Brand Purpose Has Gone A Little Nuts
Updated: Nov 12, 2021
by Andy Goram, Owner of Bizjuicer
It seems like every brand wants to be seen on a higher plain right now. It's no longer enough to make a clear, distinctive, consistently deliverable promise to your customers. No. You need to stand for something bigger. Enter "The Brand Purpose." Brand Purpose isn't something new, but this new evolution is Brand Purpose 2.0. It's bigger, bolder, more unconnected to what you actually do than ever before! It's grown arms, legs, got hairy and is trying to take over the (marketing) world. Well, maybe not that dramatic, but it does need taming, or re-purposing if you will, if it's to get back to being something useful.
Please don't get me wrong. I'm all for a brand model that has something in there to represent the driving soul behind your business, or brand. Something that creates a greater sense of meaning to what the company is doing. In fact, I think it is vital. I just think today's brand purposes have strayed from the path and got a little lost.
Shigeo Shingo, the famous Japanese industrial engineer, credited with revolutionising many of the world's manufacturing systems, and who's 10 guiding principles have inspired many improvement programmes such as Lean and TQM, identified that it was important for an organisation itself, to have a clear and deep understanding of their "why", so all employees can assign clear meaning and a greater sense of purpose to their working lives. He stated
"Working for the organisation takes up a huge part of their lives. If they don't have meaning, you are effectively wasting their lives."
The word "meaning" here is critically important. This is where I think some of today's brand purposes have gone a little nuts. To my mind, whilst looking at their "why" they've lost the authentic connection to what the business actually does. It's all very well having the intention to right the world's wrongs with your purpose, if that's something you're really going to deliver on. Are your people really going to feel like they are contributing to that intention in their daily work? If not, what's the point? Equally, if the words in your purpose paint a beautiful picture, that makes your organisation feel proud, gives your customers a cause to support and positively positions your shareholders as good citizens of earth, not only bothered about lining the coffer, but your actions can never affect the dream, why say it?
I actually love the idea of finding the business's "why". But it just looks like it has become detached from "how" and the "what" at times. There also seems to be a lot of crossover between brands and their purposes. Whilst purpose doesn't necessarily have to be a source of competitive differentiation, I was always taught that one of the main points of brand work was to champion your genuine, distinctiveness in order to create a real reason to be chosen by a customer, over another offer, product or service. Should purpose not follow the same route, or should we all be aiming to
"inspire the human spirit / moments of optimism" or "make today / the future great"?
I think Brand Purpose still has a place in a brand's architecture, but it needs to look to its' close relation, "Brand Positioning", for some guidance. It could help it get back on the path to being something more useful as well as providing an inspiring picture and bringing greater meaning to the work your business and your people do, every day. My mentors instilled in me a focus on the core trinity of brand positioning, those being
Be something the customer wants
Be something the company / brand can actually deliver
Be, or deliver it in a way that is different, distinctive or just downright better than the competition
Brand Purpose, or Brand Meaning as I prefer ;) , should build on these things and should still be rooted in reality. It doesn't have to be totally outlandish, sexy or overly worthy to have greater meaning. It's a bit like saying to a bricklayer,
"Do you lay bricks, or do you build dream homes new families can afford?"
Whatever you decide, your people (and your customers when you publicise it) need to be able to relate to it and see action towards it, or it just risks being another set of words that look great on a poster, or website, but don't actually do anything. After all, what are we really trying to do here? I hope we're trying to add a greater sense of reason to what we do, so it can feel like turning up to work each day, means a little more and helps makes what you do, feel more connected to the wider business and the world in which it operates.
A lot of effort goes into building Company Vision, Mission, Purpose, Values and the like (or at least should) and I'm sure companies like Coca-Cola with their "Inspire moments of optimism" and Kellogg's with their "Make today great", are very happy with their Brand Purposes and are working hard to deliver against them. All I am saying is that for these things to have real worth and meaning, they should inspire a greater purpose to what you do that is connected to what you can actually do, or purposefully and realistically strive to deliver, every day.
Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer - a consultancy that believes people are the often-forgotten internal fuel that can power businesses and brand to greater success. He helps businesses build stronger brands through engaged and aligned people and consults on vision & values, customer experience, cultural and transformational change, brand development and employer branding.