Brand Purpose [aka Purpose Driven Branding]
– a bashed and bastardised promise of brilliance
Brand Purpose is a beautiful thing.
It is rare, it is deep, it is real, it stands for something, it champions change, and it never wavers. In short, it is a “brand” underpinned by a pure and particular belief – i.e. it is a brand with a ‘social purpose’.
But like too much in marketing, over time ‘brand purpose’ has been misconstrued, misused, mystified, bent over and done four ways, by those that find profit in hype, seek impact in a new role, or simply have no idea.
Nowadays you get the impression that any brand can or should be purpose driven. Which is simply just not possible.
We are not saying there should be no purpose to your brand. There certainly must be. Your brand sets you apart, says who you are, directs how you do things, it is the very essence of what your organisation | offering is about [a specific gem, difficult to mine].
We always create brands with purpose [or ‘conviction’ as expressed by Daniel Pankraz in an excellent LinkedIn pulse]. But rare, and greatly enjoyed, has been the privilege of helping organisations develop and bring a true Purpose Driven brand to life.
Yet Purpose Driven Brands are not scarce, most every not-for-profit brand of substance is derived from a need to challenge, change or improve social | environmental consciousness in some way or another.
However, Purpose Driven Brands in the for-profit sector is a completely different story.
The past decade has seen such an overuse of the concept that a once ‘blue ocean’ strategy is now blood-red.
Yet again, the work of some brilliant minds in brand and marketing has been bashed, bastardised and utterly misunderstood by those less so. Seeing the clarity, we should strive for as professionals, being made opaque by those who aren’t.
A Brief History of Convergence
While you could identify many concurrent events leading to this bloodying of the waters, we see some of the key ones being:
Jim Stengel, formerly the Global Marketing Officer of P&G, publishing Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest, based on his ten-year study into the cause and effect relationship between financial performance and ‘brand ideals’. In the book he identified 50 brands with extraordinary growth [outperforming the S&P 500 by nearly 400%], because they had a brand ideal – a shared goal of improving people’s lives through one of five fundamental human values [eliciting joy, enabling connection, inspiring exploration, evoking pride or impacting society]. The word ‘ideal’ has since been superseded with ‘purpose’ and while there has been some strident criticism of the data, Jim still makes a compelling case.
“Success comes down to fearless leaders who have the personal drive to unite and galvanize their organization around a purpose that makes a difference in the lives of the people they serve.” Jim Stengel
At a similar period, the outstanding academic, Jennifer Aaker, was not just reminding us of the power and importance of emotions, storytelling and building a brand inside the organisation as well as out. But more importantly, she was putting science and numbers behind her words.
And, of course, we also had Simon Sinek with his concept of “The Why”. A narrative that has gone on to create a cult of mostly uneducated small business marketer’s ecstatic to have a rudimental model of brand they could comprehend, communicate and flog. Not Simon’s fault, what underpins his thinking carries sound strategic brand logic.
We’ve even found video [@5Min:10Sec] of Kotler [the father of the 4 P’s of marketing] proposing to an audience in India in 2013 that he was going to introduce a 5th ‘P’, purpose, to his mix. But, as yet, have been unable to find the revised model in any of his academic or corporate works.
All commentators provided sound concepts, relevant to smart business management. Alas, what they were saying and how their knowledge has been mauled, mashed and magnified appear to be two very different things.
Thus, the tidal wave of purpose-washing began. Many, who should know better, forgot the all-important principal of brand as the ever essence of an organisation and companies of every ilk started reinventing their brand to capitalise on the sentiment of a market and became purpose led.
If such a move was to communicate an authentic, honest and enduring proposition, sustainable for decades [even centuries], it would have been a beautiful thing and, potentially, the world would be a much better place. A place where companies did good for the sake of goodness not short-term shareholder returns [another reason true purpose driven for-profit companies tend to be privately held and more successful than their rivals].
But it is not! It is a fad! Making fables not brands! Companies lashing their CSR commitments to their lances and charging blindly forth as white knights in defence of the most current populist theme, riding their horse hard until it fails or stumbles.
It is this relinquishment of sound strategic planning for tactical charges and campaignable ideas that led to some fantastic stumbles in 2018, seeing companies so poleaxed on social media that their brand integrity was more than tarnished. A trend that seems to be continuing into 2019 with Gillette jumping on the bandwagon.
The Purpose of Being
To steal and abuse wise words from the UK Dog Trust: A brand’s purpose if for life, not just Christmas.
Please be assured that we are not saying all companies are failing in their pursuit of brand purpose. There are a few with a powerful brand purpose, committed to change the world for the better, uniting customers and culture alike in the pursuit of that intention. But the majority of these companies’ pre-date the concept and it is truly intrinsic to their brand essence.
They are companies that understand their brand[s], its heritage, its purpose for being and can sanely, reliably align them with a social or environmental purpose that is not only utterly important to them for all time which they can work towards substantially improving but will also deliver long-term sustainable value to them in many different ways.
Let us never forget, that if a business is not profitable it can help nobody.
Likewise, as Donald Trump has proven to us many times, ethics does not drive behaviour. There are many different reasons why people buy something, to build your brand around a social purpose unless you are a not-for-profit, is probably not the wisest position. But it is not as dumb as crowing about an issue and trying to bluff the world into believing that you really care when you don’t – that’s not branding, it’s advertising ..and even then it often fails dismally.
So, don’t waste your company’s money riding the wave of tactical whims across a blood-red sea of sameness just to give your customers more cause fatigue. Think clearly, carefully and strategically about your brand and if you truly believe that there is a social or environmental issue you can own, or at least impact in a positive and genuine, long-term way, devoid of cynicism and more significant than a CSR program, then go for it. Everyone loves a true champion.
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