Published in


Purpose-Driven Businesses: What Makes Them Purposeful, and What Can We Learn?

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

We ended 2020 doing what we love: learning. Our annual team retreat — aka Quilt University — was a week of Harvard-style business simulations and training to upskill and expand our understanding of the world. We had guest speakers from different industries talking to us on a range of topics — from fashion-tech to finance — and one of our favorite sessions was about responsible brands.

A decade ago, the primary considerations while buying personal care products used to be their functional value, price, and (sometimes) packaging. Today, consumers also seek natural ingredients, eco-friendly packaging, no animal testing, low-carbon footprint, and fair trade. Brownie points if the brand aligns with their values and takes a stand on public interest issues (think Black Lives Matter, LGBTQI+ rights, climate change, etc.).

With greater awareness and a plethora of brands to choose from, consumers today are increasingly leaning towards sustainable brands that don’t just meet their functional needs but have a greater purpose, be it in terms of personal value (helping consumers achieve the best version of themselves) or social change (such as climate action).

Social media has further accelerated this trend and provided consumers with the space to voice their opinions, beliefs, and allegiance at a scale that was unimaginable before, powering global campaigns and trending hashtags like #vocalforlocal, #sustainablysourced, #supportsmallbusinesses, #crueltyfree, #naturalskincare, and #brandsthatgiveback — pushing brands to be more conscious and vocal about why they exist and for whom.

With the help of our Culture AI tools, we studied the Instagram data of eight purpose-led brands across categories: Kind Snacks, SK-II, SunTrust, Nike, Lululemon, Dove, Lipton, and Lego. These brands have won the trust of their customers, consistently kept them engaged, and successfully established themselves in the global market.

We applied our proprietary, AI-led semiotic analysis framework onto the photos and captions to get a sense of how they position themselves and communicate with their audience.

More than just a business

Successful purpose-led brands see their customers as active stakeholders rather than mere buyers.

They value the time, attention, and money customers spend on their brand. They invest in cultivating long-lasting relationships with them through community initiatives and involve them in product development and marketing campaigns. These brands are committed to their mission and believe that purpose and profit go hand-in-hand.

The Instagram captions represent the same ethos, building on larger ideas and values such as self-esteem, confidence, resilience, optimism, and achieving one’s full potential.

The most used words detected by our Culture AI across all eight brands included terms like ‘unwavering spirit’, ‘breaking stereotypes’, ‘feeling confident’, ‘defy social pressures’, ‘help end race’, ‘deep responsibility’, and ‘societal change’.

Source: Nike

While Nike is known for its purpose-driven content, never just selling shoes but always inspiring their customers to dream big and ‘just do it’, Kind Snacks links their energy bars with personal goals like productivity and self-care.

Dove doesn’t just sell soap and shampoo, they seek to improve the self-esteem of girls and women, while SK-II inspires women to set their own rules and break gender and age stereotypes.

Source: Kind Snacks

For the greater good

Instagram content of purpose-driven brands evoke a sense of community, using terms like ‘join us’ and ‘coalition’ in their captions and signifying a larger movement or ecosystem within which they exist.

They speak to younger customers who are more informed than previous generations (thanks to the Internet) and are active users of social media platforms like Instagram.

Millennials and GenZ-ers are unafraid to hold brands to account in adhering to ethical standards and taking a stand on important social and political issues. Environmental sustainability, animal rights, anti-racism, inclusiveness, feminism and LGBTQI+ rights are some of the values that matter the most to them and they are more inclined towards brands that align with these values.

In fact, 63% of American consumers say they are more likely to purchase from purpose-driven brands and remain loyal to them, while 91% millennials state they would switch to a purpose-driven brand. Similarly, 53% of American consumers were disappointed with a brand’s words or actions related to social issues.

The Instagram captions of purpose-driven brands have a sense of urgency and call for action, whether to encourage their customers to go out and vote or mobilizing for climate action. Further, customers who buy from purpose-driven brands believe they’re creating a positive impact in the world by purchasing from these brands.

Source: Lululemon

Content that sparks joy

All eight purpose-driven brands studied by our AI put out positive, feel-good content on Instagram. Their post captions are creative and witty and the top emotions detected by our AI are ‘happiness’, ‘affiliation’, creativity’ and ‘affection’.

Emotions detected by our Culture AI

Purpose-driven brands seek to develop an emotional connection with their audience, touching upon deeply personal yet universal themes like self-esteem and acceptance, through purpose-driven marketing such as Dove’s ‘Nothing to Hide’ campaign or SK-II’s ‘Beauty is #NoCompetition’ campaign against unrealistic beauty standards. The underlying message is that they are here to help customers embrace themselves as they are — imperfectly perfect.

Source: Dove

Accountability, Authenticity and Action

Today, brands are no longer seen as the property of their founders and investors; they are community property, a public good. It’s not only the shareholders and employees that have a stake in the business but also their customers, and therefore, the brand is accountable to them.

Transparency is key to building and maintaining trust. According to a 2018 study by Accenture, 66% consumers think transparency is one of a brand’s most attractive qualities. For example, KIND Snacks has successfully established itself as the third-largest snack bar maker in the world and is known for its commitment to improving public health and transparent sourcing of ingredients.

Clear, authentic messaging presented in creative ways and accompanied by concrete actions go a long way in establishing trust.

Particularly in light of COVID-19, brands are increasingly collaborating with governments, nonprofits and citizens to mitigate the impact of the virus and are likely to continue to prioritize the health and safety of customers in the future.

The humanity of brands is in the spotlight more than ever before, not just in terms of how they treat their customers but also their employees, frontline workers, and partners.

Living one’s purpose and leading with purpose involves having a deep understanding of what one’s brand brings to the world that is relevant, unique, credible and competent.

Purpose-driven brands also have higher levels of innovation and greater workforce retention. Most importantly, authentic purpose is as important as digital to the next generation of customers.

Write to us at anurag.banerjee@quilt.ai for more insights on purpose-driven businesses and the latest consumer trends.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store



We are a culturally rooted, AI powered insights firm that converts millions of data signals into human understanding. Visit us: https://quilt.ai