What is your brand purpose? This question is getting harder to answer during these difficult times.
From what I’ve seen, the meaning of brand purpose is unclear to many chief marketing officers. They hear about a company like Patagonia defining its brand around saving our planet, and they wonder whether they should redefine their brand around a social or environmental cause. They ask how the global pandemic might affect their brand purpose over the long haul. As businesses identify or rethink their purpose, I believe it’s important that they understand the distinction between having a brand purpose and being purpose-driven. The two are not the same thing.
Businesses need to define their purpose even as we are in the grips of a global pandemic — in fact, it’s perhaps especially important now. I believe that businesses are going to emerge from the pandemic by defining a new normal. As they do so, the world around them will continue to be affected by difficult, thorny issues such as global warming (a topic that was increasingly shaping our collective thinking before COVID-19 hit). What will your brand purpose be then? How will you unlock the value of that purpose?
The Need For Brand Purpose
The need for brand purpose is beyond dispute. To build a meaningful relationship with consumers, brands need to do more than offer a transaction. They have to have a clear reason for why they exist beyond making money. Brands also need to articulate a clear purpose to attract job seekers, especially millennials, who prioritize working for companies that have a genuine purpose other than profit. Because as the turmoil subsides, brands will hire again. And job seekers will want to know their purpose.
But many brands struggle to articulate their purpose. For many of them, describing what they do requires so much effort that they devote most of their marketing and communications to articulating variations of their what — their basic offering. A smaller subset master the how — what sets them apart. Fewer still define their why — their overall purpose.
The Difference Between Having A Brand Purpose And Being Purpose-Driven
One of the reasons why many brands struggle to share their purpose is they confuse having a purpose with being purpose-driven, and not everyone is comfortable adopting “purpose-driven” as their why. Being purpose-driven is about doing good works and embracing important causes, such as sustainability. But your brand purpose, per se, does not necessarily need to be purpose-driven.
Look at Disney’s theme parks. Their brand purpose is clear: to create magical moments that bring about happiness. Disneyland is known as “the happiest place on earth.” Although Disney theme parks are committed to operating in a sustainable fashion, they don’t overtly associate their brand purpose with sustainability. Disneyland is the happiest place on earth, not the most sustainable place on earth. When Disneyland reopens its doors after the pandemic subsides, people will likely return to experience the kind of happiness they associate with Disneyland, not to celebrate sustainability.
You could argue that delivering personal and emotional benefits such as happiness makes Disney purpose-driven. But I believe the notion of being purpose-driven, as it has evolved, means connecting your business to broader, often topical trends that benefit society at a far more macro level, such as rallying around sustainability or social justice.
For example, outdoor gear company REI puts sustainability front and center. REI’s brand purpose is “to awaken a lifelong love of the outdoors, for all,” and part of that purpose means making commitments to sustainability. This brand purpose makes sense for REI. But it also makes perfect sense for Disney to rally around happiness as a brand purpose instead of sustainability, even as Disney acts in a sustainable way, too.
Defining Your Brand Purpose
To get started on defining your brand purpose, I recommend that you do these two things:
1. Understand your why. This is the most important step in defining your brand’s purpose. Your why is the reason why you exist. Simon Sinek, in his influential book Start With Why, says that the why is absolutely essential to building a great company that inspires loyalty. In my experience, understanding your why comes down to identifying why people should choose your business — and it includes a number of dimensions, starting with your people. Ask yourself these questions: Why should job seekers choose my company, and why should my employees choose to stay with my organization? Why should clients want to work with me, and why should investors want to become my company’s shareholders? After you ask these questions, look for commonalities in your answers. The common themes will help you start uncovering your why.
2. Connect your mission and vision to your why. Your mission is what your business does well on your best day. Your vision articulates the far-reaching impact your business has when you deliver on your mission effectively. So why are these important for defining your purpose? Why isn’t your why enough? Well, technically, defining your why can be sufficient for understanding your purpose. But I believe teasing out your mission and vision are good ways to pressure-test your why. Do the three flow together well? Do your mission and vision support your why? If the three seem disconnected, go back to your why and examine ways to refine (or even change) it.
Understanding your why, your mission and your vision may indeed result in connecting your brand to a larger calling such as saving the planet, in which case your brand purpose will become intertwined with being purpose-driven. But you may very well be content with rallying around delivering more personal benefits, such as helping people communicate more clearly or save for retirement, and that’s perfectly okay. Whatever you do, be sure that you’ve defined your brand purpose and that you rethink it, if needed, as we emerge from the pandemic and ease into the new normal.
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Author: Don Scales, CommunityVoice