Why brands must create value beyond their core function

Dan Ratner

Dan Ratner is managing director of branding and communications agency, uberbrand. He has more than 15 years’ experience in marketing, communications and branding and is passionate about branding as an enabler to fulfil organisational objectives. Working closely with uberbrand’s clients Dan works to understanding the current customer perception in the context of business goals and aspirations. Dan works with well-known Australian brands across a variety of sectors including financial services, travel and education.

The functionality of your product or service isn’t a competitive advantage. Often, it’s a core requirement of the category and isn’t original. For example, energy drinks give you energy, watches tell the time and cars get you from A to B. Rather than functionality, it’s having a clearly defined purpose for your brand that can help drive competitive advantage, consideration and choice.

However, organisations often make the mistake of talking about their product’s core function first. For example, how do you choose a washing machine? They all have the same basic function, and all competitors in the market will wash your clothes. In this context, it’s the brand and how it’s communicated that influences buying decisions.

The same is true for service providers. For example, one of the basic truisms for the higher education category is that graduates benefit from improved employment prospects. Yet so many universities communicate or reinforce this purely functional outcome. The result is a category with multiple players all communicating a homogenous idea – “if you go to university you’ll get a better job”.

There is no point of differentiation. Brands need to focus on their purpose.

Your purpose is broader than function. It’s the part of a brand model that provides direction for your brand beyond the product or service itself.

Thinking about your brand’s purpose first helps broaden the core offer and can create stronger emotional connections with consumers and audiences.

For example, Disney’s brand purpose is simply “to make people happy”. Its purpose is then delivered through everything that Disney does. Though incredibly diverse, Disney’s movies, merchandise, cruises and of course Disneyland (the happiest place on earth), serve the brands purpose of “making people happy”. The way Disney does this is through its’ brand essence, which is “magic.”

In 1996 when Steve Jobs returned to Apple, he wanted go back to the company’s roots to focus on the brands original purpose, “to passionately bring great computers to the world”. At the time he ceased all product development. The result was on-brand products and experiences that focused on simplicity of use and elegant design. This happened before the release of the iMac, iPod or iPhone and it is the function of these products that deliver on the brand purpose.

Today, Apple’s brand is instantly recognisable and its ongoing success demonstrates the importance of a brand purpose and how it can drive product, function and service.

Using your brand purpose to drive product, function and service can deliver five key benefits:

  1. It can give your customers a deeper connection with the brand beyond transactions
  2. Deliver added value to your customer base
  3. Motivate and unify your people
  4. Encourage loyalty
  5. Help nurture a strong culture and ethos.

Getting it right is about keeping your brand’s purpose both broad enough to allow for flexibility and growth, yet specific enough to set direction. Having a clearly articulated purpose can help your organisation develop on-brand initiatives that create value beyond core function.

On a basic level this can be driven through campaigns. For example the “achoo by Kleenex” website offered a cold and flu predictor based on geographic location and provided advice on how to avoid catching these viruses. This served to promote the Kleenex brand in a way that was of value to consumers and also reflected the brand purpose. Initiatives like this are becoming an increasingly important part of an organisation’s communications.

Value added initiatives can also work on a far deeper and broader level. For many consumers, choosing a washing machine, for example, is a big decision, despite the fact that all the options perform the same function.

In reality, function is not the only thing consumers consider. Other values such as quality, efficiency, simplicity and innovation may also inform decisions. A brand purpose takes into account these values. For example, the Samsung brand is about ‘accessible innovation’. The result is that Samsung washing machines are technologically advanced with added value features such as wi-fi. Whirlpool is completely different. Its purpose is to empower the customer and make life simple. This value is also reflected in its product design and function. Therefore, consumers expect Whirlpool to be a product that’s easy to use with the minimum features required.

Although both Whirlpool and Samsung washing machines perform the same function, overlaying product design and communications with a distinctive brand purpose has meant the two brands can occupy very separate positions in the mind of the consumer.

This demonstrates how a brand purpose can inform new initiatives and how these initiatives are used to differentiate each brand and create competitive advantage.

There can be risks associated with this approach. Organisations must be careful to make sure that whatever activity they undertake is right for their brand. Initiatives can be rejected if the audience feels there is a significant mismatch with the brand perception, or if they don’t actually deliver value to consumers. This can be managed with a clearly defined purpose. This is because a purpose, together with a well-defined brand model, acts as a guide to ensure that all activity remains on brand – as well as a launch pad for innovative thinking.

As most brands today operate in a saturated market, initiatives that add value beyond core function and differentiate an organisation are vital.

However in a highly cluttered environment it’s important to ensure that everything you do reinforces who and what you are. Therefore always look for and consider value added initiatives that demonstrate your purpose and brand so that they can provide greater impact than function alone.

Tags: marketing strategy, brand strategy

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