has been, in the context of the pandemic, and some of the other world issues that have arisen in the last, well in the latter part here of the recent years. So it’s becoming a more acceptable, more driven kind of an approach to creating brand strategy. And quite frankly, it’s welcomed by the younger generation. Gen Z I speak of.


Steffen: Yeah, yeah. Now are there companies out there, for which a purpose led strategy wouldn’t work, or is that something from your perspective that any company out there could adopt?


Edward: Candidly, I think any company could adopt it. One of the people that I most admire in brand strategy over the years has been a guy by the name of David Aaker. You may be aware of him. Decades ago he wrote a book called Managing Brand Equity. And he runs a very successful company called Profit. And he’s the type of guy who would tell you that if you are embracing the idea of brand purpose, and thinking about extending yourself beyond profit, you’re really diving into the kinds of things that are driven by core values and beliefs, and authenticity. 


At some point, you’ve got to recognize who you’re targeting. Who it is you are going after, in terms of where you think you can make a difference. And generally, you’ve got the opportunity there to create a competitive edge with them. And I think that he’s got kind of this point of view where any brand can develop an initiative that extends beyond founding of that brand into an initiative that can then be branded in and of itself and serve as kind of a sidecar to the brand. 


He calls those signature stories. I bring that up because you should really be able to do that in any category. There are some easy ones to think of. And I’ve had a little bit of experience in the healthcare industry, with regard to wellness with regard to well being and the work that some of the larger insurance companies and payers have have gone down that road a bit in developing a point of view on total population health. 


But there are, really any brand if it really reflects on its audience and really reflects on who they’re trying to deliver value to should be able to identify a way to align with the values and core beliefs of its audience. Whether it’s a digital brand, a DTC, a direct to consumer brand, or a retail brand.


Steffen: So traditional brand strategy focuses in the end on generating profit, while as you said, purpose led brand strategy focuses more on the social impact of the brand of their company. How much is the importance of profit for purpose led, and is that more a secondary thought?


Edward: No, I think that the best way to think about it is it transcends profitability. All brands should be in hot pursuit of profitability for sure. I think the successful brands pursue a place in the value systems of its audiences. For example, if you compare Coca Cola’s traditional strategy which highlights the taste and refreshments of its beverages and the amazing distribution that it has. 


You look at a brand like a smaller brand, call it TOMS Shoes, which has a one for one model, right. And they donate a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of TOMS sold. So TOMS they’re looking for profitability. They’re looking for, they’re carving out market share. 


I’m sure they’re being very practical about it, but they not only sell shoes that foster a sense of social responsibility among consumers, and thereby create a lasting, sort of what they hope to have is an indelible place in the hearts of their consumers in the choice that they make. So really my answer to your question would transcend profitability, would go beyond. More responsibility.


Steffen: Now, the company says, well, this is interesting. We’ve gone with a traditional brand strategy for a long period of time, let’s focus more on purpose led. What are the key elements that are involved in developing that? Where do they have to start?


Edward: Yeah, they have to think about some core elements really. And they’re very clear, and they’ll sound quite a bit like traditional brand management, brand strategy, if you will. But they kind of center themselves around a few things. One, its defining purpose, right? What is a clear articulation? And you may have it, but if you can’t clearly articulate it, why does the product exist beyond making a profit? What is it there to do? What is it compelled to do in the world, to make the world a better place? 


Believe it or not, that is the kind of language that resonates quite well with younger consumers. In addition to that purpose, you fortify that purpose with values and belief. You identify the core values and beliefs that guide all of the brand’s actions. We used to call this pillars or a lens, a brand lens. But really, it’s simplified into values and beliefs. 


And when you combine that with purpose, it becomes a very powerful tool, then get to the third part, which is essentially alignment. And you have any great brand has a culture that it wants to define internally, with its own employees and define externally. So you have to ensure that that purpose aligns well with internal and external culture, the brand’s products, the brand’s actions in the market. 


I’ll give you an example of that one. When I was with Anheuser Busch, for many years, we felt so strongly about the world of refreshment, which I can talk at length about because that’s how we felt that beer really resonated with our consumers. But refreshment was important. So whenever there was a major catastrophe around the world, or a drought or something, we would stop the beer lines. And we would, we would can water. 


And we would send that water in containers all over the world. To places that you might imagine. Far off places. We have the ability to do it, we were already transporting, we’re already sending beer everywhere in the world. We could do it with water. And it just, it had a, we didn’t label it with a brand, we labeled it with our corporate eagle if you remember what that looks like. 


And it just said drinking water. We did it because we wanted refreshment in the world. We wanted, you know, our motto really was making friends is our business. And in that water, that sign of partnership and empathy really meant a lot to our customers around the world. I think it’s still being done. But that’s a great example of alignment. 


It’s a 125 year old company that felt that way and has always done it that way. And so that really aligned well. The fourth part of it is communication. You’ve got to be really good at communication. You’ve got to be really good at bringing off the paper into people’s homes, this idea of a compelling narrative to communicate purpose consistently. You can’t be all over the board. And that’s why these signature stories that David Aaker talks about are really important. 


Because if you develop an initiative like canning water, you are able to consistently use that to develop a narrative about refreshment that means something to people. When they think about it, they think about your company and they might take advantage of the products that you’re selling.


Steffen: Now, you mentioned earlier that you know purpose led brand strategy or purpose led brand hits home with the younger audience. How about older audiences or the fact that a company has different audiences, different ages, however they define it. How do they use purpose led to talk across the entire spectrum of their audience group?


Edward: It’s very similar. I think that older audiences or different demographics, they’re looking for reason and value, and they’re believing in brands like they always have, they’re a little bit more older audiences are a little bit more brand loyal, we’ve learned over time. And so it can shape that loyalty into something that’s more meaningful to them. And they’re very good with, we’ve found that their putting a purpose led brand strategy in place can create amazing NPS scores. And those are very helpful.


Steffen: Now, when a company sets out on a journey to kind of develop, communicate a new amended brand strategy, obviously it’s important that internal stakeholders, employees, even the company culture is adjusted to that. How should the company approach that part? Because if you don’t get buy in from the people that are really close to the brand, how are you going to communicate it outside of your walls?


Edward: Yeah, I think that’s critical. Really, in fact, any brand that we’ve ever repositioned, certainly throughout my career has always started with our internal audiences. My fellow employees, our peers, right? The folks in your company. And I think a great example of that would be Humana. Very, very large health care insurance company that needed to reinvent and re introduce itself to society, in that they wanted to be sort of an integrated care delivery company. 


One that was not so much about insurance and Medicare, but more about how are we helping you to maintain a healthy lifestyle across the course of your entire life from 18 plus to all the way all the way through. And so we launched that brand, thinking about wellness and well being, but we did it through the prism of all of our employees, and their personal lifestyles, and what they could do to better themselves. 


And we developed a series of actions as we began to redefine the brand and reintroduce the brand, oh about 10, 15 years ago, and all of a sudden, you started to see people really embracing exercise or making appointments with the right kinds of preventive care appointments. We had people walking, doing miles and measuring it with their iPhones. 


We had competitions internally. It was kind of the idea that if we’re going to preach to our customers, wellness and well being and taking care of yourself that we should start from within. And it was so incredibly inspiring. All of the leaders taking advantage of it. All of our marketing had amazing ways in which we were kind of defining the purpose between how are we going to take care of your health, and how does that relate to care and care of yourself and care of others. 


And it was really very inspiring. And so, the idea that inspiring and engaging employees who feel connected to a higher mission, it creates a more positive and motivated company culture. When employees believe in a brand’s purpose, they then become brand ambassadors. And they deliver that sort of consistent message. 


We talked about message earlier. A consistent message and that brand authenticity really comes through and really, Humana was created as a company that will sit around the kitchen table with you and help you with your individual health. At the core of it. 


A customer, a consumer could see the authenticity and what we were then reintroducing ourselves with over time. It didn’t feel like it was off the range. And so it felt very, very, very powerful. So I would argue that we start with, in fact, if you really want to get specific start with HR. An HR brand is really where you should start with your purpose led brand strategy.


Steffen: Now, once you develop your strategy, and you want to communicate it throughout different channels, how do you ensure that the message stays consistent across all different marketing channels and touchpoints that your target audience most likely will see you?


Edward: Well, that’s where the magic really happens, right? That’s where integration and omni channel thinking really comes to play. It’s really all about touchpoints. And I did mention earlier, David Aaker’s point of view about signature stories, but at the end of the day, it’s purpose driven, should be driven across really all of your touch points, your advertising campaigns. 


In the world of digital, you have enormous opportunities with content. You have enormous ways to connect with people, not merely to sell something but to educate, entertain, give them hope, inspire them, use content to tell a story about your company, yourself, your brand. 


Had we had great digital marketing back in the Anheuser Busch days early on, pre iPhone, I think probably or pre social media, we would have been able to tell some really interesting stories about where that water ended up, and who used it, and what it delivered, and how proud we were of it. 


But social media messaging has that purpose, it has that opportunity to do different wonderful things and content can make that happen. The other thing I would say is you really need to think about, and I talked about that internal culture, is train your customer facing employees to embody the brand’s purpose. I don’t know how many times Steffen, you’ve had problems with customer service or phone calls or customer service call centers. 


But if you are there, boy, those touch points, enabling your salespeople, enabling your call centers to simplify their actions, to simplify the way that they treat customers and to become living proof of a brand’s purpose. 


Perhaps leveraging a signature story or perhaps leveraging an initiative that’s sort of easy and flexible for a customer. There’s just many different ways to do that. But really, I think aligning your omni channel approach with your customer experience is important and maybe even trying your customer experience first.


Steffen: Now with purpose driven strategies, brand strategies becoming more common by companies, how can a company ensure that what they’re doing is going to be seen authentic? Because you know, there’s a mature company out there that might try to fake it, what they’re doing. So how can they ensure that their target audience receives the message the way it’s supposed to be received? And that they believe that what they’re communicating is authentic?


Edward: Good question. The way in which you might be able to think about it is consumers now, people have more information at their fingertips than ever before. And actions matter, right? Actions matter. So aligning your actions with your stated purpose. Most people know that the cliche, walking the talk, I think that’s more important than ever. 


And so companies that are out there making it easier, making it simpler, making it faster, making it more credible, your actions must match your purpose. And so the follow through is incredibly important. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. And then have that sort of compelling messaging and narrative around it to make sure it resonates with people in the right place at the right time with the right message. 


The other thing about it is to be transparent. You need to be transparent about efforts and progress. So if you make a mistake, admit your mistake, be out there. Do better the next time. Be transparent. Show people that you’re not afraid to be, I mean, I think people are looking for today, with all this communication and social messaging, people are looking for people just like themselves and to treat them the way that they would want to be treated. And so that transparency is important. 


So solicit that feedback from your stakeholders. And when I say stakeholders, I mean, the people you sell your product to. Your internal employees. Get feedback from them, survey them, ask them. And then finally, continually revisit and refine your purpose to keep it relevant. As people change. Perhaps your purpose can evolve. You can build off your success. So I would say those things help you maintain that crucial authenticity.


Steffen: Yeah. Now, you mentioned nowadays, it’s much easier to communicate your message out there. But I would say at the same time, it’s also more challenging, because messages, it’s quite hard for consumers sometimes to identify if they’re looking at a true message, or it’s kind of a fake message. Any thoughts on how to cut through that entire environment? That noise out there, that might not be true around certain things?


Edward: Yeah, I think that you’ve got to think about your consumers as your family. And what do I mean by that? The transparency piece of that is incredibly important. And having a clear purpose requires you to deliver on the promise. I have to go back to the consistency of message. Does that match with your actions? Does that match with your transparency? Are you asking people how you’re doing? Are you getting feedback? Do you have a genuine commitment to a meaningful purpose? 


The other part of it is, and this could be a very interesting point on your question and is that is, can you involve your consumers or your key stakeholders in the development of that purpose? And so in many ways, you have the opportunity to go out and ask and research and get feedback on how you are doing or the development of your purpose. 


So if you’re growing and evolving your mission or purpose, you are getting that feedback and you’re communicating that back and forth. And then you should always obviously monitor and measure the impact of that strategy. Being prepared for the long term. 


So you have to have clear KPIs in place such as, are we linking this to a good in the community? Are there metrics in key communities that are actually being lifted as a result of what you’re doing? Do you have the ability to, you know, have rallied different types of organizations? 


One thing, I worked at United Way Worldwide, which is one of the largest philanthropies in the world. Their goal was to take the best and the brightest of every community, put them together in business, in faith groups, in government, and solve big problems with measurable results. 

And corporations loved it because they could tap into and their brands, they would bring their brands and they could tap into the good that United Way could do in these individual communities. 


Through this idea that you’re putting the best and the brightest together. You’re getting your stakeholder feedback. You’re shaping your purpose, and you’re measuring your impact. And so whether it was education, financial stability, or health care, or economic or food instability in a market, you had the right people in the community giving you the right feedback. 


And I think companies can do that with philanthropy. They can do that with brands. They can tap into some of the best and brightest people through nonprofit organizations, which I would highly recommend you do. And there are some wonderful ones out there that we all know and love. One I particularly thought was effective was United Way. I worked for them, but I also believe in their mission, still.


Steffen: Now, Ed, before we come to the end of today’s podcast episode, do you have three best practices for companies that are considering adopting purpose led brand strategy for the first time?


Edward: I do. I would say understand your consumer. Understand your category and understand your brand. So what do I mean by that? I would say, from a consumer standpoint, what does your target need? What are they looking for? What mindset do they come to your category with? And how can you tap into their larger mission in life? How can you tap into their values and belief and mindsets? 


This has been done quite successfully, as I mentioned, with the Generation Z segment of our population. And some brands that you might not even imagine, have been able to do it. Like Amazon has done it quite well, in some data sets that I’ve looked at. 


From a category standpoint, what does the space we play in look like? Who’s doing purpose driven branding? And how can you carve out and differentiate yourself? How’s the category addressing people’s problems and needs today? How can you be different? And how can you engage with your stakeholders to be different and understand how you can make a difference through understanding the category and in really assessing what people are doing and how they’re doing it? 


And then from a brand standpoint, this may be the most important. What’s true to us? What is true to you and the brand? Were you founded on values and principles that you brought to the market that made you successful in the first place? That’s the authenticity piece. What are the durable elements of the brand that have driven success over time? Think about those things that have stickiness that have worked for you over the years and if they, if you haven’t got those types of things. 


Now’s the time to think about building those through those other two I mentioned. Consumer category, and start to think about your brand as more than a product more than a profit, but part of the lives of your consumers that you can begin to do really flourish over time. And I think that’s the way to think about growing your brand. And those would be my three things to think about for brand transformation.


Steffen: Well, Ed, thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered podcast and sharing your knowledge on strategic development of purpose led brand strategy. Now, if people want to find out more about you, about Crosby, how can they get in touch?


Edward: Yeah, you can get in touch. At Crosby, we are a company that does, we’re a firm based in Annapolis, Maryland, and we’ve got an office in Washington DC as well. You can contact us. We are all about developing actions that matter. Our mantra is sort of inspiring actions that matter. 


So we operate in a very specific area of specialized practices in health care, nonprofits and causes, government and military and veterans. And we’ve got some amazing clients that are there where we try to positively impact people’s lives and contribute to the greater good. We help them develop with their customers, their constituencies. We shape attitudes, we inspire behavior change, we motivate action. 


And so our campaigns are very integrated. We’re good with firms that need to transform into brands that would like to transform into sort of mission driven, as I said, actions that matter that work in the community and we’ve got a great lineup. So if you’re interested if you’re in those four specialized practices we’d love to hear from.


Steffen: Perfect Well, thanks, everyone for listening. If you like the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.


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