“Purpose” driven Branding is a flavor-of-the-month strategy on the verge of over-kill

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

If brand purpose feels new to you, that might be part of the problem. It has been around forever. Now it is at risk of being over-used. 

The Marketing community gets fixated on an idea and then ultimately over-does it to the point where we make it completely irrelevant. I just read that one retailer is starting their “Post Black Friday Sale” before Black Friday. Some days, we Marketers are complete idiots. We have used some tactics so much that we killed them, including bonus packs, BOGOs, 25% more, parity claims and side-by-side demonstrations. And now, we are on the verge of killing this whole brand purpose mythology.

I think we are on the verge of over-kill with Brand Purpose 

I believe brand purpose is an effective tool, when it fits. However, we should also realize that it should rarely fit. Don’t get fixated on a type of strategy before you know where you really are today. the why of brand purpose

I just read that Unilever has shifted 50% of their brands into a purpose-driven brand positioning. I love the Dove brand and everything it stands for. It’s a great case study for purpose driven Marketing. However, if we make every brand into a purpose driven brand, then we are at risk of destroying a potentially strong tool. I predict three years from now, the next Unilever CMO will be shifting many of their brands away from purpose, realizing that while it worked for Dove, it might not work for margarine, ice cream, deodorant or razor blades.

Imagine how annoying life would be if every TV ad was 90 seconds long and telling the life story of the founder and owner of the company. Sadly, if we move every brand to a purpose-driven brand, that’s what life would look like. The consumer will eventually tire of this tactic and begin rejecting every story, including those rare cases when the brand purpose actually matters.

You should be careful of those Brand Consultants or Brand Strategists from Ad Agencies, who come in with a fixation on a type of strategy before they even engage your brand. If the strategist mentions brand purpose before they even understand your brand, be careful because they might be on the verge of applying their one-size-fits-all-flavor-of-the-month type strategy. I am assuming it seems sexier for Strategists to want to tell your extremely personal story of why you do what you do. Equally, many leaders would love to gush over their own ego-filled story and pump those thoughts out into the market. However, the consumer just might not care about your purpose. Case in point is Starbucks who has tried with blank coffee cups at Christmas and the #RaceTogether campaign. Both were completely rejected by consumers who basically have told the brand “we don’t care about your purpose”.

You should think your strategy through on a deeper level as the strategy you choose for where to go next, should really depend on where you are today. Build around your core strength.

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail

If you think every brand should communicate their brand purpose to consumers, you likely don’t understand how consumers operate. You likely have bought into this “Start with why” by Simon Sinek, who said that consumers don’t buy what you do, they buy into why you do it. That is complete B.S. To an industry person, this sounds like fun but it is just not true. Simon Sinek says that consumers buy Apple, not because it is simple to use and user friendly but because Apple likes to challenge the status quo and Apple believes in thinking differently. That is pure bunk. Go ask 1,000 of your average consumers who are not employed in marketing, advertising, computers or consulting, and I will bet you won’t find 10 consumers who buy Apple because of their brand purpose. Sure, “Start with Why” is a fun speech at a Ted Talk and a fun book to read, but the worst thing a Marketer can ever do is start to talk to ourselves. The second worst thing we can do is to take ourselves too seriously.

Consumers buy benefits still!!!! I love to say that consumers are the most selfish animals on the planet, and rightfully so because they hold the cash. It is not an insult to consumers, but more of a challenge for the marketer to actually figure out how to get the consumers to hand over their hard-earned cash. Consumers have to get something (functional) or feel something (emotional) for them to hand over that cash. But very rarely, will they opt to buy something, just because of the purpose. That’s a lie!

Externally, Apple is a story-led brand that tells the story of simplicity, not a purpose-led brand

In reality, the brand purpose barely shows up in the Apple brand. Consumers are buying Apple because they generally hate computers, they are frustrated with all technology and they see Apple as the simple solution that enables them to be smarter. It has nothing to do with all that challenging stuff that Simon Sinek says. Yes, consultants and agency types loved Steve Jobs and the 1997 “Think Different” Apple advertising. If Apple’s stated purpose was so powerful, then why did Apple struggle until 2001 whey found the iPod and iTunes. Sure the purpose drove the internal pursuit of new products. I’m completely fine with purpose driving every internal cultural. But, Apple’s purpose was not an immediate success, until the selfish consumers saw they could get something from iTunes before they were willing to hand over their hard-earned cash.

The big idea for Apple is “We make technology so simple that everyone can be part of the future”. This big idea shows up in everything they do, whether it is the advertising, their innovation, how they manage the purchase moment or the brand experience.

  • Almost all their advertising portrays “Technology should not be frustrating. We make it easy to do more or get more.” By the way, stop thinking Apple is a challenger brand. They are a mass-power player, like IBM of the 1980’s or Microsoft of the 1990’s.
  • They portray their innovation as “Surprising leap-frog technology around simplicity.” In reality, nearly every Apple product is a me-too copy of some technology that was packaged in such a confusing way, the consumer didn’t get it. (mp3 players, tablets or PC software).
  • As they manage the purchase moment they allow consumers to try, touch, feel in a soft sell retail store, so they can see how easy the products are and how they will work in their lives.
  • In terms of the consumer experience, they enable consumers to get the most from their Apple products. Straight out of the box, integration across platforms or the fully integrated Apple Care support programs.

There are 4 types of brands, all great, just it really depends on your brand’s core strength


how to use brand purpose with consumers


We believe there are 4 types of brands: product-led, story-led, experience-led and price-led. The purpose-led would be one of the types of story-led brands. All are great strategies that are really dependent on what is the core strength of your brand. Many brand leaders have their marketing strategy wrong, when it comes to aligning everything behind the right strength. Those that struggle with this usually struggle being honest with themselves as to what they really are, or they have this hidden desire to be something they are not. Trust me, there are lots of those brands around. The best brands know exactly who they are and stick with it.

  • Product led Brands: With product as your core strength, the strategy should focus on being better, building around continuous innovation and a rational selling approach. Ensure promise and experience built around product. Establish your reputation as the superior brand in the category, defending against any challengers to your position. Continue to invest in Innovation to stay ahead of competitors, being the leader in technology, claims, and new formats. You should be leveraging product-focused mass communication, directly calling attention to the superiority and differences in your product versus the competitors. Use product reviews and key influencers to support your brand. Build the “how you do it” into your brand story, to re-enforce point of difference. Use rational selling to move consumers along the buying system. As the brand matures and moves towards being more loved, challenge the brand to drive an emotional connection to help evolve and grow. Tide is a dominant product led brand. No one wants to know their brand purpose. They just want to know that Tide will get their clothes whiter. Five Guys is an amazing burger, Ruth’s Chris is a great steak and Rolex is the world’s greatest watch. Each of these product brands should be projecting how they are better than other products
  • Brand Story led Brands: With the brand story as your core strength, the strategy should focus on being different, building around being different, supported by emotional brand communication, that connects motivated consumers with the concept on a deeper emotional level. Focus on building a big idea that connects quickly with a core group of motivated consumers, and then everything (story, product, experience) can be lined up under it. Invest in emotional brand communication that connects with a motivated audience. Build a community of core “brand lovers” to influence others in their network. A soft-sell approach, based on tapping into emotions that helps to influence the potential consumer. Know the impact of price, as to when it matters and when it does not. Do not bring price to the forefront, as it can take away from the idea. The brands that tell their story include Apple, Nike, Tesla and Dove.
  • Consumer Experience led Brands: With the consumer experience as your core strength, the strategy and organization should focus on linking culture very closely to your brand. After all, your people are your product. As you go to market, invest in influencers and social media to support and spread the word of your experience. Use the brand purpose (“Why you do what you do”) and values to inspire and guide the team leadership and service behaviors. Focus on building a culture and organization with the right people, who can deliver incredible experiences. Invest in training the face of the brand. In terms of Marketing Communications, you will need to be patient as the consumer needs to experience what it feels like before they are willing to speak on its behalf. Effective tools include word of mouth, earned media, social media, on-line reviews, use of key influencers and testimonials. Too much marketing emphasis on price can diminish the perceived consumer experience. Some of the most amazing experience brands such as Ritz-Carlton and Starbucks have created a customer focused culture on the lookout for over-delivering the brand promise.
  • Price led Brands: With price as your core strength, the strategy focus on efficiency and drive lowest possible cost into the products you sell. Fast moving items means high turns and high volume. You have to be better at the fundamentals around production and sourcing. Price brands own the low price positioning, attacking any challengers. Need good solid products. Consumers are willing to accept lower experience.The focus should be on business efficiency built around low-cost, fast-moving, high-volume items. Invest in production and sourcing, using power to win negotiations. Use call-to-action style marketing communication, to drive purchase. Hard to maintain “low price” while fighting off perception that you are “cheap”. Many price brands struggle to drive an emotional connection to the brand. Brands like Walmart, McDonald’s or Kia have to find smarter ways be cheaper for the consumer.

how to use brand purpose with consumers

Brand Purpose is an amazing weapon to drive your organizational support internally, as the beacon to the culture and organization that support the brand. Regardless of whether you are a product, story, price or experience brand, the purpose can help motivate, guide and influence daily decisions internally. But it should rarely be used with consumers, only when it actually matters to consumers. Otherwise, you are just wasting your money and adding to clutter of brand purpose stories that don’t connect with consumers.

Let’s figure where to use Purpose with consumers, and where not to use it. Before we destroy it completely. 

Brands need to stand out to win! Brands have four choices: better, different, cheaper or not around for very long. Your brand positioning statement must be simple, unique, own-able and motivating enough to get consumers to think, feel or act differently about your brand. To read more about how to drive your Brand Positioning, here is our workshop that shows everything you need to know, to have the smarts of strategy, the discipline of leadership and the passion of creativity to generate brand love in today’s modern world.

Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, we promise that we will make your brand stronger and your brand leaders smarter. We provide a new way to look at Brand Management, that uses a provocative approach to align your brand to the sound fundamentals of brand management. We use workshop sessions to help your team create a winning brand positioning that separates your brand in the market, write focused brand plans that everyone can follow and we help you find advertising that drives growth for your brand. We will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they can produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. Our Beloved Brands training center offers 10 training workshops to get your team of brand leaders ready for success in brand management–including strategic and analytical thinking, writing brand plans, positioning statements and creative brief, making decisions on creative advertising and media plans.

To contact us, email us at graham@beloved-brands.com or call us at 416-885-3911.You can also find us on Twitter @belovedbrands.


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