Creating a purpose-driven brand: How we can all take an example from H-E-B

by Khoros staff | Mar 01, 2021

We can all agree that having purpose, striving for purpose, and being purposeful has always been important. This isn’t something new — and it’s certainly not innovative. But the last year of uncertainty has shaken us to our core and reminded us of its importance.

Purpose is especially important to those of us in Texas right now. Because of recent *insert the word that shall not be named* events, too many of us are desperate to find some sense of purpose as we wrap our minds around what we’ve just been through. Reflecting on what happened, I’m filled with deep sadness, frustration and helplessness. But I’m also filled with awe and appreciation. Communities in Texas rallied — and are still rallying — to support one another in every way possible. It’s incredible to witness. And while many brands have come to our aid during yet another tough time, none have done it quite as well as Texas’s favorite grocery store, H-E-B.

The importance of purpose

Before I dig into how this one company truly lives its purpose at every single turn, let me take a moment to step back and touch on why purpose is so important.

In 2021, customers want and expect brands to appeal to them on a human level. In fact, in a recent study conducted by Khoros, 38% of customers said that if a brand is authentic or genuine in their interactions, they’re more likely to feel personally or emotionally connected to the brand. Likewise, a 2020 survey revealed that trust is the second-most important factor driving brand loyalty — behind only price. So, how can a brand be more human, authentic and genuine? How can it develop trust among consumers? The answer is to be purpose-driven.

To do this well, a brand has to understand several things: what’s going on in the world, what matters to their employee-base, and what their customers care about outside of brand services/offerings. From there, internal teams must align on what their audience needs most, what actions can best meet those needs, and how these actions ladder up into the broader company mission and vision. Ultimately, it’s about making the right impact so that all employees and customers feel connected and engaged.

In a recent Deloitte study, respondents were asked to share what they cared most about while making decisions about brands. The findings revealed that many consumers today make decisions based on how brands treat their staff, how they treat the environment and how they support the communities in which they operate. These are all important contributing factors to developing trust, and thus ultimately to brand loyalty.

It’s therefore no surprise that so many brands have reinvested energies and efforts into being more purpose-driven. What these brands have to remember is that purpose is not — and should never be — about the bottom line, selling a product or service, or even driving link clicks. The minute the conversation starts to move in the direction of dollars and cents, you’ve already missed the mark. Having purpose and being purposeful is about doing the right thing and then the next right thing and the next right thing. It’s that simple.

Sure. Yes. There are absolutely ways to measure the impact of a purpose-driven approach: NPS, customer retention, improved market share, etc. But the key word in that sentence is impact. Measure to understand if you’re making a difference. Don’t let your measure of success be determined by profit alone.

A shining example

Which brings me back to H-E-B.

First and foremost, H-E-B is a grocery chain unlike any other. (I’ve lived in a lot of places within the U.S., and have never loved a grocery chain as much as I love H-E-B. Iykyk.) Their company values are centered around things like heart, community, service, innovation and commitment. They pride themselves on going above and beyond and “thinking like the customer, not about the customer.”

Last week they lived up to these values wholeheartedly by stepping up to support Texans who were going days in the cold without food or water. Their partners (H-E-B-speak for employees) worked day and night to stock shelves and hand out flowers to those waiting in line and enduring freezing temperatures. One store even told customers to load up and leave with full carts, no payment needed, when the electricity went out. Talk about doing the right thing for the right reason.

Their steadfast generosity earned them an abundance of praise; you know you’ve done something right when Brené Brown is giving you kudos.

Between Sunday, February 15 and Sunday, February 21 there was a 191% increase in tweets mentioning both H-E-B and the phrase “thank you.”

Increase in tweets mentioning HEB and thank you

Likewise, #thankyouHEB has over 144K views on TikTok and this video alone, posted during what many of us are unfondly referring to as Snowmaggedon, has received more than 23K Likes and 1K comments:


@heb “HERE, EVERYTHINGS BETTER” 💐💐 #texasicestorm #hebtexas #texasweather #snowmageddon2021 #thankyouHEB

♬ original sound - Mona Anne

I could go on gushing about the “moral center” of Texas, but I won’t. I will say that what H-E-B did and continues to do well is understanding who their customers are on an intimate level. This understanding allows a company like theirs to become more than a mere commodity to their customers. Instead, H-E-B is treated and viewed, among those of us who live here in Texas, as a trusted friend.

That level of connection is purpose coming to life.

How can your brand have purpose?

I hope other brands out there learn a thing or two from H-E-B. If you’re not at the level of an H-E-B, that’s okay — most brands aren’t — but there are some things you can do right now to start thinking like a purpose-driven brand:

  • Assess your brand values to determine if those are the ones you want to be known for.

  • Do some internal research (e.g., employee polls) and external research (e.g., social listening) to determine what needs exist among your key stakeholders.

  • Decide on one or two focus areas that align to your brand mission and vision (Ben and Jerry’s and Alaska Airlines are two companies who are laser focused on specific causes and initiatives).

  • Make sure these are where you feel your brand can make an impact.

  • Words are only so powerful. Follow through on them with actions.

The concept isn’t hard to wrap your head around. But putting it into practice every day, instilling it in your team, weaving it into the fabric of who you are as a company? That’s another story. The good news is that more and more brands are stepping up — and I for one am excited to see them continue to evolve, with purpose leading the way.

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