What is brand purpose and why is it more important than ever for your business
With more competition than ever before, customer buying habits changing and a lot of brands suffering an identity crisis, how can brands today stand out, make an impact and build a loyal following?
This article is part of a series we will be publishing addressing these issues.
Today consumers have a myriad of choice at their fingertips, more stake in their own tribal identity than ever before and can see through inauthenticity like Superman and his x-ray vision. If your brand doesn’t stand for something, champion a cause or have a clear understanding of why it exists beyond making money you are in for a bumpy ride.
But don’t fret I’d like to introduce you to your brand purpose.
“The brands that will thrive in the coming years are the ones that have a purpose beyond profit.”
— Richard Branson
Read on to find out how brands with a purpose are outperforming those that don’t both financially and in terms of growth, why this is and how you can craft your own brand purpose to transform what your brand stands for.
What is brand purpose?
Your brand purpose is the top reason you exist beyond making money, it’s at the core of your brand, acting as a filter to pass brand decisions through and as a rudder to guide your brand.
This one statement is at the heart of everything your brand does it mobilises your audience by giving them a shortcut to remembering what the brand stands for quickly and your employees helping them to work towards this shared purpose.
One of the most-watched TED talks of all time is the Simon Sinek video ‘start with why’ this video brilliantly outlines the role your purpose can have for your brand.
Simon states people don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it and what you do only serves to prove that. in the diagram below you will see Simon’s golden circle diagram which is the reverse of how most brands think from a brand and marketing point of view.
Normally brands push what they do, then how they do it and very few brands know why they are doing this – whereas using the golden circle you flip this around (and tweak it slightly for brand strategy) to work from purpose out.
‘WHY’ your brand purpose – Why you exist
‘WHAT’ your brand vision – What we aim to achieve
‘HOW’ your brand mission – How we plan to achieve our vision
‘WHAT’ your brand values – what we stand for and how we behave
‘HOW’ your brand positioning – How we differentiate from our competition
In Simon Sinek’s talk, he goes on to explain the golden circle is grounded in our biology, with our human brain being broken down into three major components that correlate with the Golden Circle.
Our Human brain the neo-cortex corresponds with the ‘WHAT’ level of the golden circle and is responsible for all our logical and rational thoughts along with language.
Our limbic brains correspond with the ‘How’ and ‘WHY’ sections and are responsible for all of our feelings like trust, loyalty, all human behaviour, decision making and has no capacity for language.
So when you communicate from the outside in the neocortex can understand all kinds of facts and figures, features and benefits but it doesn’t drive behaviour. Whereas if you communicate the other way round you are talking to the part of the brain that controls behaviour AND gut decisions.
He goes onto say the goal is not to just sell to people who need what you have it is to sell to people who believe what you believe, the goal is not to just hire people who need a job but to hire people who believe what you believe.
Hiring people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for the money
Hiring people who believe what you believe they’ll work for you with everything they have.
Sell to people who want what you have based on money, they’ll leave you based on money (offers, cheaper options)
Sell to people who believe what you believe and they’ll remain loyal, spread the word and become a repeat customer.
Ok so you might be thinking this is all well and good but where’s the evidence, keep reading and all will become clear.
Why brand purpose is good for your bottom line.
It goes without saying you want to make money as a business but this should be secondary to your brand purpose. A brand purpose is a long term play and not a short term fix, but the evidence shows it could be the thing that keeps you in the game when others falter by focusing on money only.
With companies like Apple, Nike, Patagonia and Google all believing and showcasing that a purpose-driven brand strategy for growth, focusing on more than the bottom line is a worthy and profitable goal.
With some research to back this up notably from Jim Stengel (author of the book Grow) and Millward Brown surveying the growth of 50,000 brands over 10 years (2001 – 2011) established a cause and effect relationship between a brand’s ability to serve a higher purpose and it’s overall financial performance.
The study looked at brands across 28 categories, 30+ countries and both B2B and B2C businesses, they found the ultimate growth driver was ideals which Jim defines as “We define ideal as the higher-order benefit a brand or a business gives to the world”.
The top 50 brands in growth terms from 2001-2011 have built authentic connections with their audience and in financial terms grew 3x faster than their competitors with the top brands of the 50 like Apple and Google growing 10x faster.
The video below from Jim explains the above and how by choosing a brand purpose from one of the following five fields of human values can help you to drastically improve your results.
Eliciting Joy – Activating experiences of happiness, wonder, and limitless possibility
Enabling Connection – Enhancing the ability of people to connect with each other and the world in meaningful ways
Inspiring Exploration – Helping people explore new horizons and new experiences
Evoking Pride – Giving people increased confidence, strength, security, and vitality
Impacting Society – Affecting society broadly, from challenging the status quo to redefining categories
Why brand purpose is important to your customers?
Today’s consumers are purchasing ninja’s they need more than a great product, catchy slogan and empty promises. They have an amazing amount of choice at their fingertips, they are experienced purchasers, battle-hardened ad avoiders and Poirot level detectives when it comes to scrutinizing a product and brand before purchasing.
But one thing they all have in common is they all look for transparent brands, that create connection, are relevant and that line up with who they are and their values.
below you’ll find some statistics on millennials buying habits and how they perceive brands. This also translates to the older members of Generation Z and the future looks like it could swing even more in the direction of brands who champion purpose and values, moving away from traditional big business ideals.
Millennials (1980 – 2000)
- 81% of Millennials expect companies to make a public commitment to charitable causes and citizenship. [Source: Horizon Media]
- 50% of millennials say that positive customer service experiences is a factor in their loyalty to brands. [Source: Morning Consult, 2018]
- 61% of millennials are worried about the state of the world and feel personally responsible to make a difference. – [Source: Huffington Post]
- 84% of millennials don’t trust traditional advertising. –[Source: Hubspot]
- 75% say it’s fairly or very important that a company gives back to society instead of just making a profit. [Source: Forbes x Elite Daily]
- 64% of consumers say that sharing the same values with a brand is the primary reason they have a relationship in the first place. [Source: Harvard Business Review ]
- Customers prefer brands that demonstrate personal value through emotional appeals. [Source: Marketing Week]
They want brands that give something back, make them feel a certain way, ignite creativity and exploration, foster greater connection and or cut to the core of who they are.
They want to be part of something, involved in movements, standing up for causes and are quick to reward those that help them achieve this. [See Bain and Co’s Maslow Hierarchy of Needs]
What the new breed of consumer wants is to be spoken to as if they are the only person the brand is for. This level of specificity helps them to make quicker choices, reduce buyers remorse and helps you to differentiate from your competition, focus on your core target audience and not worry about trying to please or be relevant to everyone.
Building an authentic brand purpose ticks all these boxes and in a world where authenticity is scarce It allows you to lay all your cards on the table, what you stand for and why you exist and this, in turn, fosters loyalty, trust, social shares and word of mouth referrals or talk triggers.
Nike caused some controversy last year with choosing Colin Kaepernick as the face of it’s ‘Just Do It’ campaign’s 30th anniversary, with some people who objected to using the athlete burning Nike trainers and clothing.
Despite all of the controversy in a recent Business Insider poll into the favourite brands of millennials. Nike comes out on top.
Now whether you agreed with the choice of the athlete or not, the campaign either spoke to you or it didn’t, moved and empowered you or it didn’t and it’s this ability to speak clearly to your audience, but at the same time letting other people know the brand isn’t for them that builds a cohesive, dedicated following.
This is also why the ‘think different’ Apple advert of the ’90s did so well and why it’s still heralded today. Both were born out of a clear purpose, both spoke directly to a defined audience they wanted to reach, both empowered that audience on an emotional level to take action and both made that audience feel part of a movement or cause.
This is the unifying, edifying effect that a well-thought brand purpose can have on your audience. Give your audience the chance to invest in your journey, inspire them, empower them and make them feel you are worth buying into.
Build a purpose that is authentic and relevant to your target audience.
Brand Purpose Examples (Sport and Fitness Brands)
Bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world*
*if you have a body you are an athlete.
You can see that this is Nike at its core and everything they do as a brand calls back to this. ‘Just Do It’ is one if not the most inspiring tagline’s in sports and is directly in keeping with their purpose.
We’re in business to save our home planet
At Patagonia, we appreciate that all life on earth is under threat of extinction. We aim to use the resources we have—our business, our investments, our voice and our imaginations—to do something about it.
The evidence of the above purpose and mission statement can be seen throughout Patagonia’s marketing and resonates with their target audience of climbers, surfers, skiers, snowboarders and outdoor adventurers. People whose favourite pastimes are firmly rooted in nature and therefore acutely aware of the dangers of plastic in the oceans, climate change and ecological issues.
By Patagonia making a stand to do something about these issues it gives the audience a reason to spread the word, buy from them and champion the brand even more.
Take Yoga off the mat
Inspire active people to live and practice a lifestyle inspired by yoga’s core principles whether you do asanas or not.
Lululemon recently sought out the help of Red & Co to help them define a brand purpose and clearer brand strategy. The collaboration came up with the above which was at the core of the brand all along but hadn’t been articulated clearly enough, it wasn’t all about Yoga but the spirit of the practice that Lululemon wanted to tap into and in the latest marketing and campaigns this comes through. They also worked on helping to make the tone of voice and personality of the brand less preachy in order to communicate this purpose in a way that felt natural.
How to define your brand purpose
A great place to start when defining your brand purpose is to look at what you believe in as a brand and stand for the beginnings of the brand whether you are new or have been around for a while a look into the origin of how this brand came to be, can help you to hone in on a good starting point.
1. What’s the origin of the brand? (Inspiration for being)
Some things to ask yourself and your team
– How did the brand start?
– Why was the brand created? (The reason or moment of inspiration)
– What differentiates us as a brand?
As an Example throughout these questions we will use a made up company Veganutri
– How did the brand start? The founder couldn’t find any good tasting vegan sports nutrition, so decide to create some for himself to see if it was possible.
– Why was the brand created? To make sure all vegans could have access to great tasting sports nutritional supplements.
– What differentiates us as a brand? Inclusivity, passion, have walked in customers shoes and great tasting products.
2. What do you believe in and stand against? (Manifesto for being)
What you stand for and against what causes or ideals do you champion, what problems do you solve for your audience and what do you stand against – what’s the villain in the story. Ask yourself and your team.
– What do we stand for as a brand?
– What do we stand against?
– What are we passionate about as a brand?
– What does our solution do for our audience (aspirational identity)
You don’t have to champion big topics like in-equality, or plastic in the ocean and in most cases these won’t align with your brand. Your purpose doesn’t have to matter to everyone and in most cases, this is the best way forward as it needs to matter to your specific audience.
Example continued – Veganutri
– What do we stand for as a brand? That everyone should have great tasting sports nutrition
– What do we stand against? Certain dietary requirements being sidelined by the market and having to compromise on taste
– What are we passionate about as a brand? Great tasting, high performing sports nutritional supplements.
– What does our solution do for our audience? Allows individuals with certain dietary requirements to feel as though they have a place in the sports and fitness community.
3. Define Value (Value of being)
Take what you have so far and decide which one of the 5 fields of human value (outlined above by Jim Stengel) feels the most appropriate for the brand.
Example continued Veganutri
Eliciting Joy – Every time our customers interact with our brand or try our products we want to elicit joy.
6. Bringing it all together
Bring together the inspiration for being, manifesto for being and value of being. Take a bit of time to look through the answers and see if there is a common thread running through. Now you’re ready to define your brand purpose, use all the previous answers to articulate the following:
Why you exist. Your brand purpose is the meaning behind your existence, an idealistic view of what you want to become to your audience
To make sure everyone has access to great tasting, high performing sports nutritional supplements.
Conclusion: Why brand purpose is important for the world.
Today’s environmental, political and ecological climate is all over the place with distrust in governments, cooperations, leaders and in some cases whole sections of our society on both sides of the spectrum.
In the past businesses weren’t held as accountable or scrutinized as much as they are today and in some cases this led to shady dealings, putting the business before it’s customers or the planet.
Now brands live their life under the microscope with customers having the ability to send a disgruntled tweet about their luke-warm burger or a stunning picture of their meal and post to Instagram instantaneously. This gives brands more access to customers in a way that was unheard of previously.
This allows brands to define a reason for being, get behind something and make a real difference to their customers and the world.