Belief-driven buying: Why brands NEED to stand for something

By Michelle McSweeney

It’s official - in a world full of political controversy, economic uncertainty, and social issues, people are increasingly voting with their wallets. The belief-driven buying movement is gaining serious momentum, and it’s something that brands simply can’t afford to turn a blind eye to.

In Edelman’s 2018 Earned Brand report, it was found that 65% of global consumers are making belief-driven purchases - that’s a 50% increase on figures for 2017. In fact, there wasn’t a single market surveyed where consumers weren’t making purchasing decisions based on a brand’s mission.

But let’s take a step back for a minute. What exactly is belief-driven buying, anyway?

Quite simply, belief-driven buying is what happens when a consumer chooses principle over product. It’s all about being loyal to the brands that align with their own beliefs and values, and effectively shunning the ones that don’t.

An iconic example of a brand taking a stand is Nike. When the brand’s now infamous Colin Kaepernick’ campaign launched in September 2018, with the tagline “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” (referencing the football player’s kneeling protest during the US National Anthem), sales increased by over 30%.

Now, you may be thinking, ‘great - but that’s Nike, a brand with a multi-million-dollar marketing budget, not to mention PR and crisis management teams at the ready. Nike can withstand controversy’. But what about smaller businesses? By making a bold statement, you risk alienating the customer base that you’ve spent so much time (not to mention, money) building up, right?

Nike trainer

But here’s the thing. If you don’t start shifting towards becoming a purpose-driven brand, you might get left behind.

60% of consumers want brands to make it easier for them to see their values and positions on important issues at the point of sale. Oh, and just in case you might have been thinking that belief-driven buying is only a trend amongst millennials - that’s far from the reality! The 35-54 consumer age bracket are just as interested in buying based on principle as their 18-34 counterparts. And those aged 55 and up are moving swiftly in that direction too - with a reported 18% increase in belief-focussed buying from 2017.

So, long story short - playing it safe is no longer an option. But how exactly can brands start to weave their beliefs into virtually everything they do? Well, it’s no easy feat, that’s for sure - but there are ultimately three vital things to keep in mind, here.

1.  Being a purpose-driven brand does NOT equal being a controversial brand

2.  Authenticity is key...always

3. If you’re going to talk the talk, you HAVE to walk the walk

Ask yourself this. Why does your brand exist? Is it to solve a problem? Is it to make a difference in people’s lives? What is your company’s mission - what constitutes ‘moving the dial’ for your business? (Besides profit, obviously!) This is really all about looking inward. Not looking for a cause that might resonate with your audience and shouting about it from the rooftops. Quite the opposite, in fact. Look at what actually makes your brand tick, and your customers will naturally fall into place from there. 


Purpose-driven brands don’t have to make bold statements against corrupt politicians. Instead, it could be about making a commitment to act on a social issue - for example reducing your packaging waste by X% over a specific time period. Or maybe it’s through supporting local community initiatives, such as sport, education, etc.

Smoothie and juice company Innocent is a great example of this. The brand launched their ‘big knit’ campaign in 2008, where avid knitters were encouraged to create tiny wool hats to sit atop the brand’s juice bottles, and for each unit sold, Innocent would donate 30 cent to Age Action. To date, they’ve raised over €150,000 in support of the elderly community.

Another great instance of a brand making a pledge is US underwear and swimsuit brand, Aerie, who vowed to stop retouching the models used in their campaigns back in 2014, as well as feature women with all body types, religious backgrounds, and disabilities. The body-positivity movement has gone from strength to strength since then, with the brand launching #AerieREAL role models in January 2019, recruiting 8 public figures from completely different walks of life to champion the brand and promote diversity and inclusion.

These are just some examples of brands who clearly illustrate the three key essential elements of showcasing a purpose-driven business. They aren’t controversial for the sake of it. They are authentic. And, most importantly...they talk the talk.


There’s an immense opportunity for retailers to capitalise on belief-driven buying. And with that opportunity comes the inevitable consequence of brands who cut corners, or hop on the trendiest, or seemingly most-lucrative bandwagon to convert as many new customers as possible. But as with most things in this life, the cream always rises to the top, and while retention is something that can often be bought, loyalty, on the other hand is something that MUST be earned.

Simply put, your brand has to live its beliefs wholly. Imagine if Innocent didn’t have any employees over the age of 30 in their establishment, or Aerie only hired 5’8’’ models to work in their bricks and mortar stores? Remember, talk is cheap, so if your company is going to lean into a more purpose-driven approach, your own brand beliefs have to ooze from every nook and cranny of your entire organisation - from operations, to customer services, to marketing, and everything in between.

While there are undoubtedly challenges that come with adopting a purpose-first strategy for your business, it really isn’t a question of weighing up the pros and cons and deciding whether it’s worth identifying your purpose. By tapping into the ‘why’ of your brand, you have a real opportunity to not only strengthen your existing customer base, but also to resonate with a brand new one.

Michelle McSweeney, Content Marketing Manager, Kooomo

IMRG Retail membership banner

Join thousands of other Online Retail professionals

Get unique insights straight to your inbox for free, and improve your understanding of online retail. Subscribe to Online Retail Weekly now.

Webinar Scroll Banner
Join thousands of other Online Retail professionals

Get unique insights straight to your inbox for free, and improve your understanding of online retail. Subscribe to Online Retail Weekly now.

Webinar Scroll Banner