In the movie Anchorman, there is a scene in which news teams from different channels gather in an abandoned backstreet for an almighty scrap. Each team appears one by one and issues a ridiculous threat calling the others out.
It’s a classic piece of cinematic comedy. But the sad thing is, for us folks in the marketing and advertising world, the joke could quite easily be on us. Particularly on the subject of brand purpose. I know of no other business practice that divides opinion as much as it does.
I can picture the industry’s own Anchorman-style scene now: Byron Sharp and the Ehrenberg Bass team circle Jim Stengel and his crew, “brand purpose? Brand ideals? It’s all bollocks. Brands grow through distinctiveness, mental and physical availability.”
Bob Hoffman steps in, “agreed. There’s no bullshit like brand bullshit. Nobody wants a “relationship” with a brand”. Shotton piles in, “we should reject brand purpose. The data doesn’t stack up.”
Hayman and Giles from Seven Hills arrive, “it’s about mission and belief.” David Hieatt joins in, “yep! Brands with purpose do better and matter more.” James Watt from Brewdog, “lead with the crusade, not the product”. Mark Earls, “successful brands are driven by a belief and a sense of purpose”. Simon Sinek, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
Then silence, and the camera pans out to reveal this ridiculous Mexican stand-off. A melee of marketing bods staring and snarling at each other. You have to laugh or you’d cry.
The ridiculous thing is that no one is wrong. Quite feasibly all of the comments referenced above could be applicable and appropriate to a great many different brands. And that’s the point. It shouldn’t be about trying to convince people that purpose is bollocks or not. What’s right for one brand, might not necessarily be right for another. There is no silver bullet in all this and mo guaranteed recipe for success. All thinking can be relevant and useful in the pursuit of a strategic plan or solution.
The problem is, as an industry we seem to be obsessed with calling BS on each other rather than helping connect the dots to the different schools-of-thought. And so, we have to navigate our way through a swamp of clinical, dogmatic narratives in which different perspectives are presented as the “only answer”. It is this that is confusing the shit out of people. Take a step back and I believe that it’s not hard to see that there is some good sense and merit being shouted from all corners of the industry.
With this in mind, I’d like to offer some perspective. A set of principles to provide some balance on the subject of brand-purpose:
1. Not all purpose narratives are the same. There are different types. Some rooted in a new perspective about a category (Method), some rooted in activism (Patagonia), some in a challenger narrative (Brew Dog) and some rooted in a passion for a subject (Weber). There are many more.
2. Purpose probably shouldn’t be about saving the world (eh Pepsi?). Some kind of societal-mission can work – but be careful. Further up the benefits ladder is good. But some take it way too far.
3. Not all brands even need a purpose. It is clear to see that many brands exist and thrive with a distinctive market positioning strategy. Think Marmite. Great brand. No purpose.
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