February 22, 2018 • Grant Weber
Millennials have made it abundantly clear that a brand’s purpose—its “reason for being”—is a significant motivator when making purchasing decisions. Brands like Toms have strong, passionate consumers who want not only the extrinsic benefits of well made, stylish clothing, but also the intrinsic satisfaction of knowing that their purchase served a greater purpose. But does the purpose motivation go beyond purchase decisions?
As it turns out, millennials also factor in a brand’s purpose when seeking employment. A global report from LinkedIn found that the top three variables among millennials are salary, promotion potential and “sense of purpose.” So while money is still #1, members of this generation long to be part of something bigger than themselves. In a tight labor market with increased competition for young talent companies seeking to attract millennials have realized the importance of reinforcing their brand’s purpose to secure the best and brightest.
Patagonia putting purpose at its core
Patagonia is one company with a clear purpose that has been at the core of its brand for over 30 years. The outdoor clothing brand was founded in 1973 on the idea that quality products made with a purpose can inspire and drive solutions to the environmental crisis. Purpose is just as important to Patagonia today as it was at the start.
In December 2017, Patagonia made an unprecedented update to its homepage. In this case, it was not to highlight a new fleece jacket, but rather a black screen with the words: “The President Stole Your Land.”
The provocative text was in response to the 2017 decision to cut federal funding for Bears Ears National Monument by nearly 85 percent and the funding for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah by half. As a follow-up to its statement, the company filed a lawsuit against the president.
“Protecting public lands is a core tenet of our mission and vitally important to our industry, and we feel we need to do everything in our power to protect this special place,” said Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario.
More interesting still is the financial response to Patagonia’s litigation. Overall, sales rose 7 percent the week of the statement over the previous week—a week that included Cyber Monday sales.
Proof of Purpose
It is no longer enough to tell consumers what a brand stands for. Patagonia invests heavily in its employees, particularly those who actively engage in their mission. The company gives employees a number of interesting opportunities to support environmental work and paid time off for environmental internships, as well as company sponsored 5K runs and bike-to-work weeks, to name a few benefits.
Instead of telling them, Patagonia is showing its team members that they can make a difference by nurturing their personal growth.
The company’s commitment to purpose-driven millennials is reciprocated by its workforce. About 96 percent of employees “feel good about the ways we contribute to the community.” Company turnover, particularly in retail, is always a challenge, yet Patagonia maintains single-digit annual turnover and receives hundreds of résumés each month.
Many companies preach purpose, but without proof, they are quickly dismissed as inauthentic by talented young candidates. Patagonia is just one example of a brand winning the millennial workforce with heritage. Its purpose is authenticated by an element of political activism dating back to its founding. This authentication is important when attracting millennial employees.
REI is another company on Fortune’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work For” that attracts millennial employees with its outstanding brand purpose. The national outdoor retail co-op has been dedicated to inspiring, educating, and outfitting its members and the community since 1938.
Each year, REI dedicates a portion of its profits to help protect and restore the environment, increase access to outdoor activities, and encourage involvement in responsible outdoor recreation.
Millennials who seek employment at co-ops like REI aren’t looking for jobs—they are looking to join a lifestyle. REI facilitates that lifestyle by staying true to its roots in environmental stewardship and investing in the next generation of caretakers.
The results? REI ranks #61 in 2018 on Glassdoor’s “Best Places to Work” list, the highest ranking for any non-food retailer in the top 100.
How to Engage Brand Purpose
Purpose is often found by going into the history of the organization, discovering why it existed in the first place, then bringing it forward through the appropriate messaging tactics that resonate with today’s audiences.
It may be the notes of a founder, as it was with Walmart. It could be in an obscure thank-you card found in the archives proffered from a salesman over 100 years ago. Virtually every company’s founder or pioneers had reasons why they started their company beyond simply to make a buck or two. Finding this historical authentication and translating it into contemporary tactics requires expertise in the form of trained researchers and strategists. However they are found, these stories reinforce purpose and improve recruitment programs for a generation obsessed with purpose.
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