BRAND WITH A PORPOISE

David Thoma­son on ‘brand pur­poses’.

New Zealand Marketing - - Contents - David Thoma­son is the chief strate­gist at FCB.

I at­tended de­sign school with the late Brent Cham­bers, a great guy and the tal­ented owner of Flux An­i­ma­tion un­til his pre­ma­ture death late last year. Back then, he was con­stantly sketch­ing peo­ple and thoughts as they came to him. One mem­o­rable ex­am­ple was cap­tioned “man with a porpoise”. The man was clearly strug­gling to carry the slip­pery crea­ture in his arms. A small group of us found this to be im­mensely funny.

This sketch comes to mind as more mar­keters and their agen­cies work hard to add some sort of ‘pur­pose’ to their brand.

Pur­pose should be the rea­son an or­gan­i­sa­tion ex­ists, ev­i­denced best by the prod­ucts or ser­vices for which it’s known – or wants to be known. It may need re-awak­en­ing and mar­ket­ing (in­ter­nally and ex­ter­nally) but it needs to be au­then­tic. Un­der­stand what you help achieve within your cus­tomers’ lives and worlds, then you can give them more of it.

Un­for­tu­nately, the vari­ant of pur­pose that’s re­cently be­come pop­u­lar glob­ally – thanks in part to an in­creas­ingly con­fused con­glom­er­a­tion of creativ­ity, busi­ness, so­cial ac­ti­va­tion, tech­nol­ogy and awards called Cannes – is some­thing else al­to­gether.

Cor­po­rates ev­ery­where are now rush­ing to grab hold of a big, and ide­ally con­tro­ver­sial, so­cial is­sue and bolt it on to their brand.

Yes, prof­itable busi­nesses should gen­er­ously help peo­ple achieve and sus­tain a bet­ter qual­ity of life on this planet. We’re a so­cial species. We sur­vive by look­ing af­ter each other. But is this brand pur­pose? Or is it cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity (CSR)?

Con­sumers must be­come in­creas­ingly cyn­i­cal as more cor­po­rates con­fuse the two, and use mar­ket­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing to cre­ate a thinly sub­stan­ti­ated per­cep­tion of car­ing. In the worst cases, brands are mar­ket­ing ‘save the world’ brand ini­tia­tives that are more than can­celled out by the much larger neg­a­tive im­pacts of their daily busi­ness op­er­a­tions.

Mar­ket­ing is a per­cep­tion game. And orig­i­nal­ity or novelty can be very pow­er­ful. But do to­day’s creatively novel cause-based cam­paigns have long-term strate­gic merit? As the novelty wears off, con­sumers will be wary of CSR be­ing will­fully con­fused with brand pur­pose and used to dis­tinc­tively po­si­tion an en­tire brand.

Nu­mer­ous or­gan­i­sa­tions are gen­uinely ded­i­cated to help­ing with our big so­cial is­sues. Most no­tably, gov­ern­ments. And they never, ever have enough money to do it.

In his 2016 pre­sen­ta­tion, ‘Mar­ket­ing De­con­structed (cut­ting the bull­shit and get­ting back to the es­sen­tial strate­gic tools)’, Mark Rit­son pro­poses a new sys­tem for mea­sur­ing CSR. He calls it Trust­wor­thy Ac­count­ing Ex­change, i.e. TAX, con­clud­ing sim­ply, “Pay your fuck­ing tax.”. Hu­mor­ous, but quite se­ri­ous when you see the top ranked “most so­cially re­spon­si­ble cor­po­ra­tions”, com­pared with the tri­fling amounts each pays in tax.

Alex M H Smith of Ba­sic Arts re­minds us what pur­pose was sup­posed to mean in a re­cent Cam­paign ar­ti­cle ti­tled “Has Keith Weed (Unilever’s highly re­spected CMO) steered us in the wrong di­rec­tion on brand pur­pose?”

“It all comes down to def­i­ni­tion. In short, pur­pose no longer means “the rea­son some­thing ex­ists”. In­stead, it has been re­cast as a syn­onym for ‘so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity’.”

This isn’t se­man­tics. Many mar­keters and their agen­cies have rightly put con­sid­er­able effort into help­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions con­sider and ar­tic­u­late the rea­son they ex­ist – be­yond mak­ing money and de­liv­er­ing profit to share­hold­ers. Prob­a­bly the best ex­pla­na­tion and jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for this approach comes from Jim Collins, au­thor of man­age­ment book, ‘Good to Great, Why some com­pa­nies make the leap and oth­ers don’t.’ In a Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view pa­per ti­tled “Build­ing your Com­pany’s Vi­sion”, Collins de­fines core pur­pose as “an or­gan­i­sa­tion’s fun­da­men­tal rea­son for be­ing”.

He de­scribes “The Five Whys”, a method for fig­ur­ing out an or­gan­i­sa­tion’s pur­pose. Start with what it is that an or­gan­i­sa­tion does, then ask why that mat­ters. Keep ask­ing “why” un­til you get to the an­swer. It’s a great ex­er­cise. But there are some im­por­tant guid­ing prin­ci­ples nec­es­sary to avoid the “bull­shit” fac­tor.

Collins said we should ask “Why is that im­por­tant?” We need to ask “Why is that im­por­tant to our cus­tomers?”

Done well, the approach can help with core pur­pose, brand po­si­tion, or a cam­paign propo­si­tion. For ex­am­ple, a busi­ness sells a cus­tomer an elec­tric drill. Why does the cus­tomer need that drill? To drill holes. Why do they need to drill a hole? Be­cause they want to put up a book­shelf. Why do they need to put up a book­shelf? Be­cause they want their books ac­ces­si­ble, or vis­i­ble. Why do they want to dis­play their books? (Many op­tions...) Be­cause it shows other peo­ple who they are. To cre­ate a nur­tur­ing en­vi­ron­ment for their fam­ily...

With Mitre 10, we know there’s a deep sense of sat­is­fac­tion that comes from com­plet­ing a job and do­ing it well. Which is im­por­tant both per­son­ally and so­cially. That’s a pow­er­ful hu­man in­sight that’s also di­rectly rel­e­vant for the DIY cat­e­gory. So it makes sense to align Mitre 10’s pur­pose, and of­fer­ing, with that idea.

But go too far up the ‘why’ lad­der and you leave the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s fo­cused ex­pert rep­u­ta­tion be­hind. And all lad­ders ul­ti­mately lead to the same two places: make the world bet­ter or make life bet­ter.

It’s not the lack of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion that’s the prob­lem. As Collins says: “The role of core ide­ol­ogy is to guide and in­spire, not to dif­fer­en­ti­ate.” But if your pur­pose is in the realms of ‘mak­ing life bet­ter’, it’s quite use­less. It’s too broad to help you de­cide which prod­uct, ser­vice or ini­tia­tive you should in­vest in.

In ‘Mar­ket­ing De­con­structed’, Rit­son starts by in­tro­duc­ing ten mod­ern mar­ket­ing be­liefs, say­ing “half of them I’m go­ing to send to mar­ket­ing hell be­cause they’re use­less”. He then points out that a sur­vey of Aus­tralian mar­keters finds brand pur­pose to be most “use­ful”. Rit­son, how­ever, sends it to hell.

He has fun ridi­cul­ing Star­bucks’ lofty mis­sion: “To in­spire and nur­ture the hu­man spirit – one per­son, one cup and one neigh­bour­hood at a time.”

The ex­am­ples and prob­lems he raises come down to ei­ther mar­keters con­fus­ing pur­pose with CSR, or lad­der­ing up so high they’re dis­con­nected from what they do for their cus­tomers. That’s not be­cause there’s an is­sue with pur­pose. Used prop­erly, it’s more use­ful than ever.

If Mitre 10 sim­ply fo­cused on sell­ing prod­uct, rather than help­ing the cus­tomer achieve an end goal, we wouldn’t have de­vel­oped ‘Easy As’. And that’s been a pow­er­ful dif­fer­en­tia­tor that has, of course, helped sell a lot of prod­uct.

A more re­cent test for the “use­ful­ness” of brand pur­pose has been Mer­cury’s re-brand­ing. En­ergy is a unique brand mar­ket­ing chal­lenge. It’s also the ideal trap for those prone to climb­ing too high. Elec­tric­ity lit­er­ally pow­ers most mod­ern tech­nol­ogy. It makes lives bet­ter. It makes the world bet­ter. The chal­lenge is to ar­tic­u­late a more use­ful pur­pose that’s di­rectly rel­e­vant to the cat­e­gory and cus­tomers, and serves as cri­te­ria for all brand ac­tiv­ity.

The an­swer was very sim­ple and eas­ily un­der­stood: “To in­spire New Zealan­ders to en­joy en­ergy in more won­der­ful ways.” For the brand re-launch we chose elec­tric bikes as the most real and ac­ces­si­ble ex­am­ple – an in­vis­i­ble prod­uct and brand pur­pose made tan­gi­ble.

The re-branded busi­ness is do­ing ex­tremely well. Cus­tomer re­ten­tion is at a cat­e­gory-lead­ing high, and huge num­bers of New Zealan­ders have been mo­ti­vated to get on e-bikes. That’s a re­sult that Mer­cury is so proud of that a sec­ond cam­paign has been cre­ated to cel­e­brate the suc­cess of the first.

So which is more im­por­tant? Busi­ness ob­jec­tives or brand pur­pose? When you get it right they’re the same thing. Im­por­tantly, Mer­cury’s pur­pose has been em­braced well be­yond mar­ket­ing, and well be­yond one year. A clear brand pur­pose goes deep and long. And that is very use­ful.

So, mix­ing metaphors, let’s stop strug­gling with awk­ward slip­pery pur­poses that have been pulled out of their nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. You grab at­ten­tion for a while, but it’s ul­ti­mately un­nat­u­ral. In­stead, cre­ate your own ban­ner that all your au­di­ences are happy to march un­der.

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