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BW Businessworld

Purpose First, Business Next

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It is true that brands have lives and live lives like humans; and yet, there is one crucial difference. We humans live our lives, desperately trying to discover its purpose. Many seek out life gurus, or take a trip to the Himalayas to discover the purpose of life. It’s almost as if not knowing that well-kept secret, which prevents us from really ‘living’.

But brands, on the other hand, are created by us humans, and we need to determine and define the purpose of the brand that we create. The secret lies with us. The amusing thing is, that sometimes we, the creators or custodians of brands, tend to forget the purpose of the brand we create. The journey, then, is bound to be a big bumpy ride. No wonder ‘brand gurus’ are in demand!

It’s simple actually. The secret to a brand’s purpose will be clear if you ask two simple questions:
1. Why should the brand exist today?
2. Why should the brand exist in the future?

Try answering them. While they may sound simple, they are actually difficult to answer. We humans are often overambitious, and sometimes, quite greedy. In the pursuit to get better returns, more returns, or simply trying to demonstrate one-upmanship, the brand purpose gets lost. You got it right! Even brands have egos which cloud their purpose.

Here is a battery of questions which could help you articulate your brand purpose:
1. Why should someone work with you or work for you?
2. Why should someone buy from you?
3. Why should someone respect you?
4. Why should someone keep coming back to you?
5. Why should someone talk about you, or share ideas and opinions about you?

Gaining or improving brand awareness, brand recognition, brand loyalty, brand growth, etc., cannot be the brand purpose. They are the fundamental requirements of a brand, for any brand. When you say ‘brand’, it is an innate desire for the brand to have an identity, which seeks to create better awareness, recognition, and growth. Gaining or improvising them is tactical in nature, and does not define the brand’s purpose.

Determining the brand purpose directs you to move in a particular direction. It connects people internally and externally with a definite purpose. It inspires people, keeps people on track, and also helps people organise the brand.

Knowing or determining the brand purpose is not merely about having clarity on what needs to be done. It brings purpose to not only the brand’s user, but also within the organization or the company. Every individual gets to know why s/he comes to the office or factory they work at, and understands what is expected of them every day.

It acts like an everyday-appraisal, and constantly enables them to evaluate, if all ideas and actions are in line with the purpose or not. Before we get down to looking at some examples, it is important to understand that a purpose statement is only as good as what you believe, and depends on how you say it. If the purpose statement lacks passion or conviction, it is bound to show up, sooner or later. It is equally important to determine how the purpose statement expresses itself.

The purpose can be expressed in many ways, without necessarily stating it as a purpose statement. It could get expressed in many forms—as a vision-mission statement, a motto line, a tagline, a positioning statement, a boiler template, etc. Eventually, it will dictate what the brand does, and how it does it, and what it strives to celebrate as an achievement.

Recently, a real estate client showed me the corporate brochure of another realty company, and their mission statement read: ‘To delight our customers with quality construction, executed with high degree of professionalism’.

‘Delighting customers’ and ‘quality construction’ are basic expectations from a realty company, and my client wondered how the statement could ever inspire anyone internally or externally. Interestingly, the statement made him ponder over the possibility of substandard construction material being used. If not for the declared statement, the quality aspect would not have come under question.

Purpose statements, in any form of expression, are not meant to be feel-good statements to adorn corporate lobby walls, or as a fill-in for corporate websites. Keeping the purpose statement simple and inspiring can become memorable, enabling a highly productive engagement between the company, its employees, and all the stakeholders, vendors, influencers, and brand champions.

Look at any photograph of Disneyland around the world. Not surprisingly, you will often see as many, or more adults, as children. The reason, I believe, is rooted in its purpose statement.

‘Keeping alive the magic of childhood.’ It simply means, that if there is a child in you, then you are going to have a great time. This is not by default, but by design, rooted in its purpose statement.

A well-crafted purpose statement can provide the focus and motivation to your business, as the Starbucks mission statement does, which says—‘To inspire and nurture the human spirit, one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time’.

In retrospect, you will find a well-articulated purpose statement in all well-built legendary brands; and you will also find them to be consistent, clear, and compelling, because of their conviction in their purpose. All marketing, communication, and consumer engagement activities will be based on this.

Even today, you will find Coca-Cola’s growth, leadership, sustainability, and its marketing and communication engagements, stemming from its mission statement, which reads—‘At The Coca-Cola Company, we strive to refresh the world, inspire moments of optimism and happiness, create value, and make a difference’.

If you look at another iconic brand, Google, you will find that everything they do today, whether it’s their search engine, YouTube, Google Play, Maps, Gmail, or news delivery, is because of the clarity in with its purpose. Their mission is simple and relevant with a universal purpose—‘To organise the world’s information, and make it universally accessible and useful’.

Another way to observe the power of a purpose statement is to always see it from an end-consumer’s point of view, examine what need is being addressed, and how. The clarity of eBay about its domain and a universal consumer need, is captured in its purpose statement as—‘To provide a global trading platform, where practically anyone can trade, practically anything’. Speaking of needs, it is worth noting Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity’s vow—‘To give, wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor’. The clarity of its purpose, its end need, and the manner in which it shall fulfil its purpose is single-minded and consistent even today, which makes for a strong and enduring brand.

And now, here is the secret behind all these expressions of purpose. All of them acknowledge and address a human purpose. At the end of the day, brands engage with human needs and emotions. It’s time we called them ‘humansumer,’ rather than ‘consumer’.

Brands, in the context of humansumers, have two fundamental roles, which are cardinal. One is to make the unfamiliar familiar, i.e., reinforce an existing perspective; and the other is to present the most familiar with a fresh perspective.

A highly complex technology called a processor, is made familiar, when it is branded and communicated as an Intel Core Processor; or a mobile technology platform is made familiar, when it is branded as Android. A highly familiar portable audio player can be presented with a fresh perspective, as an iPod.

Extracted with permission from Bloomsbury India