It’s a good question. It’s also an increasingly unavoidable one. Brand Purpose (with a capital P) is in the consumer spotlight in a major way. We don’t need to re-open Gillette’s shaving wounds here. They’re just the latest example of a brand leveraging a lofty purpose to get in good with consumers (and then getting taken to task over whether or not they really mean it).
Gillette’s execution aside, the buzz is helping to further the conversation about the importance of Brand Purpose and calling into question what purpose is, how it should be used and if it’s even possible to be a modern brand and exist without one. And I’m of a few minds about where the conversation is heading and what it means for brands today.
Mind No. 1 is sporting an ear-to-ear perma-grin because Brand Purpose is getting the attention it deserves. As a branding and design studio, BatesMeron’s bread and butter is helping our clients define their Why. Your Why is not only the keystone that holds up your brand’s values, it’s the big idea behind your organization’s corporate culture. Without it, your talent is without its central motivation.
Profits aren’t motivation enough anymore. But I’m not telling you anything the Millennial workforce hasn’t been saying for years. This is why the era of Brand Purpose has officially reached maturity. For the first time in basically forever, there are more jobs than there are job candidates. That means the most qualified out there can be picky—and they’re going to pick an organization that aligns with their world view. So if your organization doesn’t have values—or they’re not well defined—top talent is going to look past you.
And that argument only speaks to hiring and culture. As an article I ran across while reading up on Brand Purpose put it, brands ‘have to stand for something if they want to remain standing.’ For many consumers, it’s no longer a question of should you have a purpose or can you exist without one. It hasn’t been for some time. The only question on their collective mind is, what is your brand purpose?
Mind No. 2 is diligently diagramming out what a brand’s purpose truly is. In its simplest form, we define Brand Purpose as the cause at the core of your company. It’s the spark that motivates your corporate culture in a way that the mechanics of business simply cannot. It’s your higher calling. And as recent kerfuffles with brand authenticity show, the public (or at the very least the Twitter-verse) takes purpose, calling and authenticity very seriously.
Here at BatesMeron, our higher calling is to harness the power of design to make meaningful things that make a difference. For our client Porter Pipe, it’s to deliver real value to their customers, their team members, their vendors and their community. For Patagonia, one of the few enterprise-level brands truly living their purpose, it’s to leverage its business to help save the planet.
I picked these three examples to illustrate that a Brand Purpose can exist along a spectrum. At BMSD, we’ve chosen to use our talents to help contribute to the success of our partners. For Porter Pipe, their mission isn’t complete unless they’re also giving back to the community that supports them. For a global company like Patagonia, they’ve stepped up to take responsibility on a global scale. And yet, no matter what the scale of our respective causes, they give our teams the motivation and job satisfaction. In our approach to purpose, be it large or small, if it gets your culture going, it’s serving its, well, purpose.
Mind No. 3 is locked in a heated internal debate with itself about the necessity for a company today to profess its commitment to delivering a superior product or service at a competitive price and to changing the world while they’re at it.
Part of this is a byproduct of the size of brand that I’m used to working with. BatesMeron is a middle market branding studio. All of us here have aspirations to one day help steer the direction of an enterprise-level white whale like Patagonia or even a whale in waiting like Warby Parker. In the meantime, we’re dealing with honest businesses that may not have the resources to spare to practice ‘conscious capitalism’ on a scale that Gillette does.
We live and do business in a time when the harsh realities of our present moment are glaring. Everything from quality of life to climate change loom as very real crises. No one will be exempt from action on some level. That includes organizations. As an astute colleague pointed out, ours is a post-Citizens United world. Corporations have an outsize voice. They should use it. Besides, real change on an individual level isn’t enough. We need businesses to take a stand.
How you take a stand, now that’s where the rubber of my sliding scale Brand Purpose definition meets the proverbial road—and where my trifurcated mind starts to realign itself. If you manage a brand and you’re contemplating how to lead with more purpose—which, if you haven’t picked up by now you definitely should be—find out what your organization is passionate about. Identify ways to draw parallels back to your core business offering. Make it a cornerstone of your culture. Get people excited about it.
Brands that do a little bit of good are destined to do better, and that starts with identifying and rallying behind your Brand Purpose. Here at BatesMeron, our commitment to meaningful work that makes a difference may not change the world, but helping more brands find their higher calling just might.
If you’d like to learn more about how we can help your brand define its purpose, let us know.