The purpose debate rages on. At the beginning of the year, Terry Smith, the founder and Chief Exec of Fundsmith Equity, heaped criticism on famously purpose-led Unilever. “A company which feels it has to define the purpose of Hellmann’s mayonnaise has in our view clearly lost the plot.” For Smith, Unilever’s recent poor returns were the fault of a leadership team “obsessed with publicly displaying sustainability credentials at the expense of focusing on the fundamentals of the business.”
Whilst the importance of signalling sustainability credentials can be debated, for us at Brand Vista, brand purpose isn’t about this or any other virtuous characteristic that could (or arguably should…) play a role in any brand or product. It’s about setting out the reason why your organisation exists – and why your people come to work in the morning – in a way that distinguishes you from your competition. This purpose should speak directly to your target customer, not everyone, providing a clear identity that your target customer… well, identifies with.
We might have known for some time that building an emotional connection with customers matters more than customer satisfaction, but this must be a connection build on relevance and credibility. In other words, we need to be clear that we have a right to play in the space that we want to occupy.
With the brand purpose of ‘breaking v-zone taboos to free women from stigma’, Bodyform is a brilliant example of a brand finding the powerful intersection between its product and the needs, motivations, and drivers of its customer. Their brand website beautifully brings this purpose to life, creating a taboo-busting sense of community. Their ‘#wombstories’ campaign authentically highlighted real, common, but often unspoken, stories surrounding periods. Emotive, credible, and relevant.
Contrast this with Pepsi’s infamously disastrous “Live for Now” campaign, where they aimed to “project a global message of unity, peace and understanding.” The brand attempted to carve out purpose and emotional connection in a space where they had no credibility and little understanding. It backfired in a dramatic way.
Whilst certain products, and their relationship with their customer base, might naturally lend themselves to deeper emotional resonance than others – maintaining a handle on your right to play is critical. Purpose doesn’t necessarily need to be noble; it simply needs to be motivating for customer and colleagues – giving them to a reason to choose you over your competition.
Alton Towers’ brand purpose is ‘to banish the ordinary’ – it's not noble, and it’s only partially emotive but, crucially, it’s highly credible, distinctive in the theme park context, and sets a clear direction for alignment within the customer experience.
Forget to examine your right to play, and the result could be humiliation (at best) or even, as in Pepsi’s case, global condemnation. Find that intersection between your offer and your customer’s needs and motivations, however, and brand purpose can be a powerful tool for motivating colleagues and attracting customers; establishing strong, long-lasting connection.
Brand Vista has helped the likes of Greene King, Merlin Entertainments and the LTA define their credible, motivating and distinctive brand purpose. Get in touch to find out how we could do the same for you.
Brand Purpose: do you have a right to play?
Kate is Brand Vista’s Head of Strategy. With a background in innovation & strategy consulting across a range of sectors, she loves helping clients develop distinct brands, aligned experiences and transformational ways of working.
Find out more about Kate