Updated: Jan 12
Brand purpose is a term banded around a lot lately by designers, marketers and industry experts and it has led to some confusion making it seem more of a fad and something fluffy to add later on once more established.
You see I think brand and branding as a whole – ironically has an identity Crisis at the moment. Back when I was a graphic designer for hire people would ask me to create a brand for them, but what they really wanted was a nice shiny new logo, some nice fonts and colours they can use and start to create some leaflets and a website for them. They wanted an identity and that is fine but all this was just a veneer and lick of paint.
Unfortunately, in this day and age particularly, a lick of paint is not enough. Consumers want to dig beneath the surface. Authenticity and values are what drives buying behaviors now. That is where brand purpose comes in.
Brand purpose is not a new topic and here I will break down why brand purpose is here to stay and why it is the number 1 thing in our 10 step process that we strategise and execute into the brands we work with at BrandStorm.
The way brands have had to communicate has changed over the decades
Back in 80s and 90s brands communicated directly toward consumers and almost dictated to them what they thought they wanted. There was little choice or competition amongst bigger brands so the voice of the consumer was more or less ignored.
Then the rise of social media changed the game forever. Consumers had a voice and they could and did, voice their opinions on mass. Brands were forced to quickly change tact and sit up and listen.
Those that chose to ignore were quickly left behind and brands that were sitting up and taking note became the new exciting or disruptor brands. They actually spoke to customers in their own language, listened to what customers really wanted or issues they cared about and built their brands around these very things. Revolutionary right!!
Then In 2009 a little known author at the time called Simon Sinek got up on stage and delivered a TED talk and introduced the world to the Golden circle and told business leaders to start with WHY.
It suddenly changed the game for the business world as it summed up in 1 very simple word what real brand purpose was all about.
Simon Sinek's Ted talk explains the power of purpose when leaders and Inspired organisations regardless of size or industry all communicate to their audience and also think and act, from the inside out and start with why.
Right now there is another big shift in behaviours which has once again put brand purpose at the forefront.
Consumers, employees and even business leaders are completely evaluating their life choices in this post pandemic era.
Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious about the brands they choose to buy from. We are all more ethically minded these days and are drawn to brands that actively contribute in some way to making the world a better place. The need for fast fashion as an example, has been replaced with the need for sustainable materials and processes and a boom in preloved fashion brands.
Employees also care more about values and their mental wellbeing than they do about promotions and pay-checks. They are re-evaluating what they want from the brands they work for, work with or buy from. They want to feel connected by similar shared values, beliefs and causes.
As a result, business leaders are having to once again sit up and listen and act fast to stay relevant and ahead of ever changing and new emerging markets.
The argument against brand purpose.
When we say brands should put purpose before profit there are still plenty of people that argue that generating revenue and profit should be the number 1 purpose of any business and that all this fluffy feel good save the world stuff is great if you’re a big brand like Nike or Tesla but it cant stack up against basic business fundamentals for smaller businesses.
However purpose is not intended to stack up against solid business models or strategy. It is intended to support these models for the future growth to protect market share when new competitors emerge. It should become part of your branding strategy and your brand strategy should be closely intertwined alongside your business model and strategy much like a strand of DNA. The 2 strands mirroring each other side by side and
links holding it all together is your bands Purpose.
Take Tesla as an example. They were very clear on their brands purpose from day 1 -
Notice how this does not mention electric vehicles in this purpose statement. It is clear what they are ultimately trying to achieve and the clever use of the word 'accelerate' hints at the car element. Selling cars is simply how they plan to fund their pursuit of reaching their big goal. The people that buy Tesla cars, in the main, all share the same vision and values and are happy to buy these cars because they believe by doing so, they are also actively contributing to the worlds transition to sustainable energy.
The big brands like Tesla are not just using purpose to elevate them higher once they get big, they have used purpose form the beginning as a way of being able to keep one step ahead of competitors and become the great brands they are today and will continue to be.
So you see, when ingrained into everything you do it becomes the driving force of a brand and getting it right as early as possible will see your business and its profits grow sustainably as a result.
How brand purpose stacks up against key business metrics
A few years ago Harvard business review conducted a big survey of over 450 executives.
These executives were from organisations of between 100 employees to 10,000 employees and in executive or senior management roles. They were all asked a series of questions around how they all viewed brand purpose.
The underlying outcome of this study around the notion of purpose is that meaning matters. Not just in an abstract warm and fluffy sense but in terms of todays business metrics.
The 5 biggest areas they believed that a strong sense of purpose had on a business was in:
perceived quality of products and services
And customer loyalty
So when it comes to how business leaders perceive the value that building your brand around a core purpose has on an organisation, there is a clear agreement that it does matter particularly in these 5 areas.
However when they were asked questions around how they were actively implementing purpose into their own businesses and organisations the results were quite different:
This shows a large disconnect between the many people out there that agree building a brand around purpose is good for business and those that are actually implementing it into every area of the business.
At BrandStorm we see similar stats with the people we work with. They think that they have purpose in their business and that they are clear on their why, BUT, crucially they are not communicating it or using it as their key differentiator.
The good news is that it is not too late to start implementing purpose.
Whether you build your brand from the very start around your purpose or you realise that now is the time to do so, the impact it will have on a business can be transformational.
One well known brand that evolved into their purpose as a key differentiator is Dove.
When they first launched, they were just another soap and cosmetic brand, battling with the same kind of product centric advertising as all the others and focussed on what the product did.. ie gave you softer hands, a more silky looking skin etc.
When sales slumped they decided to conduct a big survey and in depth research into their audience, who they were and more importantly, what was the problem they were really needing to solve.
They realised that the true problem wasn't softer skin or perfect blemish free skin, it was in fact self esteem. They found that:
Fewer than 5% of women considered themselves beautiful
Women weren’t looking for perfect beauty, just a product that made them selves feel better in their own skin and body.
The goal or mission from that point was to make a fundamental change in the way that women viewed themselves and they launched their campaign for 'Real Beauty'
Dove turned the tables and went from product to consumer centric advertising. Ever since, the brand has gone from strength to strength and every advert or communications they put out all focuses on helping women solve these issues.
Dove bars became the number one preferred soap brand in the U.S. and Unilever’s best-selling product company-wide
Brand Purpose in summary
We all get Simon Sinek's why concept by now hopefully but the concept is focussed on leaders that inspire everyone to take action. An organisations purpose needs to be actioned from the top down.
If we look at great leaders like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, they both were 100% passionate about their why. This filtered down and attracted the right kind of employees and stakeholders and it also attracted a following of millions of fans and consumers that shared their passion and wanted to be part of it.
Like with any great branding or marketing strategy, a lot of this all comes down to knowing your audience and your avatar on a deeper level. Today it has never been easier to find out the issues that are troubling them. They are publicly vocal on social media and other channels about the things they really care about. All you have to do is tap in and listen.
Start putting a plan together
So how is your brand going to positively contribute to your cause or purpose. Start to put a plan around it:.
What are you going to do.
How are you going to do it
What resources will you need – time, skills, funds etc
How can you highlight the cause within your community
What actions will you need to take.
Then look at how you can measure this plan
What goals are we looking to achieve and when.
How can we measure and prove the impact.
Hiding this internally and secretly beavering away on it and releasing results now and again is OK. However brands that openely disclose their plan, their goals and their progress makes you more accountable. It will force you to do more.
Forget about it at your peril.
With each generation of consumers and also workforce they are becoming more aware of their power and voice, more socially and environmentally aware and so their demands on businesses to change will only increase and have more power than ever before.
This is why purpose is here to stay and should be ingrained into your businesses as the number 1 differentiator for your brand.
"The brands that will thrive in the coming years are the ones that have a purpose beyond profit"