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What is your company’s raison d’être? What added value do you offer your customers? Why is your company better than any other at providing that? Questions such as these must be raised – and not just by start-ups. Even seasoned, long-established branded goods companies consistently find these issues of fundamental purpose central to successful brand positioning. Having sound, thoughtful answers to these questions at the ready is key to achieving a significant competitive advantage. 

Brand purpose – or the “Why?” question

Successful, inspiring companies always first ask themselves: Why do we exist? Simon Sinek, in his Golden Circle model, describes the oft-cited example of the Apple brand: Apple answers the “Why?” question thusly: “In everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo and thinking differently “. Only then comes the “How?” explanation: “We challenge the status quo by designing our products beautifully, making them easy to use and user-friendly.” Next – only in third place – comes the “What?” question: “We just happen to make great computers.” These responses make the brand authentic, providing space for the user to identify with its vision. The brand becomes emotionally closer because it inspires people. 

Brand purpose as a decisive attitude in times of crisis 

The term brand purpose is on everyone’s lips. However, in times of significant technological upheaval, defining brand purpose in the long term is not always a simple task: customers’ psychological needs – which must also be addressed over the long term – are also evolving and changing. Furthermore, organizations often experience internal disagreement differences between purpose, mission, or vision statements. In many instances, brand purpose is conflated with corporate social responsibility (CSR) or an attitude (e.g., social or political). 

However, the terms can and should be clearly delineated: 

  • Purpose defines the raison d’être – the “Why?” 
  • Vision defines the future goal – the “What?” 
  • Values define the attitude in actions; they are anchors to orient behavior – the “How?” 

As Prof. Dr. Timo Meynhardt of the University of St. Gallen puts it: A mission becomes a purpose only when it has a connection to society. 

Only by clearly defining these terms in brand management can you clearly communicate your messages. This imperative has assumed existential importance during the current phase of the Corona pandemic because consumers have a very fine sense, especially in times of crisis, of whether brands are authentically addressing people’s needs. 

The following three examples show how these areas are consistently interwoven in companies, yet in various ways. 

Three levels of anchoring the brand purpose

Brand purpose is a constant, whereas attitudes and values can vary. The degree to which brand purpose, attitudes, and values are intertwined will depend on the raison d’être. Based on the overlap of purpose content and campaign content, the nature of the brand purpose will become visible. Here, three levels can be seen:

1. Congruence of purpose, attitude, and values

The Dove and Coca-Cola companies provide illustrative examples of such congruence. Dove’s purpose is that women ought to be able to feel beautiful through care – independently of common beauty ideals. The purpose is virtually identical to the company’s vision (what) and attitude (how). As a result, the campaign content is identical to the purpose. 

Coca-Cola officially describes its overarching brand purpose as: “Refresh the World. Make a difference.” The purpose is merged with attitude and values such as sustainability in the vision, which is expressed in the 2020 attitude campaign. In turn, this is complemented by the purpose of each of Coca-Cola’s subordinate brands and their respective connection to the theme, “We inspire moments of joy, happiness, and optimism.” However, all brands are encouraged to align with the overarching values, such as a sustainable, better, shared future for everyone.

2. Similarity of purpose and attitude

Ernst & Young, the auditing and consulting firm, has the purpose of enabling the world of work to function more smoothly: “Building a better working world” Ernst & Young’s attitude campaign for the 2019 European elections, is only remotely related to the purpose; the spot under the hashtag #ichwaehleeuropa clearly states that doing business without the EU has disadvantages. Thematically, politics is not part of the purpose; but in an overarching sense, the attitude campaign comports with the purpose. 

Vodafone’s purpose is to improve the future by connecting the world: “Connect for a better future.” Through the double meaning of connect – the technical and the human – both social connections and superior internet connections can be addressed. This technique is used by #befreiedeininternet, the current campaign for mobile 5G connections. The campaign song by Jax Anderson, who campaigns for equal rights and equal opportunities, results in a social attitude.

3. Difference among purpose, attitude, and values—tactical attitude

On occasion, purpose statements cannot be applied to current social issues. Some companies will try to salvage their reputation in attitude campaigns by presenting only what customers seemingly want to hear. When that happens, the greatest gap the brand’s “Why?” and its “How?” emerges. 

The so-called “tactical attitude” can be illustrated by Bayer’s PR campaign. With glyphosate, the company had on the market a product that’s carcinogenic – and in some cases. not even effective. Consequently, Bayer’s statement “Our purpose – “Science for a better life’ guides us in everything we do” loses credibility. Bayer responded to the problem with the #advance attitude campaign that aimed convince the public that the company has learned from its mistakes and really wants to improve the world. But since the purpose of the existence of “science for a better life” was not previously fulfilled, the campaign does not seem especially credible.

In the purpose, companies should refrain from formulating any claims or promises that cannot be reconciled with and substantiated by their activities. Sometimes such claims or promises are made, even the best attitude or image campaigns can hardly outweigh the reputational damage incurred. In such a situation, the purpose has not been formulated from within and fails to provide guidance. Thus, attitudes serve primarily to present themselves to the outside world. If advertising portrays values having a high public profile – yet the company does not consistently implement these values in the product – then the brand runs the risk of even appearing hypocritical to customers. 

Benefits of the brand purpose

A well-formulated brand purpose enables companies to pursue a clear objective while clarifying the precise basis for managerial and employee decisions. 

The brand purpose has the added benefit of making both employees and customers feel closer to the company on an emotional level, giving them the opportunity to engage with the character of the company, to identify with it, and to take a stand. For if it is clear what the company stands for, then others, too, will know where they stand. 

Additionally, you can make responsibilities implicit in the Brand Purpose. Current research proves, however, that taking responsibility promises market advantages. 

“A really strong purpose statement achieves two things: it clearly describes the company’s strategic goals, and it motivates employees. The two are related: when your employees understand and support your company’s purpose, it motivates them to do work that is not only good – or sometimes even outstanding –but also fulfills your stated goals,” according to authors Blount and Leinwand in Harvard Business Manager (Feb. 2020). 

How is brand purpose measurable?

When your brand purpose has been properly implemented and clearly defined, you will be able to measure consumer perception of it. Furthermore, the influence of these variables on brand strength and – if necessary – on monetary brand equity can be analyzed. However, a standardized model still doesn’t exist everywhere: the various providers of brand measurement models have not yet integrated the brand purpose consistently. However, approaches are available for examining the extent to which a brand is making a specific contribution to society.

Another tactic is to map the content dimensions of the brand purpose in the image batteries, emotional or functional benefits, or the brand personality.

In any event, it is wise to develop a valid benchmark featuring a clear analysis of the value-contributing influence of the brand’s purpose dimensions. Only in this way can your influence on brand strength be verified. 

If you are interested in determining your company’s key performance indicators, BESTVISO will advise you about market research institutions comprehensively and objectively. You can learn more here: BESTVISO Market Research Consultancy  

Our brand purpose: is to strengthen brands and to offer a relevant contribution to people. 

For further information on brand management in the digital age, read more here.