Published in Sep-Oct 2017
- Brands that rely too heavily on purpose-based marketing can sometimes face a backlash for using people in need and charities as marketing tools. Employee engagement can be difficult to inspire and customers are quick to judge and slow to forget if they believe a campaign is not sincere and has an underlying business purpose.
For the longest time, it was enough for brands to just deliver a good product and attractive marketing, and soon you had big sales and profits. But no more in the future, as consumers increasingly want brands to represent something bigger than their sales and profits. They want brands to be good and do good.
So in this article I am going to talk about putting sincerity at the heart of your brand mission and giving a real purpose for your brands’ existence rather than being number one or the biggest in your category or satisfying a basic consumer need.
Here, I want to set one thing loud and clear upfront; brands searching for a purpose must think 10 times before deciding on one. It’s not about just stealing or owning any social issue for short-term gain or benefit, and that too with sales intent.
The ideology that I am trying to talk about is not what we see happening in Ramzan, when brands leverage the opportunity and try to become better and do good, like we do as individuals and the moment Ramzan ends, we are back to our old bad selves. I am also not talking about when companies just want to put a few marketing elements under the umbrella of CSR every year with the intent to kill two birds with one stone by trying to portray that they are making our lives easier and the world a better place, but in reality, they are doing none of the two.
Such supposedly ‘sometimes doing good’ brands can be seen across our corporate brand world on special occasions or when brands are facing a PR issue. What made Coke suddenly care for Edhi? Or was it a response to the Pepsi ‘Liter of Light’ campaign? These are questions that come to mind when you see work which just appears out of nowhere, with no consistency or longevity. Yet, no matter which marketer or CEO I talk to, they all say we are doing good and usually it is this kind of good. Also, because of the way corporations are structured, brand people believe that such goodness is meant for the company and not their brand on an ongoing basis. So corporate affairs gets to handle CSR and the brand managers don’t want this in their plans on an all-year basis, rather only on special occasions when they think that they can leverage an opportunity to sell more.
Brands that rely too heavily on purpose-based marketing can sometimes face a backlash for using people in need and charities as marketing tools. Employee engagement can be difficult to inspire and customers are quick to judge and slow to forget if they believe a campaign is not sincere and has an underlying business purpose.
However, there are some exceptions to this practice as well and following are great examples with a good purpose at the heart of the brand DNA. This is the type of sustainable goodness that I am talking about.
One such brand is Careem. Their purpose is to provide a livelihood to people and their business model is ‘ride-sharing’, thereby enabling people to make money for themselves and in the end, make a profit for Careem as well. This is the order and scheme of things needed for this new thinking. Then everything that the company does drives this purpose, including their advertising. Profit should not be the purpose, although usually that is the case as companies think of profit first and then find a purpose to put into the mix to make that profit.
If you agree that brands need a bigger purpose, the next point is that the purpose should be rooted in the brand and make sense to consumers as well and not just the company. Marketing people often fail to realise the fundamental fact that a brand exists in the hearts and minds of people, not in their corporate offices. So the purpose should not be something that you happen to like, it should have a brand connect and be liked by your consumers.
Purpose is the new positioning – separating brands that do good from those that merely fulfil a need. Purpose is not something you can just glue on a product. It takes a consistent effort of three to five years at a minimum before consumers start connecting a brand with its stated purpose.
Often, revisiting brand history and purpose is a good starting point to develop a compelling brand purpose. However, this requires a lot of hard work and needs the attention and time of senior management. It should not be left to juniors in the organisation as this ideology speaks for the leaders of the business. Yet, brand owners often make this mistake.
Here I will mention a recent example of my work for Stylo. The company was introduced to me two years ago as being Pakistan’s largest women’s footwear brand. The owners wanted me to help them find a brand purpose. I spent almost two years with them helping them identify ‘women empowerment’ as their purpose and this was articulated as ‘Jo chahoon woh paoon’. It was a hand-holding exercise that went from making them understand branding to helping them think beyond product, seasons and sales. I took them through to consumer research and let them hear what women had to say and inspired them with great brand examples. All this was done at the board level and even the first set of marketing and advertising work was developed with the owners. But what should not have happened then happened. They involved their junior people and passed the project on to them to execute consistently. Yet, the junior people never accepted the idea in their hearts the way the owners did. They changed things and the follow through was not there, mainly because they were not a part of the two-year initial process. Plus, the owners were not involved in the execution. So, the goodness that was created was lost and it was back to business as usual.
Purpose-based marketing has many other challenges. Brands that rely too heavily on purpose-based marketing can sometimes face a backlash for using people in need and charities as marketing tools. Employee engagement can be difficult to inspire and customers are quick to judge and slow to forget if they believe a campaign is not sincere and has an underlying business purpose. A simple way to counteract scepticism is to be sincere. Sincerity can be seen and felt. If there is criticism, listen, adapt and learn. Don’t pull out immediately or support one cause once and another next; be consistent and prepared to stand your ground once you embark upon a brand purpose. Social media has become the best litmus test for such work, so make use of it. If the purpose is the right one and approached the right way, employees and customers will share it, reinforcing the brand and the message every time.
These days, brands are expected to improve the lives of their consumers and do their bit for society. A reputation has to be earned and brands must recognise that they need to work harder to win the loyalty of their customers. However, this responsibility should not be viewed as decorative. It is only through a genuine desire to do good that we can become the meaningful brands our customers want us to be. So focus on purpose not just profit.
Shoaib Qureshy is CEO, Bulls Eye DDB. firstname.lastname@example.org