Brand purpose

Is brand purpose just another piece of marketing jargon or should we take it seriously?

Tom Fishbourne's cartoons are always perceptive about modern marketing and his take on the misuse of brand purpose (above) is no exception.

Purpose has been a hot topic in business and branding for about a decade now and of course there is a backlash.

There is an understandable cynicism about businesses misusing ideas such as purpose - though consumers are very quick to expose brands that are not authentic and consistent in how they behave.

However, there are also respected marketing authors who wonder isn't purpose just another way to talk about positioning?

In my opinion, this view underestimates the role of employee engagement and business culture in building brands: people want to do meaningful and purposeful work.

It also underplays the importance of non-product brands in the economy: from service brands, through retailers to NGOs, brands are delivered through people. It helps with brand consistency if those people are aligned around a common purpose.

How should we think about our brand purpose?

You've probably come across your own examples of successful people describing their personal values, motivations and purpose.

Richard Reed, one of the founders of Innocent Drinks describes his desire "to leave things better than we find them. "

For Vicki Escara, once a senior leader with Delta airlines and now CEO of Opportunity International,  it was about "becoming a better global citizen"

These are inspirational examples but they also seem to set the bar very high - do all brands need a lofty 'big' purpose? Isn't it enough to just help our consumers and customers as best we can?

It turns out that  both are relevant.

Big purpose, little purpose or both?

Marketers themselves are confused about purpose and how 'big' it should be. This recent Adage article highlights how "Marketers see it as the bigger picture, but people see it as what you do in daily life."

(Clearly, marketers are not people!)


In fact, there are two different types of purpose: the reason the brand was created in the first place and the role it plays in the customer's life and both are 'big' purposes.

It is important to be clear about why you created your brand and its part in  the 'big picture'. This aspect of your brand acts as a beacon for both customers and employees.

It also keeps you focused on what motivates you and what motivates you is also what you are likely to do well.

It is also important to be clear about your purpose in your customers' lives. This is your brand role and should match very closely to customers' everyday needs.

The best brand strategy and brand positioning helps you connect these two aspects of your brand.

Brands that connect purpose and role

Innocent Drinks' desire to 'leave things better than we find them' connects very clearly to the types of products they make, how they choose to bring them to market and all the brand's other unique behaviors.

Dove Real Beauty "helps encourage girls to develop a positive relationship with beauty, helping to raise their self-esteem and thereby enabling them to realize their full potential". The types of products marketed by Dove, the claims made about them and the intended customer experience are key to this. These are  "products which tangibly improve the condition of skin or hair and give a pleasurable experience of care".

Opportunity International attracted Vicki Escara as CEO because it allowed her to align her personal purpose of being a better global citizen with the organization's purpose of 'giving the poor a working chance' via Microfinance.

All of these brands show how connecting purpose and role is a lever for success.

3 key questions to ask about your brand purpose:

1. Does your personal purpose align with your brand and business purpose?

2. Does your brand purpose connect with the role that your products or services play in everyday life?

3. Does your purpose transcend the immediate scope of your business?