Relevance Of Sustainability And Purpose In Helping Build Brand Value For New Age Entrepreneurs

Analysing major brands’ purpose-led brand building strategies to drive a disruptive scale up of their business


It’s often believed that Purpose-led brands are recession proof, grow three times faster than others and command a far higher share of the wallet then their competitors. But is that really true, even for the cost or value conscious Indian?

Purpose-driven brands connect with their audience on causes that both believe in. The brand’s messaging aligns to the customers’ beliefs and that in turn builds loyalty. The purpose could be driven through a need to help their customer or to make the world a better place. It can be personal or lofty, but eventually what matters is the authenticity of the same.

A set of start-ups in India have embraced a set of strong beliefs and appear to be seeing strong early success in the market. Let’s study the story of Mamaearth, Bombay Shaving Company and WOW Skin Science to study how they have wowed the Indian consumer.

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The magic of building a credible purpose-led brand is that its core value offers an opportunity for extension into a range of product categories which have a similar need.

Mama Earth

Mamaearth is perhaps one of the finest examples of purpose-led brand building in the Indian market today and it’s intriguing how they went about it.

Their story started in 2014, when Ghazal and Varun Alagh were blessed with a baby boy. Paranoid as most young parents are, they scanned the Indian market for toxin-free baby products and found that there were none! They actually started ordering products from the US and UK, which were expensive with heavy shipping charges and uncovered an interesting gap in the Indian market.

Next, they realized that this need strongly resonated with a new generation of affluent Indian millennial audience that today has a robust and growing consumer cohort. This led them to founding Honasa Consumer Pvt Ltd in 2016 to provide toxin-free baby care products. By the year’s end, the company launched its brand as Mamaearth.

Unleashing the Gold Mine of Consumer Value

They also built credibility for their brand by seeking a certification from MadeSafe – a US based non-profit organization that provides a comprehensive health-focused certification for making non-toxic products.

The magic of building a credible purpose-led brand is that its core value offers an opportunity for extension into a range of product categories which have a similar need. Hence, Ghazal and Varun Alagh soon realized that they were sitting on a proverbial gold mine of consumer value that they unleashed through an entry into the broader cosmetics category. In just 4 years, they went from 6 products in the baby care range to 80+ SKUs across skin and hair care for men and women and a turnover of 100 Cr across 500 cities across the country primarily served through D2C platforms.

However, with purpose at its core, the rapid growth of the brand has been fuelled through robust marketing thought & consumer facing investments.

Decoding Mamaearth’s communication journey

Mamaearth started their communication journey through a traditional purpose-led film ‘Goodness is in the little choices we make every day’. Here, they elevate their rather functional attributes of “No Toxins”, “Plastic Positive” and “Cruelty Free” to the emotional payoff of a better world as a reminder that it’s the little choices we make that make a big difference.

They, next, gave teeth to their claim of building a better world through the rather significant initiative of ‘An act of goodness in every order’. Here, Mamaearth promises to plant a tree for every order that has been placed from them. They lend credibility to their claim by helping you view the tree plan on their website and have claimed to have planted 1, 11,853 as on 31st July 21.

My favorite piece of their communication journey is of course Mama-Earth Day: Grading the Goodness Report Card. Here, they made an endearing edit with a child rating Mamaearth on – Goodness towards planet: Here they talked about 1 Lac+ trees planted and oxygen for 2 Lac people.

  • Goodness towards people: Products without 1193 toxins.
  • Goodness towards the environment: 1135 tons of plastic recycled equal to the weight of 200 elephants.
  • Goodness towards animals: Cruelty free as certified by PETA. No animal testing now & forever.
  • Goodness in other activities: 50k hand sanitizers, 20k cloth masks distributed to Covid heroes.

So these initiatives surely build the base for a purpose-led brand and what does it give them? The right to charge a significant premium on their products versus main line players and an expectation of a turnover of 500 Cr in 2021.

But do they have an Achilles heel? If one watches all the brutal reviews of their products on YouTube, it can only be the functionality of their products. They use the right ingredients and sell at a significant premium to other players in the market. But can their products really deliver to the functional delivery of synthetic based cosmetics, I guess only time will tell! For the moment, the going is very good!

Let’s now compare and contrast the Mamaearth journey with other similar brands in this space!

WOW Skin Science

WOW Skin Science is another incredible journey in the same space of premium better-for-you cosmetics. But what I find exciting, is that WOW starts where Mamaearth leaves off, that is the promise of functional delivery.

Ashwin Sokke, one of the founders of WOW Skin Science, had been working in the space of online marketing for some time and as a part of an affiliate programme in the USA, worked on an assignment to market some products in the health and beauty space.

He, then, realized as the e-commerce space started taking off in India in 2013 that there is potent space for a high end D2C brand in India and he kicked off his journey with his partners Arvine Sokkie, Manish Chowdhary and Karan Chowdhary. The founding company was Fit & Glow and the WOW brand was launched in 2014.

Rejecting the conventional brand building

The founders started with their passion for the best formulations rather than conventional brand building and hence honesty and transparency are critical differentiators for the company.

The magic of online listening

Further, given the rigorous digital acumen of the founders, they believe very heavily in data and online listening. Their hero product, the Apple Cider Range started as a drinkable product, but data analytics showed that customers were using it for their hair and on their skin. Thus in 2015 the apple cider range was born. Legend goes that Manish flew to the US nine times to meet formulators and scientists for creating WOW’s popular sulphate and parabens- free apple cider vinegar shampoo. They have since launched several offerings out of it including the drink, shampoo, face wash and moisturizer.

The Right Pricing

The next thing that the founders focused on was the right and transparent pricing for their high end, toxin free brands. At the time of their launch, competition was selling a 200 ml bottle of apple cider vinegar shampoo for Rs 1299, the start-up launched theirs at Rs 399.

Being ‘Customer First’

The third factor in their success is that the founders are extremely passionate about being ‘customer first’. They aggressively deploy social media not just to participate in consumer conversation, glean insights for new products but also to use YouTube and Instagram to promote the brand’s nature-based, science-backed range of products. They spread awareness through product videos and influencers to retarget existing buyers and those that viewed their products.

This strategy paid off and made WOW one of the bestselling brands on Amazon. The next step for the brand was to extend itself to brick and mortar stores and they started their journey only after 4-5 years through Health & Glow in Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi.

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The brand's promise is to deliver innovative, luxurious products at affordable pricing.

Discovering the brand core

Now, while the brand achieved business success through a range of enviable products fairly early in their journey, they started talking about and embracing the power of purpose only post attaining some scale.

In a query in 2019, when one of the founders was quizzed on how they have used their success to bring goodness into the world, the response was quite honest but revealing. The founder mentioned that we believe in giving opportunities to employees from diverse educational backgrounds with passion and hunger rather than educational accreditations.

It took some time for the brand to discover its core as a brand that would be known for delivering advanced, research-backed, nature-infused products to wellness-conscious people. Moreover, their strengths as an organization with an emphasis on bringing to market nature-crafted products formulated with a high concentration of natural ingredients that help nourish skin, hair and body and deliver visible results. The brand’s promise is to deliver innovative, luxurious products at affordable pricing.

Once the founders released this brand core, they were then able to move away from simple product videos talking about their variants and product features to more meaningful communication. To take on this task, they tied up with two well-known Bollywood actresses Disha Patani and Bhumi Pednekar.

The communication with Disha Patani was again more functional and science driven in line with the core of the brand. In this communication, while ad recall would go up because of a popular celebrity face, yet the message is surprisingly cliché and forgettable.

Waking up to Millennial Audience

With Bhumi Pednekar, we see the brand starting to talk about its nature-infused credentials. Trust in WOW, trust in nature. Here, we see the subtle evolution of the brand language and tonality towards a firmer message of natural goodness.

Only in recent years, we see the brand waking up to its millennial audience which has catapulted the brand to a business of 340 Cr in 2020 and setting it a target of 800 Cr in 2021 with new messages of sustainability.

Now, while the communication with Bhumi does not talk about nature or sustainability the choice of the ambassador reflects this realization. A PR release in 2020 talks about the fact that Bhumi is a perfect choice as she is a persistent advocate for climate change. The PR release talks about the fact that consumers are demanding ‘Clean & Green’ beauty and WOW! is making it accessible to all.

As we enter 2021, the founders are increasingly becoming vocal about how environmental friendliness is at the core of their business values.

Some of the initiatives the founders have embraced in recent times are:

  • Curating their packages with 30% post-consumer recycled packaging.
  • Moving towards 100% PCR packaging made from ocean waste for reduced carbon footprint.
  • Also, extending their range of refill packs which are already available in Face washes to other products.
  • During Covid, the brand also started manufacturing hand washes and sanitizers, as a part of its CSR activity. They distributed over 15 lakh sanitizers and hand washes in hospitals, police stations, NGOs, municipalities etc.
  • In recent times, one initiative that WOW! promoted was #TrashYourSpam to fight digital pollution which encouraged millennials to empty their spam folders to fight climate change on the premise that every message in your spam folder contributes to 0.3 grams of Carbon dioxide per message.

While the brand is currently taking baby steps towards sustainability, yet it’s interesting to view their evolving strategy.

Brand building lessons for new age entrepreneurs

There are several lessons that new age entrepreneurs can learn from these two brands who found an un-serviced niche in Indian market and then used purpose-led brand building to drive a disruptive scale up of their business.

  • Indian millennial audience is rich, vibrant and rapidly seeking out premium, healthy new age offerings that would have been considered fit only for the western market.
  • The pandemic has made D2C mainstream and if you have an idea that offers great value, you will find consumers all across the population strata well beyond just the Tier 1 & 2 cities.
  • It’s critical to identify your brand core and build your portfolio around it. There are more than one way to catch the fancy of your consumers, be it the emotional ‘MadeSafe’ route that Mamaearth took or the more functional Nature and Science route of WOW!
  • As one starts finding traction, it is useful to garner a deep understanding of your consumers, be it through social listening, customer reviews or just spending time with them to understand their passion point. That’s often where the passion points of sustainability and purpose emerge.
  • As you arrive at the emotional core of the brand that you are building, finding the right brand partners, be it influencers or celebrities can yield a mega scale up of awareness and hence business.
  • Finally, there is no replacement for a well-researched and winning product. The entire temple of your brand starts with a strong need and a fulfilling product. Everything else helps your scale-up the same.
Saurabh Bajaj
Saurabh Bajaj
Saurabh is currently the Marketing Head Dairy at Britannia Industries Limited. He is an expert in Business Development, Sales, Marketing and Innovation. An alumna of IIM Indore and a Civil Engineer from Delhi College of Engineering, his 17 years of stint includes USL Diageo, Mondelez Cadbury and Wipro Consumer Care. He has recently been recognised as a Marketing Marvel by White Page International as the Best 50 Marketers.

Your View Matters

  1. I enjoyed reading this article Saurabh. It delved deeper than what we have been eharing about these brands and I loved the details you brought out with such clarity. A great, well-researched piece. Thank you!

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