Purpose is everything

Kamal Dimachkie is managing director UAE, Kuwait and Lower Gulf at Leo Burnett

Adapting advertising to emotions during downturns may help revive economies

“Financial meltdowns, slowdowns, recessions and storms have one thing in common: they send people scurrying for cover. This is a normal response to severe and sudden discomfort or pain brought about by a sudden turnaround of fortunes and a knee-jerk reaction to avoid discomfort, stop the pain or return to normal. Yet, while this reaction to seek shelter during a downpour may be reflexive and normal, it is not necessarily the best response. During hard times not many of us think of jumping feet first into a torrent, yet sometimes, it is exactly what we need to do.

Marketing’s track record in general is very encouraging. It has helped build countless brands throughout the years and allowed them to successfully dominate entire market segments, areas or geographies. Why? Because marketing at its best is not manipulation, it is a genuine attempt to reach out to an audience and communicate something of service to them. “We call it HumanKind. Simple, straight-forward, down-to-earth – it’s all about talking to people, like people and treating people the way they like to be treated.

Behind every business’ success lies the ability to influence people’s behaviour. To do that you need more than advertising. You need an act; a deed not words. In today’s market of over saturation and buzzword phenomena, product advantage can be erased overnight and messaging can be replicated. Act creation that delivers layers of brand experience may be the last source of true differentiation.

But how do you guide an act? Through a meaningful purpose. A purpose is not a promise, a position or a benefit. A purpose is what drives the world. It is a mission to achieve something of value, something people relate to, something they aspire to. Purpose brands attract more than customers, they attract believers. And believers make for loyal consumers over time.

Studies have shown that purpose-driven marketing helps to build brands even more during recessionary times. But why? Well implemented, purpose-driven-marketing during a recession provides a unique window of opportunity to: build equity; solidify customer base; gain new customers; and make inroads on competitors who have cut their advertising during the recession period.

These windows of opportunity are created by the understanding that purpose-driven communication is an investment, not an expense especially during recessions. People’s attention and needs shift dramatically during economic adversity. They are no longer concerned with luxuries, instead their focus is on survival.

In these hard times, they also seek out more security and a new sense of purpose. This presents a wonderful opportunity for brands who care to genuinely reset their relationship with their respective audiences at a time when other brands will be cutting back to reduce expenses. By adapting their purpose and branding message to the audience’s current mindset, companies who communicate during downturns can find new meaningful ways to re-engage their audience at a time where people are not oversaturated by marketing from other brands.

If their purpose and corresponding message are strong and clear and considerate of people’s turbulent emotions, they will be delivered easily and accepted quickly, bonding the audience with the brand. In the midst of a recession, companies can retool their marketing message to engage clients in a meaningful and relevant way. To do that, brands need to first identify their purpose in people’s lives.
Recessions are opportunities to shake off frivolities and concentrate on what is real. By doing this, companies become stronger, more trustworthy. Whether you believe advertising during a recession is a good thing or not, one thing cannot be denied; recognition decreases when advertising decreases. Several studies on this topic conducted by McGraw-Hill revealed that firms who cut back on advertising during downturns experienced little, if any, growth.

On a more global level, economists have often argued that a chain reaction of fearful downturn anticipatory marketing cuts could cause recession fears to become self-fulfilling prophecies prolonging downturns. What if instead of increasing profits, as most companies expect, marketing cutbacks really only reduce demand? This would only result in less consumer spending slowing down the recovery process.
Indeed, many economists theorise that modern recessions have been intensified and prolonged by marketing cutbacks. They argue that recessions could be helped by encouraging greater advertising. By using the right purpose-driven message during a downturn, companies can not only develop stronger bonds with their consumers, they can also in turn promote consumption, strengthening the economy and speeding up recovery.

This is especially true in the Middle East, which has not only suffered less during the recent crisis. This means there is still a strong power of consumption, the area is also relatively unsaturated. Unlike other mature markets, there is a lot of room for advertising to grow. Most brands have not yet dominated a single segment and there is a space for aggressive well-planned marketing to secure such a powerful place. The Middle East region consists of a large market – 22 countries and more than 300 million people – that has yet to mature. Indeed, with purpose-driven marketing, brands in this region have all the leverage they need to define themselves as leaders in their segments.”