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Corporate Client Team

Charities Aid Foundation


This week I joined retailers, sustainability professionals and other stakeholders for a conference hosted by edie. As you’d expect, the agenda was packed with a range of fascinating topics, from reducing and mitigating supply chain risks to debating whether the traditional retail model still works.

I had a presentation slot in the last session of the day, titled ‘future brand purpose’, which is something I have strong views on. There was so much I wanted to convey, and I was really excited to speak in front of this group of leaders and innovators in what is an incredibly fast-paced sector. So, how do you speak to an influential group of people about something you really care about? Well, I’m not sure how you do it, but I decided to draw my own slides and take things back to basics. Primary school style basics…


What I wanted to do was convince this group how essential people are in developing an authentic, compelling sense of brand purpose. To start off with, what does purpose actually mean? It’s a term that is either used with some trepidation or carefree abandon. Typically people think of it as your brand’s reason for being. The only problem with thinking about it like this is that it’s easy to make it all about you.

purpose cartoon

I asked whether people had ever wondered what would be said about them at their funeral. Fortunately one person in the audience had, so it wasn’t just me. I think that’s a neat way of thinking about purpose – how would your brand be missed if it didn’t exist? This forces you to think about what other people, who aren’t part of your company, value in your brand. Without it, you neglect to incorporate the essence of why people really care about you.


Particularly in retail, there are two sets of stakeholders you should consider: internal and external. Not surprisingly, companies today are doing a great job at understanding their internal stakeholders and place a concerted effort on engaging their employees and giving them a sense of pride in what the company does.

But attention should equally be paid to your external stakeholders and understanding what they think about your brand purpose – otherwise you miss two sets of perspectives. The primary external stakeholder will of course be your consumer. Most companies will include their consumers in areas like product development and marketing efforts, but there’s an opportunity for consumer opinion to inform your sense of purpose.

Similarly, the beneficiary perspective is crucial, as these are the people you’re trying to serve and engage through community programmes. Their collective experience will affect your credibility and licence to operate in communities – and they are often your consumers.


If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. I told the audience that, with some of the brands I work with, I’d get really frustrated with the disconnect between the work they did and knowing what their consumers thought about it. Often, they wouldn’t know what consumers thought, or worse, the business made assumptions about what consumers cared about.

So, we set up a partnership with a leading customer agency called C Space, who solve business problems from the customer perspective. We wanted to really understand whether a brand’s consumers cared about purpose, and why. The idea was a simple one and set two things in motion at the same time. Firstly, we gather deep insight from consumer communities to learn how they talk about this stuff in their own language, and what they really care about. We then take this qualitative analysis and complement it with quantitative analysis, and then pull out the key themes from consumers.

Secondly, we’re working to embed a sense of purpose in the company. We do this using the lens of CSR and sustainability, because we believe that these areas are the clearest manifestation of how you embody you values, and particularly within that the work that is done in local communities. (If you haven’t seen it, check out CAF’s perspective of how local community impact is the best way for retailers to demonstrate authenticity). So, we take functions that often don’t talk to each other much and bring them all around the table in a collaborative campaign geared around CSR and sustainability. This means that the idea isn’t diluted or distorted as it’s passed back and forth between teams, and it also means that other teams feel a sense of ownership in the idea and take it into their part of the business.

Where these two areas meet – there’s where you have the really powerful ideas that should inform your brand’s sense of purpose.


For me, the way we think of beneficiaries (i.e., the people who benefit) in community programmes has got to change. We need to move from being funder-centric – telling communities about the programmes we run – to beneficiary-centric and learning what the needs of the community are before designing our programmes. For a more detailed look at what impact thinking entails, here is a previous blog I wrote on how to build it into community programmes.

beneficiary cartoon


I ended with this quote from Maya Angelou:

maya quote

What I’ve learned is that purpose belongs to people, not just to the company. Listen to what these people think, need and care about; and then enable them to engage with your brand purpose and feel it.

Of course, the benefit of presenting this is that there’s a forum for discussion afterwards. If you’ve got a different view, if you’d like hear more about the work we’ve done in these areas or if you want to tell me how I can improve my drawings, please feel free to get in touch.



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