Howcroft: The importance of brand purpose can’t be overstated

Creative chief of PwC and panel of marketing and advertising industry professionals debate the future of marketing

From left: Salesforce's Jo Haines, Russel Howcroft, Salesforce's Lee Hawksley, Google's Megan Thomas and Merkle's Ted Stites
From left: Salesforce's Jo Haines, Russel Howcroft, Salesforce's Lee Hawksley, Google's Megan Thomas and Merkle's Ted Stites


Ensuring a sense of brand purpose and value from the top down, respecting consumers and building an empowered enterprise are vital ingredients in surviving the onslaught of modern customer expectations, a panel of industry representative claims.

Speaking at this week’s Salesforce Connections to You conference in Sydney, PwC chief creative officer and well-known agency personality, Russel Howcroft, harkened back to David Ogilvy and 1950s advertising to teach the audience a few lessons on what the future of marketing should look like.

In recognising consumers are more powerful than ever, for example, Howcroft said it’s critical to “respect the consumer and communicate in a way that they reward you with a sale”.

“That’s always been the key for me in getting creativity right – the idea that the consumer rewards you,” he said, referencing Ogilvy. “There’s evidence from the beginnings of mass media that you will be rewarded if you treat consumer with respect.”

Part of that is the notion of entertaining them, Howcroft argued. “There’s such an opportunity to be better at entertainment. To use the power of what we now have to then really engage with consumers and really create that connection, which then secures even better results off the back of it.”  

Howcroft also agreed the vital foundation for how brands operate is a sense of purpose and value. “The need for us to go back to purpose and values is so key. It’s so easy to say, but it is everything,” he said.

“We are in a situation where even cricketers are being asked about their purpose. When you read Simon Longstaff’s report [Ethics Centre director, who conducted a cultural review of Cricket Australia following the South African ball tampering scandal], it was the loss of direction when it comes to purpose that pushed the team off the rails. I can’t express it powerful enough - it is everything.”

The problem is purpose and value have become “stickers on the box”, Howcroft said. “The language seemed to make sense, and we put a poster up in the staff room and thought it was enough. That was where I was over a long period of time, until we’ve been confronted with what’s going on in brands and businesses and the world right here, right now.

“Being confronted with that, plus the fact that consumers can find all this stuff out… we need to acknowledge there are serious issues… and we need to get real about purpose and values, how we communicate and be unwavering on that.”  

Howcroft advocated having a central organising idea that organises you and your company. “This only works if that idea is also the positioning line you use in your communications,” he said. “So often, there’s a disconnect between our corporate purpose and our advertising line, which we’ve got from someone else. You just can’t do that anymore.”  

How to then capture brand tone of voice and ensure its continuity right through the funnel to one-to-one interaction is the challenge everyone faces now, Howcroft said.

“We tend to get blander the closer we get to consumers, when in fact we could be trying to prosecute the opposite of that,” he continued. “We dumb language down, we play it safe, and don’t capture the ‘tone of voice’ of the brand, which might be at a different level of communications, then drive that through.”

Salesforce APAC senior vice-president, Lee Hawksley, saw this tone of voice as brand purpose and value. That requires both employee and executive buy-in.

“To quote Simon Sinek: No customer ever loved a company that its employees didn’t love first,” he said. “Usually employees love companies founded in great values, have a strong culture and offer them a sense of purpose. That really creates the tone of voice, from marketing service agent to consultant. It all starts with culture and pulling together to get that consistency.

“The only way you rise to that challenge and maintain competitive edge is by creating an empowered enterprise that meets those customers in the way those customers want to be spoken to and communicated with. So you’re creating a seamless, frictionless whole.”

For Hawksley, the key is understanding people want whole-of-brand experiences. “It’s not just a marketing experience. What’s the experience when I need service, or walk into a store? These are vitally important touchpoints and create these moments matter marketers are always talking about.

“Many organisations have spent millions of dollars on technology to meet this new digital marketing challenge. But it’s simply not enough to just be great at digital marketing – you need an empowered enterprise that brings it all together.”

Merkle APAC managing director for A/NZ and EVP customer experience and marketing technology solutions, Ted Stites, also saw huge risk in not fulfilling a brand’s purpose.

“If you’re not genuine in that execution of purpose, today’s consumer will call you on that,” he said. “A 20-year old kid on Twitter is going to make it known where you’ve averted from your core values and it’ll get proliferated across your marketing landscape. It’s really hard to reel that back in.”

While there’s a great opportunity to tell a better and more entertaining story, Stites also advised knowing the moments in time when a customer doesn’t want that story.

“You also need to factor in those who just had a bad experience and who want to be serviced, not entertained or sold to online,” he said. “The challenge and opportunity is not to just put big brand messaging out there, but then pay that brand off to what’s important to a particular audience at a particular point in time.”

Executing that kind of creativity at scale is tough, Stites agreed. “You need to understand individuals in moments in time and tailor that message to them. Doing that across channels becomes hard for silos of people process and technology you need to break down.”

And as Google Marketing Platform agency lead, Megan Thomas, warned, too many people still think data-driven marketing just means putting technology in and switching it on.

“Many businesses operate in silos, with search in one place, CRM over there. If they’re not sharing data and insight, you’re never going to seamlessly control and personalise the user experience,” she said. “The biggest challenge is putting in the reorganisation of the business behind that investment.”

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