Blog Post

2021: The Year of Purpose-Driven Brands

Now more than ever, brands need to define their identity and core values to stay relevant and make a real difference to customer lives. Aligning your company’s Purpose with societal good and putting people at the forefront demonstrates that empathy and humanity matter.

Discovering what drives your organization means sharing the human motivation behind what keeps your company, and its people, going. Brands that know what they stand for create stronger connections with their audience and outperform those that don’t. Simon Sinek once said, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Finding the Purpose of your company and aligning your team to that messaging is integral to creating customer loyalty; customers who respect and share your values will support your Purpose. COVID-19 has made this even more critical.

Today’s customer is far more informed. More and more companies are taking strategic steps to become consumer-focused and socially and environmentally conscious—in short, they are evolving with the times. Whereas defining core values might have polarized customers in the past, now, companies are criticized for only caring about profits, not giving back or supporting a cause in some shape or form. Organizations can no longer just stand back and stay silent; customers expect action, transparency, and support for the values they uphold.  Whether it’s helping the environment with sustainable practices or advocating for fair workplace rights, these issues—and your organization’s stance—are critical to your audience. All it takes is one misguided decision to show if a company’s actions are aligned with its stated beliefs. 


Forbes contributor Jeff Fromm says, “Purpose isn’t profitable when it’s disingenuous. It has to be real. In this age of digital transparency, customers can see through it and will redirect their spend elsewhere.” When companies demonstrate honesty and authenticity, they find a customer for life. While brands may have to take extra steps to do so, becoming more purpose-driven can guarantee loyalty and influence customer decisions. After all, people want to be valued as humans.

“Over recent years, we have seen that the values and ethics of businesses are becoming an important motive for consumers when considering brands,” said Tim Bond, Head of Insight at DMA. “The message is clear – brands who put people first are more likely to engage and connect with consumers post-lockdown.” As we head into 2021 against the backdrop of COVID-19 and globally-trying times, consumers expect brands to step up and do more. Brand loyalty isn’t just about the product anymore—it’s about what the brand stands for. More importantly, developing your brand’s Purpose has to align with all other aspects of the business, including strategy, storytelling, and even visual identity. 


Globally recognized pharmaceutical company and Open Water client Pfizer debuted a new logo recently in a strategic marketing move. The change in visual branding reflects the shift in identity in becoming more than just a pharmaceutical company—Pfizer is a brand dedicated to helping people and embracing science. This visual identity change is symbolic of their shift from commerce to science.

Pfizer’s Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Sally Susman explained: “Our new identity reflects the dignity of Pfizer’s history and captures the innovative spirit and science focus alive in the company today”. According to The Wall Street Journal, Pfizer had already been considering a visual shake-up in early 2019. They were seeking a logo that would represent the company’s dedication to science. Pfizer Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said: “After 171 years, we arrive at a new era. A time of extraordinary focus on science and dedication to patients. Pfizer is no longer in the business of just treating diseases—we’re curing and preventing them.” By unveiling a major redesign with a logo symbolic of its company purpose, Pfizer is showing the world exactly what it stands for.


According to LinkedIn’s 2020 Workplace Learning Report, learning and development trends for this upcoming year include more empathy in customer interactions, increased focus on loyalty and retention, increased use of technology to create more tailored experiences, and more measurable results. Is it any surprise that connecting with your audience and creating trust have never been more critical in these increasingly isolated and turbulent times? 

Creating a culture of learning and opportunities for teams to grow is critical to purpose-driven cultures. It shows employees that companies are willing to “walk the walk” or follow through in developing its people. And in an age of digital transformation, companies are calling for reskilling and upskilling. With more digital technologies comes new business processes, change in culture, and more customized audience experiences. It’s about integrating all three to propel a company forward, keeping in mind that skill gaps equate to gaps within the business. It’s no surprise, then, that employee engagement is just one motivation to advance an organization’s top tier learners. It underscores the importance of investing in people to help companies achieve their goals.

Crafting meaningful relationships with customers correlates directly to business success and customer satisfaction. What actions is your organization taking to become a more purpose-driven brand?

Open Water supports organizations seeking clarity, trust, and cohesion around their Purpose and goals by using science and psychology-based strategies to create positive and productive purpose-driven cultures. If you’re interested in finding organizational Purpose, unlocking potential, and driving culture change at your organization, we’d love to hear from you.