Published in Sep-Oct 2017
Traditional wisdom dictated that highly visible brands are successful. However, the changing landscape worldwide, led by global warming, the digital invasion, the Millennial generation and a new wave of politics driven in equal measure by civilian activism and partisanship, has left an indelible mark on customers and brands. Trust, the foundation of every relationship, is increasingly driving the customer narrative and brands can no longer standout only by being known; they have to connect with their customers at a human level to really matter to them.
Ever wondered why customers will pay a premium for Toms Shoes or prefer to buy from The Body Shop when their local supermarket offers a plethora of similar products and at more competitive prices? It’s because these brands are driven by a strong sense of purpose and as we look for meaning in an increasingly complex and nuanced world, we acknowledge and appreciate purpose at both a conscious and subconscious level. Everything these brands say, offer and do is driven by the lens of purpose. A recent Gallup research found that when purpose and product are aligned, customers gave almost twice as much ‘wallet-share’ relative to when these factors didn’t align. In my view, there are two differences in this approach of brand-building compared to the traditional model.
1.) Top of mind versus engagement
In the past, when there was a limited set of brand exposure opportunities, it was thought that if your brand is seen more often by customers in the right place, they will remember it more than other brands. With people now using multi-screens and having the luxury to choose the content they want, it is a challenge to force them to watch or listen to information that does not interest them. Therefore, it becomes imperative to engage them in meaningful conversations on the topics that matter to them and with a tonality that resonates with them, rather than having a transactional interaction.
2.) Point of difference versus perspective
Although it is still important to communicate what you have to offer as a brand that your competitors don’t, it is even more important to communicate what you stand for as a brand. Authenticity breeds trust. The functional benefits that you offer need to be clearly spelled out; for example, the functions of a mobile phone, durability due to a new technology, additional convenience or environment friendliness. However, this is not enough, because your laundry list of benefits is just another list compared to your competitors’. What really makes people develop an affinity for a brand is the emotional benefit – how will it make them feel when they use it.
A common myth is that it is impossible to infuse purpose as an afterthought once the equity of a brand has been established.
I disagree. Dove’s ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ is a relatively recent trend given that the brand has been around for decades. Airbnb were known for couchsurfing and low-cost lodging, yet the company re-oriented their mission in 2013, articulating their purpose to making people, wherever they are in the world, feel like they belong. Airbnb owned this purpose by adopting the tagline ‘Belong Anywhere’. The brand became a technological solution for people to come together, learn from each other and be better.
A recent EY Beacon Institute and Harvard Business Review study of 474 executives found that an overwhelming number of business leaders believe, in theory, that purpose is a transformative lever; 85% strongly agreed that they are more likely to recommend a company with strong purpose, and 84% strongly agreed that business transformation efforts will have greater success if integrated with purpose. Another study on Millennials, released by Deloitte and the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, reveals that two out of three Millennials in the workplace would keep working for a business because it was driven by a distinct purpose.
I don’t think extensive convincing is needed to establish that brands with purpose don’t only make sense in theory, they have clear societal and business benefits. However, it is easier said than done, as this purpose must be aligned with the brand ethos and rooted in honesty. Let’s begin identifying the purpose of your brand by answering a few simple questions.
Benefit: What does my brand do both physically and mentally? How does it make people feel?
Coke is a brand synonymous with cola drinks that provide refreshment or add flavour to food, but is that why people consume Coke as opposed to any other beverage? When you ask people, they admit that Coke makes them happy.
Now think about all the Coke communications that you have come across over the last few years, and you will notice that although the product is always shown to be refreshing people, it is also always presented in the context of ‘happiness’. Be it a TV ad, digital activation, label design or association with music, each one is carefully deployed to trigger the emotion of happiness.
Relevance: How relevant is the brand to peoples’ lives? Do they need it and do they know that they need it?
Dettol globally stands for health by providing protection from germs. But why do people use a soap every day made by a brand that has been traditionally used as a disinfectant? It’s simple; through years of teaching children healthy habits in schools and educational advertising, Dettol has built up a significant level of awareness around the relevance of using an antibacterial soap for hand washing; after all, it protects you and your family from falling ill and that really matters to a mother.
Personality: What does the brand stand for?
Is it possible for anyone to say ‘Just do it’ without Nike coming to mind? It’s probably one of the best known campaign taglines in the world, primarily because this attitude is reflected in everything that Nike do; in every product design and customer touchpoint. ‘Just do it’ is what often makes people choose Nike over other brands that offer almost the same products and are at times even cheaper to buy. Hopefully, these examples will help you understand the concept and the potential dimensions. If you want to move forward in the pursuit of purpose, I would suggest taking the following steps.
Arrange internal brainstorming sessions to identify the potential purpose your brand could stand for; validate this by running your top two or three ideas past your consumers and sharing them with your agency team to test them for creativity; lock in the purpose and commit to it by aligning the key stakeholders and include the purpose in the brand guidelines as a mandatory filter and finally, ensure that every brand decision is run through the filter of this purpose.
Hopefully the above will help start the right conversation within your organisation, and when you initiate the discussion with key stakeholders, trust me, you will already start to sense how the world will begin to conspire to make your purpose come to life.
Fahad Ashraf is Director Marketing, Reckitt Benckiser. firstname.lastname@example.org
All illustrations by Creative Unit.