I stumbled upon a Harvard University commencement address some time ago, where Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke about how having a purpose that is greater than oneself makes life worth living. And his thought-provoking speech got me wondering about the whole concept of raison d’être — especially with regard to brands.
A couple of decades ago, having brand purpose would not have mattered as much as it does today — thanks to the sharp rise in purchasing power. People’s needs drastically shifted from survival to existential, with an increasing number of consumers searching for meaning in everything they do. That’s why in today’s brand communications, all that really matters is ‘why’ a brand does what it does. People are no longer interested in passively purchasing a product or service. They want to feel like they are part of a larger purpose, a force of good that they can associate themselves with. And there are numbers to back up this claim — according to an international conglomerate, their brands with a clear purpose performed 30% better than the ones without.
Now, what does all this mean?
Your purpose is your biggest value proposition.
If you are looking at building a sustainable business, start looking for a strong message that you’d like to advocate for. This is crucial to making an emotional connection with the audience. I’d suggest brands take the threefold approach given by motivational speaker Simon Sinek. He proposed a model called the ‘Golden Circle’ — which I believe is highly beneficial for startups and upcoming brands who are looking to make lasting impact. According to the model, brands need to ask themselves three crucial questions:
This is the core question — and your answer to this is the foundation that you lay for the rest of your brand communications. I’d advise you to pick a belief or view that both you and your audiences care about. It can be anything from education to entrepreneurship, depending on what your brand does and means to the world. The best example of ‘why’ is that of a popular cola brand which stands for spreading happiness around the world. All its communication campaigns, from print to digital, are all built around this simple yet powerful intention.
Once you’ve figured out why you do what you do, the next step would be the ‘how-to’ or the action plan for achieving your purpose. This involves your breaking your bigger story into small, actionable steps. For example, if the purpose of your brand is to promote environmentally friendly, ethical fashion, your plan to accomplish the purpose would include encouraging dialogue around fast fashion and talking about your company policies that support fair labor, and so on.
Now, simply telling your target group what you believe and how you are going to approach it isn’t enough. Audiences believe in doers more than sayers — so show people what you do, transparently — with what being the operative word here. If your brand is conducting a certain CSR activity, tell the audience how what you did impacted lives. Concentrate on the end result by including testimonials, videos, pictures, and just about anything that speaks for you.
Now that I’ve laid a path for you to find your brand purpose, I’d like to present you with the biggest learning of all — don’t underestimate the power of humility. Many brands in the past got caught up in weaving grand narratives, eventually losing their authenticity. A well-known example of this is a soap brand that launched a body positivity campaign featuring diverse body types. Initially, it was a great success — however, the company made a wrong move, when they launched limited edition packaging modeled around diverse bodies. These soap bottles were abstract and shapeless, sending out a wrong message. What began with great momentum became a huge debacle. The lesson here? Know when to stop, pre-empt reactions, and most importantly, be sensitive — both when it comes to crafting your purpose and when talking about it!
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