Cause Marketing v. Brand Purpose:

In today’s age of consumers wanting more, brands are expected to stand for something greater than just selling services or products. Brand purpose isn’t just seen as aspirational — it’s mainstream: 64% of those surveyed across the globe would “choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues” (Edelman).

But, as more brands embrace the shift, there is a lot of confusion about what brand purpose really is — and how it differs from supporting a cause or cause marketing. Both are generally associated with corporate social responsibility, but there are key differences:

Cause marketing brings together brands and nonprofits to advance causes they both support. It can often have a PR-associated goal, in addition to its intrinsic value.

Purpose is the reason that your brand exists.

Cause marketing is an add-on to a brand; an accessory; a flourish. Purpose is your soul; your reason for being.

Think of it this way:   

Cause marketing is Wal-Mart running ads about their donations to local shelters.

Brand purpose would be Wal-Mart reorganizing their business so that every employee makes enough to afford a decent home in their community. 

Cause marketing is Coca-Cola paying Bill Nye to tout their recycling efforts

Brand purpose is Patagonia’s stated reason for existing: “We are in business to save our home planet.” (And, then seizing every opportunity to act upon it.)

It should be noted that brand purpose isn’t always about altruistic social good; authentic purpose can be about consumer aspirations or emotional goals as well.

There are many examples of cause marketing; there are far fewer examples of authentic brand purpose. And while there may be overlap between the two, there are key differentiating factors.

Intent: When it comes down to it, cause marketing is focused on corporate giving or support for a cause. Brand purpose, however, should act as your compass guiding everything that you do, not just “what,” but “how” and “why.”

Impact: While cause marketing is traditionally campaign-based, your brand purpose is foundational, broad, and long-lasting. It should continuously drive your work and remain true, even as times and trends change. A brand might launch multiple cause marketing campaigns, but all of them are driven by your purpose.

Audiences: Cause marketing is something you do to engage consumers, employees, or stakeholders. Brand purpose, however, shapes you externally and internally. Your purpose is just as much of a guide for your work culture as it is for your campaigns.

Cause marketing can be about appearances or it can be genuine. But purpose can’t be faked. It’s always authentic. Consumers and employees are smart and they can tell when your brand has integrity and, more importantly, when it doesn’t.

In short: brand purpose speaks to who you are and what you are good for. It’s the value that you create for your customers, for the community, for society as a whole. And it is in the experience of that value, that true brand loyalty lives.