The substance in brand purpose
The pandemic provided a pause from our usual practices, enabling a period of introspection to take stock of not only how we work, but how we live as consumers, marketers, employees, businesses and brands.
Faced with the challenges of trying to market (ahem, sell) products and services in these “unprecedented times,” it’s not surprising that we have seen a resurgence in popularity for brand purpose.
But for those of us who consume marketing theory and trends like normal people engage true-crime docu-dramas on Netflix, it’s reinvigorated the debate on the value of brand purpose.
Potent Platform or Empty Promise
Yum! Brands CMO Ken Muench was recently featured in MarketingWeek calling the use of brand purpose as an advertising tool “bullshit.”
“[Brand purpose] truly is a bunch of crap, because it’s disingenuous. You’re saying, ‘My purpose is to make the world a better place.’ No, your purpose is to make money,” Muench proclaims.
Language that appears to get right to the point. Yet, at the same time, you can trace its echo back to Cannes 2019 when Unilever’s chief executive Alan Jope warned of advertising’s “wokewashing.” Where in the same round table, he proclaimed, “[Brand] purpose is one of the most exciting opportunities I’ve seen for this industry in my 35 years of marketing.”
So just what is brand purpose? Another promising platitude from the towers of marketing or a potent platform to transform brand relationships beyond transactional?
Why brand purpose?
Brand strategists have been experimenting with brand purpose in both theory and practice for years. Primarily as a way to add authenticity and increase intimacy between brands and the people who buy them.
But towards the mid-point of the last decade, a flurry of studies published with data presenting purpose-driven brands as the proverbial silver bullet for brand growth. And thus created a new canon for marketers to punctuate their presentation decks.
“66% of consumers would switch from a product they typically buy, to a new product from purpose-driven company.” [Cone/Porter Novelli survey]
“Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of consumers around the world will buy or boycott a brand solely because of its position on a social or political issue.” [Edelman study]
“Purpose-led brands saw their valuation surge by 175% over the past 12 years, versus a growth rate of just 70% for listless brands uncertain of their role.” [Kantar Consulting report]
Unilever, itself the owner of many leading purpose-driven brands, further cemented brand purpose’s credibility when it announced that “28 of its sustainable brands, including Dove, Knorr, Persil/OMO and Rexona grew 69% faster than the rest of the business in 2018.”
All of this begs the question: If data keeps demonstrating the efficacy of brand purpose, why do so many brands and marketers do it so ineffectively?
So what’s the catch?
Brands are ultimately about meaning. The irony is not lost on us that terminology used for intrinsic inputs within brand strategy is often confused even by seasoned practitioners.
The similarity of terms like Vision, Mission and Purpose (to name a few) contribute to the ease in which they are misused interchangeably. Some will argue that the difference is semantics, but the truth is they are not the same. Each offers a distinct lens through which to view the business, brand, and relationship with their audiences.
- Vision statements declare where the business and brand are going by aligning all activity with a single unifying goal
- Mission statements state how the business and brand are going to get there by focusing on the path forward
- Purpose statements establish why the brand and business wants to get there by providing the role or cause to guide behaviors
But the disconnect with brand purpose isn’t just found in its development but often in the translation to communications as a means for “emotional advertising.”
Emotional advertising, like brand purpose, has been bolstered in brand and marketing circles by published research. The work from Binet and Field/IPA databank demonstrates 2x advertising effectiveness for emotional-driven advertising over purely rational messages.
And while we all know that that emotional advertising works, often as a natural extension of brand purpose, the practices are not mutually inclusive.
A brand does not need a brand purpose to create emotional advertising, nor does emotional advertising assure a brand purpose.
Brand purpose with substance from the inside out
A wise mentor often cited the Hollow Chocolate Bunny metaphor to describe the difference between great brands and great marketing. The gist of the story is this: you can’t tell the difference between a solid chocolate or hollow chocolate bunny until you bite in. You’re either going to find satisfying substance or disappointing emptiness.
This type of brand experience—particularly avoiding the latter—helped drive our brand strategy practice to transition our Brand Print methodology away from brand promise to brand purpose.
Over the last 10-years as a purpose-driven practice, we have honed our approach across a diverse panorama of industries and categories from healthcare to beer, for-profit to non-profit; B2C, B2B and DTC. And while each engagement enjoyed its unique challenges and solutions, we receive common feedback from our client partners. Our approach impacts them differently from others they have experienced in their careers.
Here are three key ingredients in our recipe for building brand purpose with the substance required for successful growth. (We’ll hold back on our proverbial secret sauce, but give you with a hint: Charlton Heston knew our secret.)
- Brand purpose is business strategy. Brand purpose impacts advertising but shouldn’t be limited to the confines of the marketing department. Brand purpose must be embedded into every decision and behavior across the enterprise to transcend mere messaging and guide growth. Upfront discovery should go deeper than traditional brand tracking or consumer insight and strengthen interdependence across roles by digging into exactly how the business operates.
- Brand purpose must flow from the inside out. Connecting with the needs and desires of consumers is a mandate for any brand or business. However, internal stakeholder interviews are fundamental to ensuring the successful adoption and practice of the strategy. Equipped with proper knowledge of the business dynamics, our strategists can engage stakeholders, listen, learn and leverage internal expertise. Through discussions that often feel like brand therapy, the process illuminates untapped ideas, insights and opportunities for growth—while creating clear space for thoughtful disagreement along the way.
- Brand purpose requires many fingerprints to resonate true. All strategies should improve decision-making, especially brand purpose where actions give meaning to the words. We have seen how powerful brand purpose can be when marketing, product development, sales, HR, finance, customer service and everyone involved see their ideas, words and fingerprints in the Brand Print and believes they wrote it.
And this is when you know you have found a solid, substantial brand purpose. Not when you hear it. Not when you believe it. But when you can feel it from the inside out.
Interested in making brand purpose work for your business? Let’s chat and see how Hunt Adkins’ Brand Print process can lead your brand to substantial growth inside and out.