Digital Essays 2017: Building brand purpose – by Shyam Sunder, senior marketing and ecommerce head, and lead member of the group marketing committee, Landmark Group

In an always-on digital marketing world, having strong brand purpose becomes essential to the process of engaging customers and changing their behaviour. From brand proposition to brand

positioning to brand purpose, we have witnessed a transformation in how brands communicate with their customers over the years. Great brands such as Nike, Dove and Samsung have evolved their marketing content in an attempt to keep up with fast-changing customer behaviour and habits. From that perspective, building brand purpose is an imperative for brand custodians if they are truly passionate about engaging the millennial and Gen X audiences.

The best definition of brand purpose I have heard is ‘a higher-order reason for a brand to exist than just making a profit’. Simon Sinek’s work around the ‘why’ of a brand is the best starting

point in building purpose. Knowing the deeper ‘why’ of your company’s or brand’s existence provides the foundation on which to build everything else:your ‘how’ (organisational culture, brand experience) and your ‘what’ (what products or services you offer).

Tesla is a great example. This is Tesla’s brand purpose: “Tesla’s mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport.”

‘How’ they did it was by creating a culture of technology, design and innovation, fuelled by an ambition to move the world away from polluting fossil fuels. ‘What’ they created to do it was a series of supercool electric vehicles as well as the entire infrastructure (a network of charging stations and a massive factory to make cost-efficient batteries) to support them. As Tesla founder Elon Musk himself put it: “Putting in long hours for a corporation is hard. Putting in long hours for a cause is easy.”

The people who work for Tesla are surely galvanised by the sheer ambition behind the brand purpose of the company, which invests their work with meaning. Similarly, the customers who buy Tesla vehicles are also drawn to the deeper ‘good’ that driving a supercool electric vehicle results in: zero emissions to combat climate change, and being on the cutting edge of a clean energy revolution.

Recently I had the privilege to speak to the Global MBA Marketing batch of 2017 at the SP Jain College of Global Manage- ment. I picked the same topic of ‘brand purpose’ and screened some of the best work from across the world to demonstrate how brands are excelling in marketing communications by being aware of the ‘Why’. Some of the examples I showcased were:

Nike: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. If you have a body, you are an athlete.”

Starbucks: “Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time.”

Google: “To organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

Coca-Cola: “To refresh the world…To inspire moments of optimism and happiness.”

Walmart: “Saving people money so they can live better.”

However, having a clear and compelling brand purpose isn’t some hippy-dippy fad. There is empirical data that points to how purpose-driven companies and brands outperform their competitors on multiple levels.

Two of the biggest marketers in the world – Unilever and P&G – have demonstrated the virtues of building purpose, across their portfolio of brands. Jim Stengel, the former CMO of Procter and Gamble, in his book Grow, showed the results of a 10-year study of 50,000 brands and found that the ones that centered around improving people’s lives beat their category competitors by significant margins. It revealed that:

  • • The 50 highest-performing businesses are the ones driven by ‘brand ideals’ (his term for purpose).
  • • These 50 businesses grew three times faster than their competitors.
  • • An investment in them would have been 400 percent more profitable than an investment in the S&P 500.

Unilever CMO Keith Weed has also publicly stated that the highest- performing brands in their portfolio (growing at twice the speed of the others) are purpose-driven brands. In fact, he has gone so far as to say

that “sustainability isn’t a moral issue for Unilever; it is an economic issue.” So its not by chance that we see brands such as Always and Dove strongly communicating their purpose, garnering millions of eyeballs with their ‘thumb- stopping’work. This keeps these brands relevant with their customers and results in increasing market shares and sweeping away awards at international advertising festivals.

Here are the five fields of Brand Purpose we can explore:

1. Eliciting joy: e.g. Coca-Cola … exists to inspire moments of happiness.

2. Enabling connection: e.g. FedEx … exists to bring peace of mind to everyday connections.

3. Inspiring exploration: e.g. Airbnb … exists to empower creative exploration and open new experiences.

4. Evoking pride: e.g. Mercedes-Benz … exists to epitomise a lifetime of achievement.

5. Impacting society: e.g. Dove … exists to celebrate every woman’s unique beauty.

And it is not about customers alone. I am a strong believer that great brands are first built internally. Survey after survey shows that people want not only to work for a company where their contributions will be valued but also to work for companies that have a deeper reason for being than only profit. For instance, a Deloitte survey found: “Millennials would prioritise the sense of purpose around people rather than growth or profit maximisation.” So to future-proof ourselves for the next generations of talent, brands need to find a meaningfulness in what they do.

From a Middle East perspective, while there has been a sharp rise in ‘purpose-driven’ work, brand purpose has not been fully integrated into the DNA of brands or organisations. So we see communication that runs parallel, emanating from a siloed rather than a holistic approach. A major misconception is that purpose is solely about social good initiatives, sustainability, CSR or cause marketing. All of these things can be outputs of a good brand purpose but they are by no means the only possible ones. A great purpose should manifest itself in everything a brand does: from product development to customer experience to how it conducts its marketing.

Home-grown brands have a great opportunity to learn from international brands and go beyond the ‘What’ and ‘How’ to start asking ‘Why’! And to walk the talk, you will soon see yet another transformation from the brand I take care of: Centrepoint. Watch this space.