TUESDAY 27 FEB 2024 1:26 PM


Richard Thomson, CEO and founder of Kaptcha, considers how purpose can be brought back to life.

If you’ve been listening to your marketing colleagues over the last few months, you’d be forgiven for thinking that purpose is dead. 

It’s been hard to miss the increasing importance of brand purpose over the last few years. The World Economic Forum published a report stating that “people prefer brands with aligned corporate purpose and values”, while Deloitte dubbed purpose a “beacon for growth”.

But that was in 2021. In 2023, Hein Schumacher, the new CEO of Unilever, declared that the company would stop “force fitting” purpose to their brands. Cue a raft of editorial pieces declaring the bursting of the purpose-bubble, and LinkedIn posts from business gurus saying they knew it was all a bunch of marketing fluff.

In a sense they’re right - purpose has, in many cases, become a cheap tactic that’s as likely to earn accusations of greenwashing or virtue-signalling as it is to drive brand loyalty. But does that really mean it’s dead? And what are the implications for those working in HR and internal communications?

The real purpose of purpose

In actual fact, the latest study from BrandPie highlights that far from being dead, purpose is now “coming of age”. 

Their initial survey in 2019 saw 43% of CEOs saying that purpose was a tool for advertising or marketing, with just 22% viewing it as a tool for setting the direction of the business. By contrast, in 2023, 57% saw purpose as being of greatest value at a corporate level, compared to 31% at brand and 12% at product level.

Purpose was important long before it became a buzzword - not just as an external marketing tool, but as a way of connecting with our most important asset: our people. Purpose is, was, and has always been a crucial way to attract and retain talent, to boost engagement from employees and to unite them around a common goal. 

At Kaptcha, we’ve heard this time and again from our clients. Having invested in bringing their purpose to life through the medium of video, feedback from employees has reflected a new sense of energy and pride in their brand.

There’s a key phrase that needs highlighting in there though: “bringing their purpose to life”. Because purpose can’t simply be a collection of words on a forgotten page of your website. In order to have impact, it has to be a living, breathing part of your business. 

How to bring purpose to life for your employees

So how do you bring purpose to life? Well that’s where marketing does come in. Because in order to communicate purpose effectively, you do need to think like a marketer, going beyond the facts of your purpose and making it resonate with your audience. To do this, you need three key elements.

The first is storytelling. Human beings are hardwired to remember stories. Nike consistently uses this in their brand videos, showcasing individuals who live their “just do it” mantra. We did the same to highlight our client Aviva’s shared parental leave policy, featuring a handful of individual families to bring home the impact it has on real people.

Of course, storytelling is only as good as the emotion it evokes. Emotion is what drives change in attitude and behaviour. That’s why the John Lewis Christmas adverts are so popular, and why so many brands have followed in the retail giant’s footsteps. Emotion was an essential part of the brand work we did with orthotics company, Andiamo, too, which saw us telling the story of Tom, a boy with cerebral palsy.

Finally, it’s essential to embrace the creativity of a marketer. Tell even the most engaging story in a boring way, and people will switch off. Imagine what you could do if you captured the attention-grabbing humour of Cadbury’s drumming gorilla and aimed it at your own people? That’s what we did for BAE, combining live action and animation techniques to create movie-level drama that was anything but corporate.

Purpose isn’t dead, but it is flagging as a marketing tool. That’s why it’s important that HR and internal comms step in to refocus it on what it was always meant to do: attract, engage and unite the talent that make our businesses what they are, working with creative teams to bring it to life with creativity, storytelling and emotion.