We live in a complex world characterised by hyperconnectivity; demanding, informed and empowered consumers who are less trusting of brands; and an increasing number of competitors gunning for the same audience and market share. Starting a business or creating a brand, while ensuring its survival in today’s complex economy, is challenging. Brands are finding it increasingly difficult to stand out from the clutter, remain relevant and authentic, and continuously evolve in order to meet the demands of their consumers. To navigate through these uncertain and chaotic times, brands could look to purpose for some direction, to stay ahead, to maintain market share and to remain relevant and authentic.
Brand purpose is defined as a cause; a belief; what a brand stands for and stands up for; the reason for a business’s existence beyond just making a profit. Michael Porter, the Bishop William Lawrence University Professor and founder of the modern strategy field, believes that profit should not be the primary goal, but a result of the successful implementation of a purpose-driven system. Brand purpose communicates the kind of change you want to make in your community and the added value you offer; it tells a story, and serves as a source of inspiration for people and for the brand. It gives the brand meaning, amplifies its strengths and makes it more human and authentic. Lastly, it places the brand at an advantage commercially. Your brand’s purpose can be discovered by referring to its heritage and history; by identifying its strengths, passions and the impact it wants to make; and lastly, by asking your employees and consumers their reasons for supporting and believing in the brand.
According to Simon Sinek, author of the book Start with Why, when brands do not communicate a sense of why, the decision-making process for consumers becomes time-consuming, more difficult or leaves them uncertain, because their decisions are based only on facts, figures, benefits and features. Feature, design and model descriptions limit the possibilities for brands to drive greater growth. Yes, there are many brands that have been able to survive and grow by focusing on the products and services offered, however, in a crowded marketplace, brands need to find new ways of adding value to the brand and differentiating themselves from the rest.
Some key points to remember: firstly, a meaningful purpose is useless without the support of action and utility. This means that brands need to deliver on the promise made, and your product and service must be useful to your consumers. In the case of Airbnb, for example, their purpose is ‘To empower creative exploration and open new experiences’ – the campaigns they create and the company culture they have speaks to that purpose. This is supported by a service that is convenient and efficient; that makes listing, discovering and booking easier for people. Secondly, it should not only be applied to social-good initiatives or a company’s CSR, or used as a form of tactical marketing; it should manifest itself in every activity undertaken and every strategic decision made by the brand – it is a long-term commitment. A brand purpose is there to offer direction and guidance, both in the present as well as where you envision your brand or business being many years from now. It offers clarity in moments of chaos and uncertainty.
Here are examples of how some brands have brought their purpose to life and how it influenced communication campaigns and the channels used; the products and services offered; the kind of employees and culture brought into the company; and lastly, the kind of impact and change the brands wanted to make in the world.
Volvo’s brand purpose is ‘Making safety a priority’. Through the use of technology, the brand has managed to create vehicles that deliver on the promise – cars with three-point seat belts, cyclist detection and driver alert control. Volvo’s purpose was communicated in their recent commercial called Moments: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjQt2lEZIXg
Airbnb’s purpose is ‘To empower creative exploration and open new experiences’ and their mission is to create a world where you can belong anywhere. The brand has accomplished this by creating unique travel experiences and a community where people can list, discover and book accommodation around the world and see certain places through the eyes of the host. Airbnb has also managed to create the same experience for their employees. The video below showcases how the brand’s purpose is brought to life internally:
Absolut Vodka is a drink that is produced from ingredients sourced specifically in one place, Sweden. It is a brand that believes in ‘the passion and perseverance of our people’, which, they maintain, lie at the core of their success. Absolut Vodka considers itself a way of life connected to art, design, fashion and creativity. Through their One Source campaign featuring hip-hop artist, Khuli Chana, Absolut Vodka was able to communicate all of the above. Here is how their brand story ties in with Africa’s passion and perseverance, emphasising how we, as Africans, are also made in one place, Africa: https://www.vml.com/native-vml/our-work/casestudy/one-source
And finally, Whirlpool, a home appliance manufacturer, believes that their reason for existence is to ‘Make the most of moments that matter’. Their brand purpose has been plugged into the kind of impact they want to make in society, beyond profit. Here is how the Whirlpool Care Counts programme made a difference in schools: