Let’s face it, traditional brand positioning is dead. Brands can no longer get away with claiming to be all things to all people if they want to stand out in a world cluttered by communications.
Instead, brands need to risk being a little more Marmite. By this, I mean they need to take a stand and stake out their core beliefs. By putting their values on display, brands can engage far more deeply and meaningfully with consumers.
Great businesses are a vehicle for great ideas
Your brand needs a strong identity and a loud voice. Of course, some brands are already doing this and the concept of developing a strong ‘Brand Purpose’ will be familiar to many readers.
We’ve long championed this common sense approach to creative and communications planning. After all, if your brand doesn’t have a discernible sense of purpose, it’s already irrelevant to a large part of the population and will gradually become irrelevant to the rest.
We can see this today in the world of politics, where many nations are becoming disenchanted with slow-moving, morally flexible leadership that tends to go where the winds of public opinion take it. I’m increasingly dissatisfied by the ability of politicians to drive real change, certainly at the pace necessary to match the transformation happening in society.
I was a Remainer, and I was disappointed by the response fuelled by self-interest demonstrated by too many politicians. Brexit has highlighted what we didn’t want to admit – we’re a divided nation. Tribal politicians will continue to exploit that. It’s now up to every brand that claims to have any element of social purpose to highlight the common ground that can unite us again.
Brands should take note. Simply marking out a clear purpose is not enough, they must also turn the rhetoric into action. As Bill Bernbach said, “it’s not a principle until it costs you money”. Brands should view their purpose as a foundation to develop something more tangible – a movement that can engage meaningfully with consumers.
Actions, not words
A great example of executing on a strong Brand Purpose is the work of Unilever. Many of Unilever’s products rely on water to deliver a superior customer experience, so it’s committed to driving sustainability. Yet it also goes further: one of its core aims is that every human on the planet has access to safe, clean water.
In the words of Unilever CEO, Paul Polman: “We cannot close our eyes to the challenges that the world faces. Business must make an explicit and positive contribution to addressing them. I’m convinced we can create a more equitable and sustainable world for all of us by doing so, but this means that business has to change”.
Today, Unilever is one of a growing number of brands attempting to enrich our lives in tangible and impactful ways. Consider the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is busy ridding the world of malaria.
Where politicians have failed, brands now have an opportunity to succeed: driving real change with far more agility than governments. However, before we get carried away with the potential of developing a Brand Purpose, we should pause to consider how to develop a strong set of values that will help you succeed.
Let’s start with the basics: What do you stand for? What’s your role in society? Why do you exist? Many brands find this question surprisingly difficult to answer. What you do and how you do it is important, but why you do it can often be the differentiator for consumers choosing between brands.
In my experience, smart brands start from the inside and work outwards to develop their purpose. They also start from the top, identifying clear values with senior management and then weaving them into the culture of the business and its tone of voice, ensuring all employees, partners and customers understand and embrace them. This helps brands avoid one of the greatest traps: slapping on an inauthentic and peripheral purpose that customers will see straight through.
With a firm foundation of purpose, brands can lead or become involved with a movement for change. Then it’s critical to measure the impact of your purpose: build it into brand tracking, monitor spontaneous and prompted awareness, assess the different lifetime values of aware and unaware customers – and so on. Data-driven marketing will help you continuously assess, refine and improve your brand values, purpose and real-world impact.
I believe modern brands have a huge role to play in building more successful and connected communities and there’s no better time to get started. You don’t need a Brand Purpose that will save human civilisation, or eradicate poverty, but you do need to stick to it through thick and thin, no matter what.