I recommend all strategic/brand marketers read these three books*:
“It’s not what you sell, it’s what you stand for.” – Roy Spence
“Start with why.” – Simon Sinek
“ZAG” – Marty Neumeier
If I had to choose only two Planning paradigms to use forever on a desert island, one of them would be Purpose.
A lot of marketers talk about Purpose. And with good reason. It’s a brand’s reason for being.
Somet clients say the reason they are in business is to make money. To increase shareholder value. Okay. But does that story sell anything? Will customers jump on board simply to help a brand make money? No. Will people talk about that brand? Doubtful.
Purpose-driven brands get talked about.
What is a brand Purpose? Let me regurgitate a little wisdom from Roy Spence. I like his definition: It’s a brand’s reason for being, beyond making money.
Put another way, what is the change this brand aims to affect in the world?
Brand Purpose is distinct from brand values, or beliefs. Values and beliefs are passive. Descriptive. A brand’s Purpose is active. Purpose sets a brand on a mission to DO something. And therein lies its power.
Here’s one example. We recently evolved one of our brands; we had been saying they stand for “spontaneity.” Now they stand for “Thrill.” These two words are related, but “spontaneity” wasn’t a mission. It merely described the shopping mindset they hoped to deliver on. Calling it Thrill makes it more active. This brand is out to Thrill you, in every channel, even in little ways. (Lucky for us, the brand delivers on this operationally; its own bit of difference in a crowded parity category.) To Thrill was a bigger ambition.
Other (better) examples of Purpose-driven brands are all around us. Look at the most inspiring startups; many are born out of Purpose. Take Kickstarter. It’s purpose is to fuel creative projects. Is it making money? Nobody cares; we’re all talking about how the ARTISTS are making money – that’s Kickstarter delivering on its Purpose. Even Facebook never set out to make billions. Instead, it set out to change the world. In his IPO filing letter, Zuck wrote, “We don’t build services so we can make money. We make money so we can build services.” Dear CMOs, CEOs, and CFOs, think about that.
These Purpose-driven brands get our attention, our conversations, and our fandom.
Let’s take a step back. When planning your brand, there are many ways in. Such as, cultural context, targeting influencers, earned media, creating killer content, choice architecture, challenger brand marketing, blue oceans, changing habits, participation marketing … the list of constructs goes on and on. But before a brand gets to any of that, it must first know itself, and what mission it’s on. It must start with a Purpose. Why does this company/brand exist? To change what in the world?
A clearly articulated answer makes everything else much easier. Since marketing budgets are never big enough to do all want, we have to make choices. A brand Purpose makes these choices easy. When we cooperate with vendors and channel partners, or even other brands, a clear brand Purpose makes it easy to brief them; your partners understand exactly what you’re trying to do, and they can run with it. Internally, a clear brand Purpose will inspire lateral thinking, and loosen your process from incremental year-over-year comp planning. It will breed original strategies, and tactics your competition wouldn’t think of. These become “exponential ideas.” They lead to exponential results.
Purpose gives a company a reason to act, and it gives its customers a reason to talk. Put another way, people don’t get very excited about features, benefits, and copy points. They’ll get excited about a brand on a mission.
So, how do you decide on a brand Purpose? There are a few useful tools. In the book ZAG, the Different/Better matrix, and “The only …” mad lib exercise. Or, follow the many great examples in Mr. Spence’s book, from brands like Southwest Airlines, BMW, WalMart, and the PGA.
My advice is to go ahead and be lofty. Yes, anchor it in your category/core competency, but your Purpose HAS to be emotional. It has to fulfill a fundamental human need. (For a short list of 5, check Jim Stengel’s book, Grow.) For example, instead of your purpose being “To consistently deliver the widest assortment of widgets to Moms,” try something more elevated, like “To turn a woman’s closet into the place dreams come true.” Or more realistically, “To eradicate disappointment from every woman’s closet.” (Given a few days of C-level thinking, these start to get better.)
Another tip: when you write a brand Purpose, don’t phrase it as a goal. “To become the #1 top of mind widget-maker in America” is not a Purpose. Your Purpose is different than a measurable objective. Think of Purpose as a rallying cry. Something that will inspire your customers and employees alike. The brand’s raison d’etre. If your objectives are the finish line, the Purpose is why you’re running toward it.
Why do we root for the athlete who’s family member is sick or dying? Because they aren’t merely playing to win. They are playing with Purpose, and we are riveted. That story becomes THE story. Same goes for brands. If you’re playing with a Purpose, people will watch, and talk. It leads to the kind of support that moves the bottom line exponentially.
Dear CMO, if you haven’t articulated your Purpose, please go back. Do yourself a favor. Take the first step first. Dear marketing strategists/planners, do the same. If you do it well and refer to it often, it will give your brand not only direction, but momentum as well.
For more thoughts on how to frame a brand’s Purpose, click HERE. (“The 3 Sizes of Purpose.”)
* There are many other good books about brand Purpose, but I like these ones.
** The other would be Disruption/ZAG. Together with Purpose, a brand has a one-two punch that puts it leaps and bounds ahead.