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Purpose, Pineapples and Politics: Understanding the Purpose of Brand Purpose


Miriam Plon Sauer, executive strategy director at AKQA discusses brand purpose and why it is such an exciting concept

Purpose, Pineapples and Politics: Understanding the Purpose of Brand Purpose

Brand purpose has a clear divisive capability in our industry. Either you mock it and believe it's a load of marketing fluff, or you are devoted to it and believe it will save us all. The discourse sometimes bears a resemblance to a discussion about American politics. Or pineapple on pizza. In our eagerness to voice an opinion about it, though, we often forget to define it. Which means we regularly end up shouting at each other, despite not having agreed whether we’re arguing about politics or pineapples.

I confess I'm more of a devotee than a denier. In my experience, a clear brand purpose is a powerful tool to set a direction for a company across all functions and touchpoints. But before diving into that assertion, let's start by illustrating why brand purpose is an exciting concept to discuss.


Consumer Expectation 

Increasingly consumers now expect brands to step up and take more responsibility in society. Fifty-five percent of consumers believe brands have a more important role than our governments in creating a better future. (Havas Meaningful Brands, 2019). In August 2019, the Business Roundtable redefined the purpose of a corporation. The statement was signed by 181 CEOs committing to lead their companies to benefit all stakeholders – customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders. This marked a historic break with shareholder primacy and is a strong indication that companies realise their responsibility towards society.

Consequently, CMOS realise their responsibility (and potential impact) in this shift. In a recently published CMO survey by Gartner, 33 percent of more than 400 CMOs indicated brand strategy was the most vital marketing capability for the next 18 months. Brand purpose is a tool to make sure the brand strategy precisely what consumers and business executives are asking for, ensuring brands play a role in creating a better future that benefits all stakeholders.


Challenging Misconceptions

When it comes to defining a brand purpose, too often, misconceptions cloud judgement to the point where these misconceptions can damage the concept itself. So, let's clear up a couple of these:


It is not a line 

Brand purpose means deploying a specific lens to your brand strategy, often summed up in one line, but that does not mean the line itself is the purpose. A brand purpose should set the direction for the entire brand – internally and externally and should not be owned by the marketing department – or any other department for that matter. This brings me to the next misconception…


It is not a campaign 

If you have a brand purpose, you should use that as a foundation for your communication. But communication is only a tiny part of building a brand and an even smaller part of a brand strategy. A brand purpose needs to be backed up with action across the organisation. So, if a campaign is all you've got, you're probably closer to purpose-washing than to working seriously with brand purpose.


It is not CSR

Brand purpose is about making a positive impact, although, for some reason, that is often translated as social responsibility; the greener, the better. But the positive effect can also be about something much closer to everyday life. Like when LEGO wants to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow. What's funny is that while brand purpose is being mistaken for CSR-strategies and tactics, CSR moves in the opposite direction, losing the S, because a corporation's responsibility should not merely be social.


An action-oriented definition

Having raised awareness around these misconceptions, you can start to see what the definition of a brand purpose is as well:

A brand's purpose is a long-term aspirational image of the brand's desired position. It provides a clear direction for how the brand should act to achieve that position and guiding light for strategic decision making on an internal and external business level. 

To identify that brand purpose, you need to have the right balance between an inside-out and an outside-in view. Externally, you want to determine what human need the brand is addressing and what makes a brand stand out in the category. Internally, you want to find out what you can own, taking your heritage and history into consideration and the long-term business goal.

Answering these questions will help develop a brand purpose that is relevant, distinctive, credible and supports your long-term vision.

However, the key takeaway of this article is that it doesn't stop there. The real work begins when you translate the brand purpose into tangible strategies and actions implemented across the organisation.

A brand purpose is not truly valuable to a business until it sets the direction for everything, from customer service to supply chain management.

To make that happen, follow these three steps to success:

  1. Involve senior leadership

  2. Implement throughout the entire organisation

  3. Activate across all touchpoints 

Now that we have aligned on a definition, we can go back to shouting about pineapples and politics? Although, honestly, who likes pineapple on pizza?

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AKQA US, Fri, 26 Mar 2021 17:15:20 GMT