Each month The Drum will publish a chapter from “Paradox: Feeling Machines and the Rise of Post-Modern Marketing”. The fifth chapter, Post-Modern Brands: It Takes a Brand Village, explores the rise of customer-shared purpose “as the new positioning and the new value proposition.”
Purpose is not new to brand marketers. For decades, purpose has been embedded in mission statements, brand promises and, more recently, corporate social responsibility campaigns. But there’s something qualitatively different – and extraordinarily important – about a brand’s purpose in the Post-Modern Marketing era.
As Bob Moritz, the global chairman of PwC, noted last year, CEOs around the world are recognizing “the growing importance of establishing a strong corporate purpose and reflecting that purpose in their organizational values, culture, and behavior.” They’re learning that when they do that, “trust and success can go hand in hand.”
At the leading edge of this giant Post-Modern Marketing sea change in the relationships between brands and their customers are brands which are finding common ground to project a purpose that resonates with customers’ rational left-brains and their emotional right-brains – both at the same time.
To wit: State Street Global Advisors’ quest for greater female representation on corporate boards led to “Fearless Girl” and elevated the brand to greater heights. General Electric’s “Balance the Equation” crusade to hire 20,000 women to fill STEM roles by 2020 transformed the iconic celestial ceiling of New York City’s Grand Central Station into a planetarium for “Unseen Stars” – light-show portraits of a dozen women who made world-changing contributions to science and engineering. And there are many more examples.
“In the past, too many companies thought about purpose cynically,” says Tom Stein, chairman and chief client officer of Stein IAS. “But in the Post-Modern Marketing era, you can’t afford to approach purpose cynically or artificially. You need to lead with a higher, customer-shared purpose. It’s almost like shared purpose is the new positioning and the new value proposition.”
But exactly how will brands reinvent themselves around employee- and customer-centered purposes in the Post-Modern Marketing age of continuously evolving customer expectations and desires, radical transparency, emotionality, and public conversation?
For Derek Stewart, Stein IAS’ chief strategy officer, the key comes from understanding how the internet, in general, and social media, in particular, have changed the nature of brand-related interactions: Instead of being largely between the brand and its prospects or customers, brand-related interactions are now primarily among individuals. That means a brand must find a way to influence its Brand Community without even being present. “Shared purpose provides a brand with the foundation for influencing its ‘Brand Community’ even when it isn’t in the room,” says Stewart.
Stewart believes the secret to Brand Community success – and to articulating genuinely the right shared purpose – goes all the way back to his favorite subject: knowing customers deeply, intimately, completely – better than the customers know themselves. “It’s an audacious goal, to know customers better than they know themselves. But it’s possible, by understanding them as people, first; by bringing in digital anthropology to understand how technology is altering their primary behaviors; by studying their digital body language, which tells us about their immediate context and intent; and then viewing all of that framed by a client’s market and its Brand Community.”
Further, by building Brand Community, a brand surrounds itself with everything it needs for continuous self-renewal. As the world evolves, and as customers’ needs, wants and interests evolve in relation to the brand's offerings, the interaction among community members and between them and the brand is constantly generating information the brand can use to continuously re-assess its shared purpose and business mission.
Stewart concludes that, “Brand Community built around a shared purpose is the key to unlocking the kind of intrinsically deep customer insights you’re going to need to thrive in the Post-Modern Marketing era. And it’s equally powerful in terms of helping your brand, and its purpose, evolve in sync with its customers as post-modern time marches on.”