Can purpose be promotional? Refreshing our approach to beverage sales


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Today's brands are expected to have a purpose. So how should marketers approach this as they look to build brands? Callum Saunders at ZEAL Creative takes a look in this guest article.

Make no mistake: we’re living in an age of purpose-led business, where brands are expected to make a positive contribution to the societies in which they operate.  But this pursuit of purpose needs to be balanced with our core role as marketers: building brands and driving sales.

Which begs the question, ‘can purpose be promotional’ and if so, what opportunities does the rise of conscious consumerism present for the beverage category?

A business doing good, is good for business

It’s important to note that purpose is not only good for people, the public and the planet, but also good for profit.  Unilever has been consistently vocal in the benefits of purpose for both short- and long-term growth, whilst a global 2020 study suggests that shoppers are four to six times more likely to purchase from and champion purpose-driven companies.

It’s easy to think that big bold purpose campaigns are the preserve of global lifestyle brands, such as Nike’s powerful and award-winning ‘Dream Crazy’ campaign with Colin Kaepernick.  But from Carlsberg’s brand-new partnership with the WWF to Innocent’s long-standing ‘Big Knit’ campaign show that purpose is very much in our world.

The question is less about pursuing the purpose opportunity, but more how beverage brands should approach it.

Activating the “3Ps” of purpose-led activation

It is crucial to understand the role you want purpose to play in your promotional marketing activity and ZEAL Creative has identified three core pillars of purpose-led activation. 

On the more traditional end of the spectrum is Promoting​; working with an existing charity, partnership or initiative to lend support through tactics such as donation with each can / bottle, or ‘promote’ a cause and benefit from the halo equity.

Whilst there is nothing wrong with this pillar of purpose, a lack of credible connection to your product or brand story can make this feel like ‘badging’ and is also rooted in the traditional approach to cause-led marketing.

At the complete other end of the spectrum is Priority​, where what beverage brands say and do is almost as buyable as the product itself; their beverage business as a ‘force for good’.

Tenzing energy drink uses natural plant-based products to resonate with a new generation of energy drink consumers but is also a carbon negative business.  Similarly, the Brewdog behemoth has become increasingly vocal about the carbon negative focus that now spans its brand, products and operations.

But pivoting established and huge beverage brands and businesses can also be a Herculean task that requires colossal logistical challenges.  And let’s not forget: our focus is on producing and marketing quality beverage products.

The really interesting opportunity for beverage brands is Perspective​, where brands are starting to ‘activate’ purpose and weave it into wider brand narrative. Stella Artois’ ‘Buy a Lady a Drink’ is a classic case in point, activating its long-standing partnership with in a way that is distinctive and ownable to the brand.

And that last point is critical.  With more brands pursuing purpose, we’re faced with a ‘paradox of purpose’: activating purpose in a distinctive way and ‘branding’ your purpose is crucial to ensure your marketing resonates.

Adopting challenger thinking

It’s critical to note that much ‘conscious consumerism’ has been ushered in by a new era of purpose-led challenger brands.  From craft mixers to global giants such as Coca-Cola, any beverage brand can benefit from viewing purpose through the lens of challenger thinking.

‘Eating the Big Fish’ is Adam Morgan’s seminal book on challenger strategy and one of its key principles focuses on the need to adopt a ‘lighthouse identity’, projecting your point of view intensely and consistently.  This applies when thinking about purpose: what’s our perspective?  How is it distinctive to us?  How can we weave it into brand narrative and project it consistently?

Commitment and consistency are key

Whilst the ‘purpose perspective’ presents a huge opportunity for beverage brands, it’s vital to note that this is not something that can be dipped in and out of.  Half-hearted activations will be sniffed out as inauthentic or, worse still, ignored completely.

callum zeal

Activating purpose requires commitment and consistency.  Not only does it demonstrate credibility and authenticity in the space, but it also allows your brands to build up memory structures and associations in this space, making it easier for more people to buy into better.

About ZEAL Creative: ​UK brand activation marketing agency, ZEAL Creative, delivers campaigns for brands including, Nestlé, Kellogg’s, Pringles, Arla, McCain, Dr Oetker, Reckitt and Warburtons.

With unrivalled insight and expertise, ZEAL Creative helps bring brands to life, with campaigns that engage, inspire and motivate consumers into action at key moments on the path to purchase.

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