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Brand Strategy Marketing

Get your brand purpose right: don’t leave it to advertising

By Arun Raman

April 25, 2023 | 6 min read

Brand purpose should go beyond your ad campaign and link to a bigger, greater meaning, writes Grey Group India’s Arun Raman.

Getting the brand purpose right early on

Getting the brand purpose right early on

The rise of brand purpose has been driven by the view, which is backed by research, that people prefer brands that stand for a purpose beyond their commercial reasons.

However, in his book How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Simon Sinek writes: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.”

Read carefully. Sinek was talking about business purpose, not brand purpose.

The difference between brand purpose and business purpose

Business purpose is based on why you are in business and has a stronger leaning towards people-planet-profit, in that order. As such, it sets an elevated norm for ethical and sustainable practices.

Brand purpose, on the other hand, should reflect stronger your consumer needs. How are users of the brand going to feel better, think better, and do better with your brand? A brand’s purpose should have a deeper meaning for its users.

The core of a brand is defined by the people for whom that brand is for (current and potential consumers) and what they truly seek from the category. It is based on a unique human insight, defining a brand not just by what it offers but by what it does for you.

Brand Purpose goes beyond a single advertising campaign

Nike is a great example of this, with a corporate mission ‘to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world’ and a brand proposition ‘if you have a body, you are an athlete’.

First, there is a seamlessness between the corporate mission and the brand proposition. Second, its purpose is to ‘enable and inspire the athlete in you’. And a great athlete is a trier, a good sport, has a sense of pride and is a winner beyond the track too. Nike encourages all these facets. It can support Colin Kaepernick taking a knee as well as being a part of the Paralympics. Its brand purpose is able to straddle multiple initiatives and campaigns because it is rooted in the category (athleticism) and makes a deeper human connection about all the values of ‘who is a true athlete’.

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Consciousness does not guarantee consumption

Today, most people care about social and environmental issues. But they will still buy your brand even if you don’t offer what they care about. Why do they buy you, then?

People choose whichever brand best meets their needs – both their functional needs and covert emotional needs. And they are intelligent enough to know which brands can or cannot mirror what they ‘care’ about. They are also pragmatic enough to put personal needs (functional and emotional) above what they care for.

Brand purpose starts from your consumer purpose

Brand purpose cannot be dissociated from what consumers desire from the category and from themselves. It should have a strong fulcrum on what the brand’s offerings can do within the category it operates in. A robust consumer purpose will lie in the intersection of what your consumers desire from your category and what they desire of themselves. With the brand’s physical/emotional deliverable benefit, a great consumer purpose deftly elevates a brand’s benefit to an overarching future-facing lodestar called brand purpose.

Volvo is a great example of brand purpose globally. So is Dove. So is Gillette in India. These brands’ purposes neatly coalesce consumer needs and what they desire about themselves with what the products or services they offer can actually do.

As Simon White of FCB West famously said, “When it comes to advertising, don’t start with your why, start with theirs.”

Arun Raman is the chief intelligence officer at Grey Group India.

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