Why brands without purpose are falling behind

Nobody would have been surprised to read that nine of every ten business executives feel brand purpose matters, according to a recent Harvard Business Review article. The fact that only 46% believe their company has one, however, is more than a little worrying. Any brand that fails to determine their motivation outside profit, and share it both internally and externally, is almost certainly doomed for failure in today’s particularly cynical currency.

A quick glance at the world’s most successful companies reveals they’ve all got one thing in common: they lead with their principles. Whether it’s Apple and their commitment to disruptive innovation and change, summed up by ‘Think different’, or Amazon who are well on the way to achieving their aim of being ‘Earth’s Most Customer-centric Company’ – brands that define, articulate and live a purpose simply do better.

As Psychologist Dr. Constance Dierickx simply expresses “facts make people think, and feelings make them act,” – this statement rings more than a few marketing bells. Good product marketing can explain why a customer should buy from you, but in order to engage with your brand emotionally they need to understand the human thinking behind your business. This way, your offering will have a much more personal impact and a much higher chance of convincing your audience to choose you. The 89% of business executives who believe purpose is important were obviously right to do so. Rocket science it’s not. So why do so many brands still find themselves lacking in this area?

It takes unity to drive purpose

The biggest problem, as we see it, is the lack of alignment between a business, its employees and its customers. Of course, a brand’s purpose has to resonate enough with its customers to get their buy-in before it can make a meaningful impact. But achieving this resonance means getting every single member of your company, from tea-making intern to time-poor CEO, thinking and acting according to a shared ethos.

A catchy slogan won’t do the job by itself. As former CSR manager at Body Shop, Becky Willanneatly summed up in a recent interview ‘As custodians of the brand, marketers have a critical role to play but they can’t do it on their own. They need to be able to bring the rest of the organisation with them’. Before you start to see the external benefits, you need to cultivate a genuine sense of internal conviction, across all levels of your business, for your purpose and why it’s something to get behind.

Building your brand from the inside out

As with many things – the best way to start is by going back to basics and watching out for the distractions like technical details, the things you want to sell or the burning catchy campaign line that’s been dancing through your mind as you are trying to get to sleep. I’m not saying these don’t (sometimes, not always…) have a place – but it’s when you are trying to narrow it down to that one simple raison d’etre that you want to muddy the waters.

Lock yourselves in a room and don’t let anyone leave (I’m only half kidding) until you have answered one or two single-minded questions…”What was the original reason your business was founded?”. “Does its existence answer a societal problem or serve a purpose beyond profit – what is it?”. “What’s the one difference you are trying to make for your customers, your people, the world?” (it doesn’t hurt to think big).

The answers to these questions will begin to colour the meaning behind your company, but you need to be ruthless in then applying the ‘so what?’ test. It’s why, whenever we work with our clients to develop their proposition or narrative, we always begin with an in-depth immersion phase and we will provoke and challenge until we can unearth those real compelling points of difference. Gleaning insight from as wide a range of employees and invested stakeholders (or uninvested – we probably learn even more from them) as possible is a sure-fire way to paint a picture of a brand’s real purpose, culture and internally lived brand authenticity. Of course it can’t be design by committee, and we look to business leaders to guide the overall strategy and direction, but many of our clients have been surprised by what they’ve learned and the internal engagement they’ve achieved by bringing their people on the journey from the beginning.  

Then we find out what customers think or feel; the good, the bad and the ugly. Obvious, no? – To engage the people you really want to speak to? But you’d be surprised how many skip this critical stage, relying instead on generic, one size fits all personas, which will only ever give you an equally generic view. Genuine cut-through, in a world overloaded with brands competing for attention, requires a laser focus on the human connections you want your brand to create.

So make sure you secure this focus right from the outset as once you have a true sense of your purpose’s essence, and how it’s truly perceived internally and externally, it becomes much easier to build on it and develop a story that everyone can get behind. And from this point it’s a natural step for your employees to start living your values instead of your culture being forced from the top down. This lends an authenticity to your brand’s meaning, which will amplify its impact, and compel customers to take notice and engage with your business on a much deeper level.

Looking to build a more purposeful brand? Get in touch.

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