Purpose Vs. Panic: How Brand Purpose Drives Trust and Helps Build Brand Loyalty

In a period of unprecedented ambiguity for businesses, brands are being forced to make difficult decisions that just a few months ago seemed unthinkable. How does a brand stay agile and respond in real-time to a global crisis? By letting purpose over panic drive strategic decision-making, brands can build credibility and better position themselves to weather the storm.

A brand’s purpose is its most valuable guiding principle. Intangible yet ubiquitous, it is the inalienable reason why you exist as an organization, expressed with singular focus through every facet of the business. REI, a U.S.-based outdoor equipment and apparel retailer, is one great example. REI’s core purpose is to “inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.”

On March 16, 2020, REI President & CEO Eric Artz made the difficult decision to close all 162 retail locations under the guidance of the CDC and local health officials. During this uncertain time, leadership turned to their organization’s purpose and core values to respond to a growing threat to their business. Effective immediately, the company committed to paying laid-off employees, modified paid-time-off policies and set up a fund to help REI families affected by the pandemic. Customers were offered no-questions-asked refunds on cancellations and additional coupons to shop at REI online.

In electing to choose purpose over panic, REI put its employees and its customers first. Other organizations are stepping up as well; Ford is acting in accordance with its purpose “to make people's lives better…,” by helping to produce urgently needed medical equipment in its plants. Similarly, Netflix is delivering on its purpose and its promise to the creative community with the establishment of a $100 million relief fund as productions have ground to a halt. Many businesses, including Columbia Sportswear and Texas Roadhouse, are also taking steps to safeguard their employees’ financial security by voluntarily reducing executive salaries. These measures can help inspire and endear employees to the brand and empower them to better deliver on its purpose.

Today, as in past moments of hardship, consumers are naturally attracted to purpose-driven brands. They want to know why companies exist and if they will choose purpose over panic during difficult times. Simon Sinek said it best in his 2009 book Start With Why, “You have to earn trust… you have to talk about your WHY and prove it with WHAT you do.”  In other words, a brand’s purpose articulates WHY you do what you do, but the actions taken by your organization—the WHAT—must necessarily be aligned with the purpose to truly inspire trust in your audience and grow brand loyalty.

Of course, any such initiative must also be executed with authenticity—not as a marketing tactic or fodder for a press release. Every decision you make should be deeply infused with the DNA of your brand in order to build trust among all stakeholders. In short, a trusted brand is a promise fulfilled—and keeping your promises is especially valuable in a time of crisis. As you ponder your brand purpose and evaluate how best to communicate that promise to the marketplace in the months ahead, Baily Brand Consulting is here to help you along that journey.

Allow us to learn about your business and see how we could partner together to build it. Contact Bailey’s Vice President of Client Services, Jamie Gailewicz, at 610-818-3103.

Selected sources: