​Four fatal mistakes brands looking for purpose make

Purpose-driven strategist reveals how brands with purpose should equip themselves to succeed in an ever-crowded marketplace

Simon Mainwaring, founder of We First, a consultancy firm specialising in purpose-driven strategy
Simon Mainwaring, founder of We First, a consultancy firm specialising in purpose-driven strategy

Brands with purpose are surfacing as champions of customer engagement and sustainable success, but many others are still making costly marketing mistakes.

Simon Mainwaring, founder of We First, a consultancy firm specialising in purpose-driven strategy, speaks with CMO about what fatal mistakes brands should avoid and why.

Failing to clearly define the purpose

Anxious to get a return on investments for their purposeful initiatives, brands rush straight past their brand story to the telling and fail to clearly define what difference they want to make in the world, Mainwaring said.

“In doing so, they go straight to marketing rather than defining, framing and sharing their brand story with employees - who could become the most powerful advocates for the brand,” he said.

Brands need to clearly define their purpose and the impact they want to have on the world, Mainwaring stressed, so they can lead a meaningful and relevant conversation with their stakeholders that transcends their products and services or category.

“Without this, many brands will fall by the way side because they are either promoting advertising that no one wants in their life or talking about their purpose in a self-directed way that falls on deaf ears,” he said.

Instead, he suggested a brand must be a chief celebrant of its customer community rather than its celebrity, and demonstrate its commitment to improving the lives of its customers. As a result, the customers become advocates, and will talk about the brand and ultimately, help build its business.

“This is how brands leverage the dialogue that now takes place between companies and their customers to their advantage to carve out a competitive leadership position,” he said.

Looking too self-interested

When it comes to using social media, one of the fatal mistakes brands make is talking about their purpose in a self-directed way, Mainwaring said.

“This comes off as self-interested, despite the positive impact they are having,” he added. For example, they might talk about the donations they have received, or the hours that their employees have volunteered, rather than celebrating the impact on the lives of those they care about.”

Mistaking category for purpose

Another common trap brands fall into is mistaking their industry category with purpose, Mainwaring claimed.

“For instance, they want to be more sustainable or support a cause like breast cancer research, but fail to define a unique point of view within that broader category,” he explained. “As a result, their messaging and effort is lost in the noise of ‘me too’ brands that have similar goals rather than carving out a unique point of view that cuts through the clutter.”

Over-focusing on product and failing to lead with legacy

According to Mainwaring, a brand must lead with its legacy rather than simply focus on the company, its products and social impact.

“The fundamental shift that must take place in the mindset of a brand is that marketing is no longer about the company itself, but rather how the company can mobilise its internal and external stakeholders to realise its impact goals on the basis of shared values and purpose,” he said.

To achieve this, he suggested a brand needs to articulate what difference it will make in the world and how employees, customers and consumers lives will be richer for their participation in the movement.

“In doing so, a brand won’t just create marketing around its sustainability efforts, but rather will lead a conversation with shapes culture and our future,” he said.

Brands such as Unilever, Patagonia and Tesla are doing it right because they are operating as a mission with a company, rather than a company with a mission, Mainwaring highlighted.

“In doing so, they create marketing that is a function of their core mission rather than as an extension of their brand or products,” he said. “This results in a powerful demonstration of values that resonates with consumers in a way that inspires them to be champions for the brand whether that takes the form of a marketing campaign or a social impact initiative.

“As such, these brands operate as community architects that enlist their stakeholders and change agents in service of a vision of the future that is both aspirational and unique to the brand. It is these brands that are defining the future by creating it and that are mobilising movements for change that are building their business.”

Mainwaring spoke to CMO ahead of the Sustainable Brands 2016 event to be held in Sydney later this month.

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