Purpose brands — beyond marketing

Greg Viljoen
4 min readJul 28, 2022
Looking through purpose

Purpose brands or purpose-led brands often focus on sustainability or environmental purpose and these are usually linked to marketing campaigns and/or budgets.

This is not a bad thing!

Any form of tangible, genuine purpose that addresses these issues is good, right?

In June 2021 we wrote a blog called Your Brand Purpose is your Mission Statement! This blog talks specifically about how purpose brands need to look past the balance sheet and marketing budgets to take a more holistic view of its brand identity and by extension its purpose.

There are three elements to purpose-led business: Environment, Sustainability and Governance.

Purpose brands are doing the first two well, and more and more global brands now recognise the need for these.

In fact, brands that have pivoted to a purpose-oriented approach have historically outperformed those that have not.

Unilever is a great example of this. They reported that their purpose brands grew 69% faster than the rest of their brands.

“Unilever’s Sustainable Living Brands are those that communicate a strong environmental or social purpose, with products that contribute to achieving the company’s ambition of halving its environmental footprint and increasing its positive social impact. While all of Unilever’s brands are on a journey towards sustainability, our Sustainable Living Brands are those that are furthest ahead.”

READ: Purpose-led businesses are gaining relevance says Unilever CEO

Is Africa ready for purpose-led business?

There are many great examples of global brands who have added purpose — a simple Google search confirms this. However, searching for ‘purpose brands in developing economies’ reveals far less.

In fact, developing economies often are the purpose, as they offer a symbiotic opportunity alongside environmental issues, ethical sourcing and production processes, to tick this box.

It is also worth noting that in struggling economies with high unemployment such as South Africa, a brand’s social purpose does not influence buying decisions as much as price and utility.

However when done right, purpose driven business can be yield amazing results.

An example of this is Nescafe in Kenya.

As recently as January 2021, Nestle pledged to increase its sustainability efforts to farmers in countries which yield its coffee supply.

These countries include Brazil, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines and Vietnam, all of which neatly fit into the ‘developing countries’ sector.

In Kenya alone, 50,000 farmers are said to have been supported with training initiatives on good agricultural and processing practices, along with financial literacy programs.

In 2021 Kenyan consumers voted Nescafe the best coffee, again proving that a purpose brand business model can and does translate into good business.

Closer to home in South Africa, global brand, Levi Strauss & Co set up a factory in Epping, Cape Town and it is one of just two plants that the company owns and operates itself. Their focus has been to use less water in the production of their jeans by applying more environmentally sustainable production methods. The by-product of this initiative, of course, is also job creation while producing a sustainable product. Levi Strauss & Co’s transparency in their processes is also well documented.

But what about governance?

The shift toward purpose-led brands continues to grow within the Social and Environmental pillars.

Corporate governance, however, seems to be the elephant in the room and is largely not talked about in the same way that social and environmental issues are. Perhaps because the marketing folk and accountants aren’t able to quantify purpose led decision-making and policymaking within an organisation in the same way as marketing a brand with a purpose.

We have seen now that marketing purpose brands has proven to yield better results than brands without purpose, but marketing employee benefits, employee welfare and a better work environment not so much.

Globally there has been a shift, albeit not a seismic one. There are companies that have put greater emphasis on employee welfare but can you name one offhand?

Here’s an example…

Unilever’s U-Work program gives contract workers the freedom and flexibility they desire, coupled with job security and benefits. Workers commit to working a minimum number of weeks a year, receive a small monthly retainer and get paid for assignments. Benefits include a pension, health insurance and sick pay.

For developing countries unique socio-economic histories and operating environments present slightly different challenges though. These often require both global brands operating in these regions, and local industries, to recognise the challenges and align this with their commercial success, social and environmental sustainability pillars.

Authentic brand purpose requires all three segments of Environment, Sustainability and Governance to be met if we are truly going to turn the corner to a sustainable future.

Corporations have so much power and influence today. Some would say too much. They have to lead the way though!

The reality is that every employee is also a consumer and happy workers + happy consumers = successful enterprise.




Greg Viljoen

Father, Surfer, Muso, Producer, Content Creator & Strategy Ninja, Founder @biggerthanmeZA, Husband to @robyn_on_earth - Kommetjie, CT