Brand purpose is a strategic concept which provides a reason for a brand to exist beyond making a profit and encompasses the philosophy behind a brand, and what helps to drive it.
Often purposes are oriented around doing social good, such as Unilever brands like Lifebuoy soap whose purpose is to "bring health and hygiene to a billion people", or Philips which seeks to "improve people's lives through meaningful innovation". But for many brands, purpose is less about social good and instead is intended to provide clarity and direction for employees and customers about what the brand stands for and is trying to achieve. Examples here include Calvin Klein "Define modern luxury" and Red Bull "energise the world".
At essence purpose is a brand's reason for being, why it exists and the ethos that drives it. It goes beyond product benefits, brand positioning and business objectives. It is the intersection between a business' values and beliefs and those of the people that it serves.
The concept of 'brand purpose' become a common theme in recent years with more brands looking to adopt it. At the same time, there have been signs of a backlash because there's limited evidence to show that it results in business success any more than having any kind of distinctive and relevant positioning and communications, i.e. brands can achieve success like many Unilever brands have by positioning around a highly "purposeful" issue like empowering women (Dove), saving lives through better hygiene (Lifebuoy soap) etc. but businesses can also be successful without this type purpose…see most oil companies, airlines, car companies, banks etc.
The key benefit of brand purpose makes is that it provides a clear ethos and appeal that's understood by employees and consumers. This doesn't mean that doing social good is a pre-requisite for business success.
Our Point Of View
Central to purpose is authenticity, which means purpose must be credible and founded in the values and heritage of the company. It needs to stand the test of time and define what a brand stand for and how it behaves. It also needs to connect and resonate with the values and concerns of its consumers and employees. Brands with a purpose that feels too distant from people's everyday lives may struggle to create those connections. A strong purpose will relate to people in all their spheres of concerns.
So in our view a strong brand purpose should meet these criteria:
- Provides a focal point for the business that guides everything it does
- Benefits people's lives and the world around us
- Inspires employees and customers
- Promotes game-changing innovation that looks beyond the current product portfolio and drives future growth
- Is constant and impermeable to short-term demands
From a business perspective, purpose provides focus and unites employees in pursuing a common goal. It deters activities that spread resources too thinly or in the wrong places. At the same time, it allows companies to think beyond product and innovate in more meaningful ways, e.g. if Nike had focused on being a manufacturer of running shoes, instead of "bringing inspiration and innovation to every athlete", it would never have become the powerful force it is today in fashion and leading edge fitness technology. Purpose defines and directs what the brand wants to be.