A sizzling brand purpose sets out how a company intends to change the world for the better. Its role is to unite customers and culture alike in the pursuit of that intention. It’s a statement of belief, of hope, of pursuit. It’s born of a wish to see the world put to rights. Having fielded a number of enquiries this week about how to develop a purpose, I thought I’d share how The Blake Project approaches such a critically important task.
First and foremost, a purpose should never be developed in isolation. This affects your entire organization. It should involve the senior leadership team to start with, and then be socialized for discussion. The discussion itself shouldn’t revolve around the words (because that quickly becomes semantic nit-picking). It should focus on the passion, on the biggest belief you share and on the implications of holding that belief for everything you do.
Start with the greatest good
Don’t tell your people and customers about what you want to see change in the business. State what you fundamentally believe must change in the world. Coke wants to see more happiness. Disney wants to see more magic. Virgin wants to see more rebellion. Google wants to see more things found. What does your brand most want to see happen? What do you passionately want to see stop? Whatever you decide: that’s the goal. And it should be one you are prepared to shout from the rooftops.
Make the strongest link
What is your brand going to do to make that change happen? The answer to that question must define your unique involvement. It must help explain why you are most qualified to be trusted in this pursuit and how everyone you care about (including of course your customers) benefits from you trying to get there. It must shed light on your agenda – and in so doing, it must reveal your humanity.
How fast do you want your brand to grow? Even the question is loaded. At a time when rapid seems to be the only desirable speed for everything, it’s easy to believe that foot-to-the-floor is the only pace in town.
Certainly much of what we read would have us thinking so. Take this Hubspot post for example on 11 companies that have all grown their awareness as quick as lightning. Uniqlo did it by partnering; Dropbox through sharing; Hubspot themselves through their Website Grader. Hats off to each of them. But let me proffer an alternative equation – one that looks to align three line-speeds that have tended to operate independently of each other.
From all the work I’ve done with internal cultures, with marketing goods and services and in communicating with investors, one key learning has emerged: when companies separate the operating speeds of their culture, their product lines and their investors, things quickly get confused. Fast cultures with slow times-to-market rapidly become impatient with those they see as responsible for not marketing and distributing quickly enough. Slow cultures with fast times-to-market struggle to keep up. As a result, errors and short cuts creep in as people try to meet demand. Brands that take their time to build a market may also find themselves at odds with impatient investors wanting faster returns on their investments. Throw social media messages and their metrics into the mix and it’s easy to see why everyone can become confused as to where the brand is at.
The problem: pace. The speed that the company works at, the speed it trades at and the speed that it reports and returns at are off-kilter. To help reconcile the needs of the three groups, brands need to synchronize their brand speeds, and in so doing set clear expectations to all involved as to why the tempo has been set at that rate.
Here are three examples:
The imminent arrival of the Apple Watch and a phalanx of other smartwatches into the global market was the main topic for debate last week at Baselworld – the annual gathering of the watchmaking industry in Switzerland. There were three very different competitive responses from the Swiss brands in attendance at the event.
In the first camp are the steadfast ignorers led by the likes of Patek Philippe and Breguet. These brands, very much in the conservative corner of the luxury watch industry, see smartwatches as fundamentally different from what they offer. When you sell heritage and the pinnacle of luxury at around $45,000 a pop it’s easy to see why these brands are unconcerned with Apple and its ilk arriving into the market. Marc Hayek, who heads Breguet, Jaquet Droz and Blancpain, typified this conservative approach: “The Apple Watch is not a real watch but a consumer electronic,” he told Reuters.
Troublemaker – The Apple Watch
A second group of watch brands were similarly unconcerned about smartwatches but were convinced that the new entrants would eventually spur younger consumers to trade up to a ‘proper’ luxury timepiece. “When it comes to a higher end watch I strongly believe in mechanical movements – the beauty is that they last for generations and you don’t have to worry about batteries and recharging,” Chopard co-president Karl-Friedrich Scheufele explained. He said that this new breed of smartwatch could “feed a chain of aspiration” that would lead to more watch sales for brands like Chopard in the future. That’s an important opportunity for luxury watchmakers that openly acknowledge you no longer need a wrist watch to tell the time given the preponderance of other digital devices in most people’s possession.
In 2015 Uber, the world’s largest taxi company owns no vehicles, Facebook the world’s most popular media owner creates no content, Alibaba, the most valuable retailer has no inventory and AirBnB the world’s largest accommodation provider owns no real estate. What is it about this simple statement of fact that has compelled so many to share it across social networks?
All shared content gives the sharer some level of badge value driven by the four primary relational motivations. For example: A share of an inspirational quote might blend affection (what we value) and excellence (a standard we want to set). A share of an info-graphic on ‘the rise of mobile payments’ might cross competition (something as marketers we know more about than most people), excellence (subject matter we can demonstrate competence) and curiosity (subjects we’re actively interested in). The share provides some intrinsic value that communicates and validates to our tribe (or a tribe we want to join), “We belong.”
At best, the shares of this particular content seem motivated by curiosity, but what is most interesting is a near total absence of commentary in the sharers’ posts. It is reasonable to assume a high percentage of the network’s members won’t spend the time adding their view, but it might also indicate that, while we recognize these observations to be important, we might not know what to make of it, or worse, we have made our own meaning from it, but fear sharing it as it might alienate us from our tribe.
Last November, Mark DiSomma looked at Brand success from two perspectives: Ideas or Access. He asks, “Who gets to decide price, margin and even quality? The creators – who believe that the idea does not exist without them? Or the distributors – who are of the view that the idea won’t sell without them? The dilemma – who is most effective in realizing the value of the brand? The answer, according to Christine Arden, is whoever touches the customer last.”
Familiarity is something every marketer craves for their brand. They want the marque they are responsible for to be known, asked for, a household name. But does icon status in and of itself guarantee anything anymore?
In 2013 on Branding Strategy Insider, I examined how companies were able to create iconic advertising. Last week in an article on the proposed Heinz-Kraft merger, Teresa Lindeman observed that the center aisles of grocery stores were the epicenter of innovation a century ago, and that many of the resulting products, from these two companies, went on to achieve that coveted icon status. Processed cheese, condiments, Planters, Miracle Whip, ketchup … Household names indeed. But as Don Stuart points out, products like these may be seen as icons but that status alone doesn’t necessarily drive sales. “You remember them fondly. But they may not be part of your regular routine.” After all, “Millennials don’t necessarily put Miracle Whip on every sandwich, keep a jar of Planters peanuts in the cabinet or cook Oscar Mayer hot dogs and dump some Heinz ketchup on them.”
When these two companies come together to form the third-largest food and beverage company in North America, will growth spring from expanding the footprint of the collective brand footprint or shrinking the cost base? I’m reminded of the observation that if you were to cross-breed a blue whale and an elephant, you wouldn’t end up with a sports car. There’s no indication that bringing big things together results in a new thing that is sleeker or goes faster. Equally, bringing iconic brands together in a super-portfolio does not automatically upgrade the relevance of the brands involved. It simply groups what is already familiar in ways that appeal to shareholders but may or may not work for consumers.
That’s the danger of familiarity, or rather over-familiarity, at a time when attention spans are shorter than they have ever been. What people recognize and what they are drawn to are not one and the same thing. Icons can quickly become statues – big, imposing but lacking any sense of life. In order for this behemoth to flourish, presence alone will not be enough. The new business will need to leverage their new-found scale to re-shape the nature and direction of the middle aisle once again. And they will be doing so at a time when, according to CNBC, consumers are moving away from processed foods. The industry, that has been long very safe and predictable, is now experiencing unsettling breakdowns in barriers to entry.