Yes, brands do need a purpose no matter what Mark Ritson thinks

The last couple of years have been hard for most companies, so it’s more important than ever brands find a way to secure a competitive advantage over their rivals. And one way of doing this is by ensuring your brand has a reason to exist.

To be fair there has been a bit of a backlash against brand purpose recently, most noticeably from Mark Ritson, and mainly as a result of brands jumping on the latest social cause bandwagon to appear ‘relevant’ and show they have a good social conscience.

But when we talk about a purpose-driven brand, we aren’t talking about a one-off box ticking exercise but rather about defining the long-term values that drive your brand and how you connect with your customers (and the answer isn’t ‘to make lots of money’.)

We take a deeper look into what brand purpose actually means and why it matters so much.

Why do brands exist?

Given we have companies, products and services, exactly why do we need brands as well?

The easiest way to think of a brand is as an interface between an organisation and customer. It enables companies to present their products or services or indeed their company in way that resonates with their customers. Put another way, a brand is the image or persona the business projects and the way you are perceived by customers.

Apple is often cited as one of the leading branding companies in the world, and with good reason. As Marc Gobe, author of Emotional Branding, commented:

“Without the brand, Apple would be dead…The brand is all they’ve got. The power of their branding is all that keeps them alive. It’s got nothing to do with products.”

And the reason why Apple is such a successful brand is because it is purpose-driven.

What is a purpose-driven brand?

A brand’s purpose answers an important question – why that brand exists in the first place. This isn’t about how much money a brand can make in any given time, but about how it connects with consumers on an emotional level.

Crayola is a good example of a company with a clear brand purpose. Their focus isn’t on providing children with pencils, crayons, or markers, but on encouraging children to be creative and enabling parents to inspire them.

In fact, this is a great example of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle in action. He argues that people don’t buy products because of what companies do, but because of why they do it. So, while Crayola might make pencils, their purpose is to ‘raise creatively alive children’.

Mark Ritson recently tore apart Simon Sinek’s theory on how to truly differentiate your brand, but we would argue it’s the key to everything.

Yes, of course a brand’s ‘why’ shouldn’t be pie in the sky. It needs to be realistic, and most importantly genuine. If it’s something that has just been conceived for a marketing campaign or in response to the latest social cause doing the rounds, then of course it’s going to fail. And we do agree with Ritson when he states too often purpose jumps the shark’.

If you want to really connect with people, a brand purpose should be consistent, long-term, meaningful and above all something that really aligns with customers’ needs. And no, your brand purpose doesn’t have to be linked with a social cause if it’s not appropriate.

How does having a purpose help a brand?

While having a brand purpose may just sound like yet another marketing ploy, it actually serves a more important role – it helps define a brand’s vision and mission.

Think of it this way. The purpose is why your brand exists; the vision is where you want to get to, such as becoming the world’s leading producer of x by 2025; and the mission outlines what you need to do to get there.

It’s one of the reasons our workshops are so successful. As well as helping clients establish why a brand exists, we help define the ambition for the brand and the steps needed to achieve it. Setting goals and adding in milestones help make that vision reality. 

Helping break the Heinz Habit

Remember, we said a brand’s purpose shouldn’t be about making money? The reason is – if you have a brand purpose, know what you want to achieve and the steps to get there, chances are the money will take care of itself.

But that will only happen if you get your brand purpose right. There is so much choice available nowadays standing out can be difficult, especially if you factor in, what we like to call, the ‘Heinz Habit’ – the buying behaviours which see us relying on old favourites time and time again.

Maybe it’s a particular brand of jeans because the fit is just right or maybe it’s a tin of Heinz Baked Beans, because you have never bought anything else. Either way, breaking buyers’ habits is a tricky proposition and reinforces the importance of having a clear and genuine brand purpose that resonates with your intended audience.

Which is one of the reasons the so-called challenger bank, Monzo, has done so well and is tipped to join the London Stock Exchange later this year.   Yes, of course disrupting a well-established space helps with success, but having a clear vision, mission and brand purpose is a big part of the battle.

‘Monzo makes money work for everyone’ Not only do they admit this is a nod to Apple’s ‘It just works’, but add they want people to say ‘that’s something I believe too’.

Creating a purpose-driven brand

Defining your brand’s purpose doesn’t have to be a difficult process, but it does require thought, commitment, and time to get right. But as our workshops and clients can testify, it’s definitely a process worth doing if you’re looking to get the edge on your competitors.

To find out more about how we can help you develop a purpose-driven brand for your company, product or service, take a look at our brochure or get in touch.