The Rise of Purpose-Driven E-Commerce Brands: Finding Your 'Why'

March 5, 2020

Your e-commerce brand may already provide great products and customer service, but did you know that connecting with your customers on an emotional level is also imperative to success in each global market where you do business? In order for your brand to thrive, your global customers must have a sense of your brand's purpose. Do they know who you are and what you stand for?

Purpose-driven brands are winning over customers not just in the U.S., but internationally. According to Kantar's Purpose 2020 report, more than half of global consumers said they prefer brands that have a point of view and stand for something.  

What does it mean to be a purpose-driven e-commerce brand? It's about having a mission that is greater than making a profit or delivering a great product. It's about your Why. Why do you do what you do? Marketer Simon Simonek explored this in his TED Talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, using such brands as Apple to illustrate how the Why inspires people to engage, take action, and rally around a brand or company.

A glimpse at the most popular Super Bowl television ads from the last two years illustrates the rise of the purpose-driven brand. Nearly 63 percent of global consumers surveyed by Marketing Dive said they prefer to make purchases from companies that stand for a purpose that reflects their own values and beliefs and will avoid companies that don't. If your brand really wants to connect with cross-border e-commerce customers, your business should consider supporting a cause with an impact that translates worldwide, and be authentic and intentional about it.

Here are three leading global causes that resonate with consumers:

  1. The environment. 81 percent of global consumers feel strongly that companies should be doing more to help protect the environment. That includes manufacturing sustainably-made goods and packaging, using eco-friendly transportation methods to move those goods, and more. Access to clean water is another top issue for consumers around the world. Brands such as Stella Artois, Peet's Coffee, Ikea, and Pepsi are all actively involved in partnerships with global water charities. Does your brand have anything to share with your global customers on this issue?  
  2. Fair trade or ethical sourcing. Consumers around the world increasingly want to purchase goods based on their beliefs about how those goods are produced and how the people who make them are treated. In fact, Deloitte reveals that 28 percent of global consumers surveyed in the U.S., Brazil, the U.K., and China will factor in a brand's treatment of its workers when making a purchase. The global fair trade movement is a push to develop more transparent supply chains that can support equity in trade between nations for more sustainable development. In the U.S. alone, 25 percent of consumers said they are willing to pay more for fair trade-certified goods. Research your target markets to understand how your consumer audience feels about supporting union-made products, supporting migrant  workers, and organic or sustainable products. They'll likely want to read clear messaging on e-commerce sites on who made the goods and where, and how fairly those workers were treated and compensated.
  3. Equality. Gender equality is a global issue that many consumers care about deeply. Consider that in most countries, women make the majority of purchasing decisions for their families when it comes to home goods and furniture, travel, automotive, and consumer electronics. Yet, in a recent survey,  74 percent of global consumers said that the way gender is portrayed by brands is completely out of touch. Conversely, there is now a major push for more gender-neutral representation in traditionally female retail categories such as beauty and personal goods. As you build out your cross-border e-commerce websites, consider how you are connecting with and representing gender equality. How are you positioning your company with consumers of all genders? Are you inclusive? How diverse is your company and does it reflect the diversity of your consumers?

The challenge is to present your brand's core beliefs in an authentic way that resonates with consumers in all the markets where you do business. We recommend looking for opportunities to incorporate messaging about your cause throughout your website and product descriptions.

If your "Why" comes across as a marketing gimmick or as insincere, customers will see right through it. It's also important that your purpose is reflected not just in a marketing campaign or as a written statement on your e-commerce website, but also in demonstrable actions. Has your brand participated in any fundraising or volunteer events that support worldwide causes?

For example, for International Women's Day last year, direct-to-consumer beauty brand Benefit Cosmetics shut down all of their global e-commerce websites for the day. The brand, whose global workforce is 90 percent female, decided to close shop for that day and instead, shared resources for women around the world on how to demand pay equality, respond to sexual harassment in the workplace, and learn new skills.

Companies that can successfully communicate their beliefs will connect with international consumers who feel the same way. Tapping into the emotional center of what your cross-border customers truly care about can help your brand make a strong impact, build loyalty with consumers, and invite them to be a part of your brand's mission.

cross border e-commerce
United Kingdom