What’s your business’s purpose? Some might answer “making money” or “selling more and more product.” Or “being the best X in the market” and “growing shareholder value.” But these aren’t purposes —these should be the result of having one. And I also don’t mean some type of cause-related thing, a purpose for “doing good.” You may have a philanthropic drive within your business, but that’s likely not its purpose.
What I’m talking about is developing and having a purpose underlying your brand and your marketing. The real purpose of your business should be WHY you make the products you make, not what or how. And that core purpose should remain in place even though the business strategy and tactics may have to be regularly revised to address a changing world and business environment. Jim Collins says in his book Good to Great that to build a great company you “have to have a strong set of core values” that you never compromise. “If you are not willing to sacrifice your profits, if you’re not willing to endure the pain for those values, then you will not build a great company.”
Now I know this is not a new idea, but having a Brand Purpose has become even more important in today’s “new normal.” Firstly, there is rampant parity and commoditization in just about every category. Small, incremental improvements and minute product differences are lost on the consumer. And the increasingly cluttered, fragmented media landscape makes even noticing these product-based, rational messages hard, or even impossible. So finding something deeper than a rational product benefit is critical.
Secondly, this fragmented, dynamic media landscape demands the creation of a multitude of touch-points and consumer experiences. Gone are the days when brands could simply create an ad or two that were guaranteed to interrupt enough people with enough regularity to create the appropriate impression. And also gone is consumers’ acceptance of this type of interruption. Brands must develop more, and more relevant, communications opportunities. This is difficult to do with simply attribute- or product-based messaging.
Plus, the new social dynamics of media make “purpose branding” even more important — and potentially much more powerful. A brand’s attribute-heavy messaging likely will not gain high engagement, liking, sharing, tweeting, status updating, etc. But a message with a deeper resonance and relevance can engage social media and drive up important measures like “engagement,” liking, and net-promoter scores.
And don’t think a brand’s purpose needs to be about big, “save the world” or socially conscious ideals. Sure, Dove’s purpose is to help women feel good about themselves and their natural beauty. But a brand like M&M’s can be as simple as, say, to make fun, eat-with-your-hands, delicious chocolate snacks. Or Amstel Light’s purpose might be to create “beer lover’s beer” for calorie-conscious folks.
Having a Brand Purpose does a number of important and helpful things.
1. It helps you find a “why” underneath what you do and how you do it.
Sure, your company makes a good product. But, theoretically at least, it could make anything — why that product? It’s helpful to ask “why?” as many times as necessary to get to the basic, fundamental ideal and purpose.
A little over ten years ago, I worked on Wisk Detergent (at the time, owned by Unilever). For years and years, Wisk had been consistent in telling consumers they made a very strong detergent to get out the toughest stains. But why did Wisk do this? We developed a “purpose story” about the fact that Wisk believed that people should get dirty. That life was meant to be dived into, and that stains were simply a symbol of having lived life to the fullest. Wisk made the best stain-fighting detergent in order to give people the confidence to live life in this way and not worry about the side effect of stained clothing. This purpose helped Wisk develop a new personality, point-of-view, and tone of voice that were highly differentiating from its chief competitor, Tide.
2. A purpose gives a brand legs.
It’s almost as if, once you have a brand purpose, you almost can’t stop creating ideas, additional opportunities, and experiences. Brand purposes are like perpetual motion machines, dynamically creating campaign extensions, product ideas, and brand experiences. Think of Mini. When they re-launched in the U.S. in 2002, their purpose was to bring “small” and fun back to automobiles. This led to some great print and outdoor ads. But it also led to memorable brand experiences like strapping Minis on top of Ford Excursions and placing them in malls as if they were kid rides.
Similarly, a purpose helps brands create new content and brand integration opportunities. For Porsche, our brand purpose was “creating driving magic, every day.” So we paired with several media partners to create content that was relevant to their readers/viewers, but also told the brand story. For example, Automobile magazine took a 911 and gave it to several editors to share, from 9:11AM one morning to 9:11AM the next, and told a story about the car’s capability and versatility. Automobile’s readers were naturally interested; and Porsche, of course, couldn’t have been happier.
3. People and brands that have purpose do things.
Look at Southwest Airlines. If all they were was a low-fare airline, competing for customers against the big guys, then they’d just do some ads with fare prices and point-to-point destinations. But Herb Kelleher had a purpose — probably something like “Democratizing air travel.” Armed with this purpose, Southwest does much more than some price ads.
They created a unique way of seating that foregoes seating systems that favor frequent flyers and corporate travelers. They let bags fly free, against the trend the rest of the category has followed. They hire flight attendants specifically based on personality and quirkiness. And they celebrate their purpose on all the messaging on the plane, from the napkins to the seatbacks. That’s what having a purpose does — it drives differentiation across all consumer touch-points.
4. A purpose connects all your “whats” to your “why?”
A brand’s purpose not only helps to make all communications connect to something consistent, it also connects new products and line-extensions. Think of BMW. They now make a wildly disparate group of products, from two-seat sports cars to SUVs and large sedans. But each product fits BMW’s purpose of creating “the ultimate driving machine” no matter the segment or product. Even the relatively inexpensive, youth-oriented Mini stands for driving fun.
Compare this with BMW’s competitor, Mercedes-Benz. They occupy all the same segments BMW does. However, without a true brand purpose, it’s unclear what each of these products promises, how they’re different from their competitors, and why Mercedes has even created them. BMW’s products and communications cohere to a larger purpose; Mercedes’ don’t.
5. It unites all the people behind the brand.
Perhaps the most important thing having a purpose does is give alignment across your company and all its constituents, including sales people, ad people, R&D, etc. Having a purpose adds passion to the everyday work at your business and lends some urgency to your activities.
You know you have a purpose when everyone at the company and partner companies can clearly iterate the answer to “Why are we here?” and say why you do what you do. I
6. A purpose engages.
Having a purpose helps brands connect more easily with consumers — and helps consumers connect more easily via social media. Despite every brand’s headlong rush to social media and Facebook, consumers may not really want to have a social connection with them. But they might be more interested in the brand’s purpose, and that purpose can create social interactions for the brand.
For example, consider the Chrysler brand. I’m quite sure that, prior to the 2011 Super Bowl, they didn’t have a very high social media profile. However, when they launched their new brand idea, “Imported from Detroit,” they became significantly more socially engaging. And not just for their high-profile, celebrity-filled TV ad, but for the purpose they began to stand for — the city of Detroit and its blue-collar ethic and history.
Brands with purposes have a lot going for them. And you know what? They also tend to “make money,” “sell more and more product,” and “grow shareholder value.” Go figure…
What do you think? Do you have other examples? Does your business have a purpose? Please weigh in.
Michael Baer has over 20 years experience as a marketing and advertising leader and innovator. Michael is also the developer of "Stratecution," a new way to think about marketing in the digitally-led "new normal." He's passionately blogging about his beliefs at Michael Baer's Stratecution Stories.
Graphic Communications Coordinator
Carey International Inc.
San Francisco, California
Associate, Naming and Verbal Identity
San Francisco, California
San Francisco, California
Head of Public Relations
Book in a Box
New Media Jobs