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Brand purpose is still just out of reach

Everyone is jumping on the bandwagon! ‘We need to work out our brand purpose’ they cry. But often they fall short and instead of looking at their true purpose in society and using that as a force for good inside and outside their business, they just express what they do and how they do it.

Brand purpose is about why you do what you do and the value it brings to society at large. As my colleague Dan Dufour has reminded me on many occasions, there is too much ‘purpose washing’ going on.

This week, Sarah Martzloff at TheTeam has started to define what we mean by ‘Purpose in Practice’ Find out more here.

By happy coincidence, I also spent the evening at Hall & Partners and had the opportunity to see their approach towards purpose being embedded in the work they do in research for clients. They come up against the need for clear purpose everywhere they work.

At the same dinner, I had the chance to chat with a head of sustainability at a well known bank. We agreed that part of the problem facing businesses is that marketeers like to tell stories about things that have gone right – the loan that meant that TV could be purchased; the mortgage that meant the house could be bought. What they are unable to paint is the picture of those excluded from finance – they are unable to put up the poster that says, “don’t take out that loan!” This stops them talking about purpose in deeper terms.

For example, imagine a drinks company saying “don’t drink tonight, it’s bad for you.” Yes the campaign ‘Enjoy Responsibly’ is being used throughout the industry. But, it’s still saying ‘enjoy’. If the drinks industry’s purpose was truly about enjoyment of life, then there would be far more occasions when they would be encouraging people not to drink. If they truly valued enjoyment, then might we trust them a little bit more? With trust on their side, what else could they do?

But this is where the tension between Sales and Brand comes in, and it is totally understandable. Sales drives marketing activity, not brand. Sales sees itself as the means of getting the revenue through the door and meetings targets, not brand. So, whilst long-term, brand (and purpose) will change attitudes, short-term we’ll see Sales do things that don’t quite tally with the ideal purpose of a business.

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