A brand can tell a powerful story by focusing on its purpose. The concept of brand purpose has become very popular in recent years but is also often;

  • Misunderstood: thinking it’s all about embracing and taking a clear stand towards social issues
  • Misused, as in a marketing stunt, for example
  • Used as an excuse to skip the strategic process, something a lot of communication agencies seem to embrace recently (your purpose will solve all your business problems, NOT!).

A research paper by Reach Solutions entitled “The Empathy Delusion” (2019) came to the conclusion that..

“The major driving force behind virtue strategies (aka Brand Purpose) is not the needs of the mainstream (consumers), it’s the assumptions and needs of the people in the advertising and marketing industry.” Which may explain why the marketing and advertising industry and trade press obsess over it so much.

A brand purpose captures the reason for the brand to exist beyond pure profits and shareholder value. It doesn’t focus on “what” the brand does, or “how” it does it. Instead it looks into “why” the brand does what it does. Brand purposes are extremely powerful when they are genuine and when they translate into actions (rather than just being claims and words). A good way to start is to look at why the brand was created in the first place. Beyond just being financially successful, what motivated the founders, what problem were they trying to solve, and what impact did they aspire to have on society in general?

For example, a category that is ripe for a brand purpose approach is the instant Ramen noodles category. In fact, the $1 dehydrated noodles you ate as a broke student (which in the meantime have become a culinary trend), was created by Japanese business man, Momofuku Ando, in 1956, who after witnessing the struggles of Japanese to feed themselves in post WW2, wanted to make sure that every Japanese had the opportunity to get a cheap, warm and tasty meal. This is a beautiful and noble purpose that has been completely ignored by the industry, which prefers to compete on price.

Blake Mycoskie founded TOMS Shoes with the purpose of providing a new pair of free shoes to youth of Argentina and other developing nations—for every pair sold, he would donate one pair. (He later learned that the lack of shoes was a major contributor to diseases in children in developing countries.)

Likely the most talked about and shared example of a brand purpose is Dove’s “Real Beauty Pledge”. Based on their research findings, only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful, and anxiety about appearance begins at an early age. Dove capitalized on this and made the claim that they “have a vision of a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety.” They want to make a positive experience of beauty accessible to every woman. In addition, they are going to do this by “engaging them with products that deliver superior care.”

The challenge with developing a strong brand purpose—and a mistake that many brand managers make—is that it is often not rooted in the brand’s equity and core benefit. It becomes an “add-on thought” that may resonate with the brand’s employees but not with consumers. One brand that got it right from the beginning is Chobani with its founding mission and vision of “Better Food For More People”. They got it right because they understand that the foundation of a powerful purpose needs to be rooted in an outstanding product and not just bolted on top of it.

Five Thought Starters

  1. Ask yourself why the brand was created in the first place. What was the founder’s intent?
  2. What changes did or does the brand want to bring to the world?
  3. What does the brand passionately care about?
  4. What benefit and/or value does your brand provide to its consumers? Once you’ve listed those benefits ask yourself why that matters (you’ll be moving up the benefit ladder). Once you’ve identified those higher-end benefits, ask yourself again why those matter.
  5. Based on the previous list, capture all the ways your brand contributes to, and is really passionate about, these higher-end benefits.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Ulli Appelbaum, excerpted from his book The Brand Positioning Workbook

The Blake Project can help you define and develop your brand purpose.

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education

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