KH Insight Report—04
No brand strategy presentation in the last 5 years is complete without a mug shot of Simon Sinek, the self-proclaimed purpose driven, millennial whisperer. And no self-respecting brand department sleeps well at night without a distinctly proclaimed purpose for their business. But, I regret to inform, all of this focus on purpose is mostly completely without purpose.
It is not that the basic premise of defining a purpose for your work is wrong. On the contrary, brands such as Nike, Patagonia, and Tesla continue to shine (in part) thanks to their commitment to their purpose. But what most other brands and organizations fail to understand is what the real reason behind their success is. It is not that they have developed the most purposeful brand strategy out there. But it has everything to do with their belief that the brand should drive business strategy, instead of the other way around. Their purpose is not an add on, it is the core strategy of the company.
Start-ups often naturally excel at being purpose-driven due to their close associations to their founders. But things start to get hairier when companies grow bigger and reach their middle age. Typically, the stock market or the interest of the owners take over, and diverse groups of employees run the company with their own personal interests in mind. Ironically, this is also when most companies open their wallets and start investing in purpose-driven brand platforms. It rarely ever becomes credible. Purposes become slogans and the slogans are buried in corporate platforms. This represents missed opportunities. In a world with near complete price transparency and a growing interest in the origins of a brand, organizations with a real and true purpose have a lot to win. But the only way they can move from developing purpose-driven brand platforms to purpose-driven brands, is by putting brand on the agenda in board rooms and during management meetings.
In a world with near complete price transparency and a growing interest in the origins of a brand, organizations with a real and true purpose have a lot to win.
But how do you do this? First of all, we need to examine what a purpose is in the first place. I would like to argue that it is a clear declaration of intent, which should be aligned with the long-term interests of your customers. If management groups understand this definition, it will be easier to introduce the topic on a corporate agenda. Secondly, there needs to be a clearer understanding of what branding as a whole contributes to the bottom line of a company. When all production, hiring, firing acquisitions and divestments are done, branding is the number one way to improve your bottom line. Take any commodity, slap aspirational values and attributes on top of it and you have a marketable product.
And finally, companies who stay true to their core can avoid tempting, but risky (and sometimes immoral), ventures. The banks who have been behind some of the largest money laundering scandals in history, and car manufacturers in crisis after diesel scandals, could maybe, just maybe, have delivered more value to their shareholders and the world if they had put purpose first on their business agenda. But until this happens, corporate purposes will, mostly, remain completely without purpose.
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