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Purpose – the “why” that leads to great “hows”

I attended two amazing sessions this week I wanted to write about, but needed to get my thoughts about the 4chan session out first.  And now that I’m done waxing philosophical on anonymity, I can shift my attention to how to be better marketers.

The sessions I attended have had my brain whirring.  One was called “Congratulations! Your Brand is About to Become Obsolete”.  The initial part of the presentation was dedicated to evaluating brands that had been threatened with obsolescence (Ford, Cunard, Kodak) and those that have stood the test of time (Campbell’s, Coca-Cola).  They explained that, historically, brands relied mainly on identification, differentiation, and most recently perceived value to defend or maintain the strength of their brands.

But as we all know, brands can no longer rely solely on the perceptions they seed with consumers.  Technology has given rise to the Age of Reality.  Once upon a time, Camel claimed they were the brand more doctors smoked; but today, a Google search of “cigarettes and health” yields a slew of articles on lung cancer.

So how do brands move forward and stay relevant in this Age of Reality?  For starters, they don’t define themselves by what they were.  They look ahead and think about what they could be.  They ask themselves two questions:

  1. What are you doing that’s new and interesting?
  2. What is your purpose beyond just making money?

If you don’t know the answer to the first, having an answer to the second will help.  Because while products might become obsolete, your Purpose will give focus to your innovation.  Marc Pritchard, Global Marketing & Brand Building Officer of The Procter & Gamble Company, gave a great speech on Purpose at this year’s ANA conference.  He fully believes this is what consumers are expecting from brands.  “People want to know what’s behind our brands and what’s behind our companies,” he explained, “They want to know if we share their values…They demand transparency…social media gives everyone a microphone and they will be part of the conversation about your brand…To thrive, we need to shift from out of the selling products business and move into the business of improving life.”

This is certainly an idea that GSD&M has embraced for years.  Some might even say we wrote the book on it.  A great example of a Purpose-based company is our client Southwest Airlines who considers itself to be in the business of freedom, not air travel.  Barnes & Noble is in the business of reading, not books.  Nike is in the business of performance, not shoes.  These companies’ Purposes are what make them brands with staying power.

This great TED talk by Simon Sinek speaks to the idea of Purpose.  His speech is focused on great leaders, but the idea of starting with the “why”, or Purpose, is exactly what makes these brands leaders in their respective categories.  The “how” part of his equation – or key benefits – can be answered by thinking through what you’re doing that’s new and interesting.  If you’re focused on the difference you want to make in the world, you’ll have room to explore and really be innovative when it comes to the “how”.  As an example, the Nook was invented because Barnes & Noble focused on being in the reading business.  Had they been in the book business, that might not have happened.

And all these new and interesting “hows” give way to more compelling messages.  If everything ladders up to the same Purpose, you don’t have to highlight just one key benefit of your product or service.  In fact, Justin Cox, in his speech “Brand Consistency is Killing Digital Advertising”, argues we should avoid distributing a uniform message across all consumer touchpoints. “Know your brand, know what you stand for, and then give yourself creative freedom to look and feel differently.”  He gives the example of Virgin, its ability to promote not just a variety of benefits but a variety of industries, yet still feel like it’s all coming from the same brand.  Another example is Google – “Google has multiple apps, but they all feel ‘Google-y’.” And in addition to message diversity, leverage new technologies (wired OOH, apps, virtual currency, mobile, speech/gesture recognition, AR, etc.) for message delivery.   “You need to give your brand the flexibility to be current,” Cox explains, as consumers expect things to be both relevant to their lives as well as immediate.

So identify and embrace your company’s Purpose, let it inspire innovative “hows”, be diverse and contemporary in your message and its delivery, and if you need help with any of the above, call us.

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