Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production

How to Make Your Brand Purposeful Not Purposeless

Advertising Agency
Dublin, Ireland
Margaret Gilsenan, Partner and Planning Director at Boys and Girls, unravels the endless literature on ‘brand purpose’

There are hundreds of column inches written, hours of video recorded and book shelves bending under the weight of tomes exploring and expounding the virtues and 21st century necessity of ‘Brand Purpose’.  But thinking as a consumer am I going to be burdened with making 100’s of meaningful choices every day?  How are you going to make me care more about my brand of baked beans knowing that they have a higher purpose than merely satisfying my hunger?

Firstly, let me share my starting point.  I agree that consumers need something to connect them to a brand and that as competitive products become just as good or bad as each other, it makes sense that the connecting point, that differentiator is purpose. However, I am concerned as I see many Clients and Agencies search for that holy grail of “purpose” often just to be part of the zeitgeist; as a short-term fix; with the ambition of having a purpose rather than living it and without truly considering what purpose means.

So having read many of those column inches and watched the videos I lay out my stall on getting Brand Purpose right below.  First, by identifying four common pitfalls:

1. A confusion of what Brand Purpose really is.  I think it is often confused with a brand point of view.  However, it is only when you have point of view that could actually make a difference to the world and you allow it to guide how the brand and organisation behaves on an ongoing basis – in the services provided, the products sold, who it hires, how it rewards - that it can truly be claimed as purpose.  

2. Related to that is a second considerable problem, when the Brand Purpose belongs to the marketing department, then it inevitably becomes just a campaign idea.  A true purpose has to belong to everyone in the organisation and have the full support of the CEO (or whatever set of initials the Head Honcho has).

3. Brand Purpose leveraged as a short term fix.  To demonstrate true purpose, the Brand needs to embrace it for the long term (Dove has been expounding their Real Beauty Purpose since 2004).  

4. And the fourth big problem lies in there being a lack of true, motivating connection between the product or service you sell and the purpose.  Leaving your consumers at best having to work too hard (harder than they can be bothered)  to figure out the connection or at worst wondering WTF?

There is another common misunderstanding that Brand Purpose is another CSR property or initiative.  It is much more than that although CSR can be a considerable proof-point of your commitment to your brand purpose.  For a brand purpose to be sustainable, it must drive commercial success and it needs to be fundamentally linked to your brand so that by choosing your brand, customers have a sense of choosing something that shares their own values and ambitions for our world. There is enough documentary evidence to show that done properly, purpose is a considerable profit generator (Keith Weed, CMO Unilever has been prolific on this point).  

The success stories may feel over-told and clichéd, but they are successful because they have connected with something deep within our culture and ourselves; addressing issues that affect individuals and society; and they have invested in and lived their purpose for a number of years.  

I would urge you to review literature (or at least Google search) to learn from the following top 5 companies in Radley Yelar’s Brand Purpose Index: Unilever, Phillips, Lloyds, Pearson and Nestlé and from the following individual brands Dove, Starbucks, The Body Shop and Patagonia. 

Finally, a useful checklist to make sure you are on the right track.

And if you answer NO to any of these go back to the drawing board.

Will your customers care about this cause?

Will it make a real difference?  i.e. does it actually matter?

Does this purpose makes sense for your brand? 

Will it help your brand to be meaningful and differentiated?

Will it drive your commercial goals?

Are you prepared to commit to this for the long-term? 

Are you prepared to reflect the purpose in everything you do?

Has your Senior Management committed to it so it lives (beyond marketing) throughout the organisation?

As an exercise in testing or developing your brand’s purpose I suggest that you invest 18 minutes of your life to watching Simon Simek’s TedTalk on ‘How Great Leaders Inspire Action’, within two minutes you will be introduced to the Golden Circle and the ‘Why’ question.  Identify a strong WHY for your brand, live it properly and your organisation will be one of those who is able to hold your Brand Purpose Head high.

Margaret Gilsenan is Partner and Planning Director at Boys and Girls