A purpose-led strategy will be essential for businesses following COVID-19

Global Business Compass shows the imperatives for COVID-19 recovery… and brand purpose is the obvious starting point.


COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on business. In Global Business Compass, our survey of nearly 4,500 business leaders across the world, 57% of business leaders said their businesses would still be suffering economically a year or more after COVID-19 ‘ends’, and 27% expect recovery will take two years or more. It’s not impossible to recover from the chaos of 2020, but decisive action is needed today.

At Kantar, we have identified three imperatives for marketers to support their business’ rebound and recovery. The first imperative is around the very soul of your business: embracing purpose as a central element of your brand strategy.

How should brands change their strategies as a result of COVID-19?

In our research, 64% of business leaders said they will need to revisit their long-term strategic priorities, with 79% saying they need to evolve their core strategy. Businesses do understand that they must react to change, and that change is here to stay; 90% of the business leaders we surveyed expect consumer behaviour established during the pandemic to persist post-crisis. But 48% those surveyed said they’d be spending less on understanding changing consumer behaviour. How can strategies evolve without better understanding the new needs of consumers?

People have changed their priorities

We urge businesses to take shifts in consumer priorities seriously. As part of our COVID-19 Barometer, we asked people how the pandemic will affect how they think and behave. The most common answers were, perhaps unsurprisingly, to attribute more importance to their loved ones (30%) and enjoying life (27%). But it wasn’t all about family and fun. 21% said the pandemic had led them to more environmentally friendly habits; 16% said they’d focus more on environmental initiatives, and 12% said they’d be less selfish. 14% said they’d attribute more value to honest brands.

The COVID-19 Barometer study also showed that 20% of people aged 18 to 34 feel that brands should ‘guide the change’ (play an active role in making the world a better place), increasing to 27% over the course of lockdown. If you are targeting a younger audience, there is even more pressure to consider what your brand stands for.

Purpose and sustainability really will make a difference

Purpose is the positive impact you make in people’s lives and the world they live in. Brands have always affected people’s lives and the world they live in, and can be a stabilising force during a time of economic turmoil and uncertainty. They are now under increasing pressure to position themselves on issues such as diversity, racial justice, sustainability, and community.

In pre-COVID-19 research from our Global Monitor, 85% of consumers said it is important to buy from companies that support causes in which they believe. As people start to take more interest in what they buy and what happens to the world around them as a result, brand owners must sit up and take notice.

Our analysis finds that 51% of BrandZ Growth Brands play an active role in supporting society. Yet only 34% of companies overall plan to do just that. 48% of BrandZ Growth Brands undertake financial and non-financial support to local communities; compared to just 29% of all brands. We know a strong purpose is tied to growth. So what do you need to do?

Getting to grips with brand purpose

Reflect on why the company was started. What explicit or implicit needs are you meeting? Consider the impact you can have on users’ lives, functionally or emotionally. This is where deep human insight is valuable: you must root your purpose in those relevant insights, and re-engage with your consumers in a transparent and meaningful way.

There are lots of good reasons to embrace a purpose-led strategy, but there are also pitfalls to avoid. If your purpose doesn’t go beyond a well-written statement, and you are not actually taking actions to make the world a better place in the way you have identified, you will be found out – and harm your brand. If the purpose makes no sense to your business goals, efforts will fall flat. Moreover – and this takes a deeper understanding of your own brand’s customer base – the purpose has to ‘fit’ with what people know about you already. It has to be authentic. How can you talk about your purpose in a way that is uniquely ‘you ’?

Ask yourself: Are you ready to make sacrifices for the public good? Can you take a proactive and public stance on social issues?

Brand-led purpose takes different forms

Think about purpose as a living and breathing element of your communication, product, experience and commitment, rather than as an isolated concept.

Purpose is about a commitment. Many FMCG companies talk about making the world a healthier place; financial services may look at financial wellbeing. Where these are successful is where there is something beyond the marketing – consider the Yakult Central Institute, where the probiotic drink brand actually conducts a wider programme of scientific and cultural research into physical and social wellbeing.

Purpose should be integrated with your product. If your purpose is to make sports/fashion/great food accessible to the many, it makes sense to consider the entire shopping experience and innovate to remove pain points in the customer journey.

Purpose will also manifest in the experience, and in the communications, for your brand. Never underestimate the power of being transparent in your goals, following up on promises, and doing what you say you will – consistently .

The only way is up

Purpose is getting more and more important to consumers. It’s very clearly linked to brand growth, and business results. Business leaders and marketers must put purpose at the heart of what they do, not just to ‘make the world a better place’ – but to engage with the demands of people who buy from you, and to strengthen your brand.

Is your brand brave enough to make the changes required for recovery? Get in touch with our Kantar experts to learn more about these imperatives and how we can help with your recovery journey.


About Global Business Compass

Kantar interviewed 4475 business leaders around the world – over 900 of them C-suite – in May and June this year. The online questionnaire covered 60+ markets and 40 global businesses. Customised reports are available for all countries and sectors.

Myles George

Global NeedScope Director,
New Zealand

This article first appeared in Kantar.com on November 30 2020.