​ Creating a purpose-driven brand

Paul Chappell

Paul is co-founder and strategic partner of Brand+Story, a branded content + entertainment consultancy based in Sydney. He and creative partner, Josh Whiteman, have spent a combined 40 years in broadcast media, digital advertising and branded content production. Paul was previously co-founder and executive content director of The Story Lab Australia, part of the Dentsu Aegis Network. Seeing an opportunity to do away with the expensive and outdated agency model, the two now concentrate on working with select clients to develop high quality branded content and entertainment solutions while also developing their own feature film and TV projects.

So you want to be a brand with purpose. But what does it actually mean to build a brand with real meaning?

One model that can be applied to your business to help you find your brand’s purpose can be found in a strategic model developed by the Harvard Business School back in 1996 – but still very valuable today. The core thinking from Collins and Porras examines the principle of core values and core purpose being of more importance to a brand than business strategy or financial goals.

The values and purpose of the brand stand the test of time and remain unmoved by prevailing market conditions. Some businesses have even re-engineered their products or moved into new markets in order to stay true to their brand purpose. I don’t know many business operators who would subscribe to that sort of brand fanaticism, but then again, they probably don’t operate a business that is defined by their brand’s purpose rather than their short-term business strategy.

According to Collins and Porras, the key to developing your Brand Ideology is to start by defining two core elements: Brand values and brand purpose.

Brand values

Brand values articulate the timeless tenets of the organisation. These are the unwavering set of beliefs or principles that are unique to the organisation. These values have intrinsic value to the people within the business and act as the compass for the decisions and direction the business takes. Consider the values as the constitution of the organisation – greater than any individual or group and immune to any environmental change in the business or marketplace.

Brand purpose

Brand purpose is the brand’s reason for being. According to Collins and Porras, the brand purpose should last at least 100 years and be impossible to fulfil. Sounds counter-intuitive, right? But that is how you distinguish your brand’s purpose from your business’s objectives or strategies. Over 100 years, your company might set hundreds of goals and achieve many of them. But a purpose sits at a higher level, an ambition that incites action but remains unfulfilled because the purpose has no end-point. It is self-perpetuating – like these brand purpose statements from brands we all know:

Disney: To make people happy

Sony: To experience the joy of advancing and applying technology for the benefit of the public

Hewlett-Packard: To make technical contributions for the advancement and welfare of humanity

3M: To solve unsolved problems innovatively

Once the brand values and purpose have been agreed on, it’s time to set the vision for the organisation. The envisioned future, as Collins and Porras describe it, is made of up two further elements: The Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) and the Vision Description.

Big hairy audacious goal

Unlike brand purpose, a BHAG is a unifying goal that is achievable, typically over a 10-30 year period. It’s called Big, Hairy and Audacious for a reason! Think of JFK’s BHAG to land man on the moon. The challenge was to make the impossible possible, and while he never saw his goal fulfilled, he set his country a truly audacious goal that energised and unified a whole nation. Whether building a big wall carries the same sort of fervour a few decades on is yet to be seen. A BHAG must stretch your business beyond its current capability and should always carry with it the risk of not being achieved. That is what propels it forward and generates the collective desire to see it happen.

Think about what BHAG you could set for your organisation from a purpose-driven perspective. How could your organisation’s reason for being be brought to life through a big, hairy, audacious goal? How could you change the world? How could you change the lives of those in your community who need the most help? How could your product make the world a better place to live in?

Vision description

The last step in creating your Brand Ideology is your Vision Description. This is a carefully crafted statement that clearly articulates what the future looks like when you have achieved your BHAG. This description requires the finesse of a copywriter who can evoke a visual apparition of what success looks like when that goal has been achieved. What does it mean for your staff, for customers, for the business and for the community?

With your brand values, brand purpose, brand vision and vision description in place, your business will be at least in a place where it is able to make informed and value-driven decisions on how, when and where it gets involved in political or social debate. You might find that the values and purpose of your brand eliminate the need for you to engage in public matters beyond your control.

But the reality is, consumers are now more engaged, more vocal and more demanding of the brands they engage with and expect them to behave as they do if they are to be of any value or relevance to them. They might even look to your brand for an opinion or a judgement call on matters that resonate with them. The question is – will you be ready to answer?

Tags: brand strategy

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