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Welcome to the age of purpose driven brands

I had an amazing time being part of a discussion on purpose-driven brands in January at the Shareablee office in NYC. This event was part of the New York Branding Meetup that I run.

Our special guest speaker Drew Train is Co-Founder of Oberland, which is the leading brand and marketing agency specializing in purpose-driven brands and is the 2018 Small Agency of the Year by AdAdge. He was joined by two of his clients, Pam Harris, former CMO of Blue Man Group, and Jason Moyer, CMO/COO of Genie, for a discussion on the importance of purpose in today's world and how to effectively position a brand in this direction.

Here the main takeaways.

A new era is here: from digital to purpose

Digital started small, with email and banner ads, and now it’s at the center of the consumer brand experience—it changes how business works at the core. In the very near future, purpose will become the core of how a business is run. This new era is largely a consequence of the advent of social media coupled with the current state of the climate of the economy and culture, which empowers individuals to broadcast their voices and call out any missteps from organizations and brands. This in turn leads to greater accountability. We, as a people, are now less likely to turn a blind eye to injustices. And brands have little to no choice but to acknowledge this reality and act accordingly.

Beyond the consumer: the employees

The transformation towards purpose is not just coming from the consumer—but also from the employees.

Employees are internally demanding their companies to stand up for what’s right. The internal accountability has driven as much of this movement as is the advent of social media and the consumer drive for change. In addition, businesses who want to have an edge in the marketplace, need to attract and keep talent over a long period of time—so how they treat their employees is a key factor to their growth and success.

Definitions of purpose

There are many approaches to becoming a purpose-driven brand. Drew itemized the following 6 different categories:

  1. Checkbook philanthropy. A business writes a check to support an entity, such as putting a business logo on the local sports team T-shirt. This is not reflected in their brand or their marketing.

  2. Corporate social responsibility. A business picks a cause that affects the company internally or with its supply chain (such as going paperless), but does not explicitly make it part of their consumer brand. The company can document in their annual report, but their actions are not reflected in their brand or marketing

  3. Cause marketing. A business collaborates with a charity on a cause together. Currently, this is a good and safe place where brands can partner with a charity to do a campaign and all parties involved gets some brand equity, without anybody getting hurt.

  4. Issue advocacy. A business utilizes their brand to take a social stand, such as REI.

  5. Purpose-driven brands. A business that puts purpose at the center of their brand and marketing, but is part of a larger entity that may or may not be purpose-driven. For example, Dove is purpose-driven and is part of Unilever, which is largely not purpose-driven (yet).

  6. A true purpose-driven business. A brand who has in their corporate charter to do social good. That’s hopefully where everyone will move forward to. For example, Warby-Parker.

As illustrated above, there are many points of entry for brands to enter the spectrum of purpose. It’s important for brands to do this carefully as it is easy to make a misstep. However, there is also tremendous potential for real positive impact—from profitability to doing good.

It's also key to note that in order to start moving the world forward in a substantial way, businesses must embody purpose as described from the categories #3 to #6 listed above. In effect, it is only when businesses share with consumers and the world their actions for purpose and good, can a ripple effect occur in the market and society that can lead to a significant positive impact.

Purpose in practice

Pam Harris illustrated that although Blue Man Group is a powerful show, its essence needed to be clearly articulated. By working with Oberland, it became evident that the brand needed to reflect how a spectator felt through the show: the feeling of being a kid full of marvel and possibilities. As such, the purpose of the brand became solidified with the brand statement “Embrace the full spectrum of life”, which exemplifies the feeling to live life in full color by getting in touch with our inner child.

Jason Moyer explained that while establishing the brand strategy of Genie, a pioneering technology device that makes nutritious meals in a snap, it was necessary that the positioning of their product be of service. Working with Oberland, the brand purpose statement was coined as “Feed people substance.” It’s crucial to note that the word “feed” inherently carries the signification of nurture and care--and hence of service--vs another word that could have been used, such as “eat”, which is more utilitarian and mechanical. Jason also noted that it was fundamental to first identify what is meaningful to the people internally, and that only then could the brand resonate with the outside world in an authentic way.

Space to forgive brands

As more brands enter the purpose-driven arena, we need to create space to forgive brands for trying and failing as they reposition themselves for purpose. As Drew noted “Let’s not crucify them for what they did, instead we can point out what they could do better. We need brands to take the courage to take chances in doing the right thing.”

In essence, we are now living in the age where individuals--from citizens, to employees, to customers--have the power to use their voices and actions to stand by their values and keep brands in check, which will inevitably create positive impact in the world we live in. Power to the people!

Learn more about Drew Train and Oberland here:

This meetup was hosted by CoreConnect. A big thank you to Shareablee for providing the space for this event! Please join us for our next NY Branding Meetup, get info here.

#branding #marketing #purpose #strategy #business