Is purpose the new branding?

Branding has become central to how we do business. Today, brands are everywhere, but the result is that we’ve become oversaturated with advertising messages, and tired of being constantly sold to. Meanwhile, the growth of online has made it incredibly easy for consumers to discover what’s behind the brand: through review websites, price comparison engines, and the availability of detailed information about products and companies.

Branding as a way of presenting a 'front' to the world is over. Now, consumers are looking for the real deal.

This is apparent in the expectations of higher ethical standards in business, and is exemplified by the growth of the Fair Trade movement and the like, or the appetite for companies that 'give back', like Tom’s Shoes (pictured below), who donate a pair of shoes to a needy child for every pair bought. Meanwhile, the demand for craft, artisan, or local products continues to grow exponentially.

Consumers want something more than a faceless multinational – and expect to get it. They want something they can relate to, and their consumer power is giving the businesses who meet that demand a real boost.

But, as Nihal Pekbeken, CMO of Rated People, points out, this is hardly new. "Consumers have been looking to connect emotionally with brands for a long time. Any good brand - if created in the right way - will have purpose at its core." Yet it’s fair to say that consumers are now in better position than ever before to discover and demand authenticity of purpose.

All this plays well to most entrepreneur's strengths. Having spoken with thousands of business owners over the years, it’s vanishingly rare to find one who’s just in it for the money. Entrepreneurs want to create something they’re proud of, whether an amazing product, fantastic customer experience, or a great place for employees to work.

To make the most of the demand for purpose in today’s business environment, it’s really just a question of how you capitalise on that 'mission' in the organisational culture or in relationships with customers.

The replacement of branding with purpose means that the internal culture and the outward face of your company have to be aligned. Your employees have to genuinely buy into the purpose of the business in order to really work towards it. But that can also be hugely attractive to employees.

Read: Building an impactful brand - six tips

This is mainly because people seek out work where they feel they can achieve something meaningful. The mission of the business can provide that sense of value, and orients the team towards a shared goal, creating a more cohesive team. All this comes together to create a culture where employees are happier and more productive, and attracts great staff to the company.

This also shines through in how they deal with customers and carry out their jobs. If your purpose is clear to the team, they’ll communicate that to clients and customers better than any advert could.

Charlie Bradshaw, founder of product design and sourcing company Matrix, recently undertook a rebranding exercise. "In the past twenty years we’ve been through a fair amount of change, so the rebrand was a great opportunity for us to re-think how we define our business," he explains. "Pinning down our key skills and competencies allowed us to define our core business offerings and uncover how we position our services to existing and new clients."

Charlie believes that "the key is to keep it natural and allow your unique company culture to bleed through your branding." He did this through heavily involving his team in the process. "We brought our team together to articulate the core principles of Matrix, and came up with four definitions:  our intention – inspiring creative partnerships; our purpose - to develop and deliver sustainable solutions; our identity - we are unique, passionate adventurers who influence and lead; and our values - we value trust, care, respect and integrity."

That focus around a clear purpose also makes marketing easier, ensuring the message is always consistent, that the business strategy is aligned with that message, and that it’s backed up at every stage by your team. Cumulatively, this leads to greater consistency in your marketing.

And as Mike Battle, CEO of Lapland UK, points out, running a business is "never about getting to a destination but about heading in the right direction. Your job is to continually get better, and it’s never finished - but understanding your purpose keeps you on the right track."

So is purpose the new branding? I think it is, and that it will only become more important for the foreseeable future. There have always been some companies who are particularly purpose-driven, inside and out - think of the tech giants like Apple and Google - but it’s now so widespread it’s not just an option anymore, it’s essential.

The idea that business should be about making the world a better place, as well as just making money, is an expectation, and much more important than having a slick but contrived message! Purpose creates engagement much more effectively than traditional branding, and that’s a really powerful engine for sustained growth in any business.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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