Opinion

Obsess over your brand conviction, not brand purpose

Leo Burnett's Daniel Pankraz is tired of brands believing their customers care about a high and mighty brand purpose. Instead, they should try dialling their goals down to something more achievable.

We’ve well and truly been in the purposeful brands era these past five plus years, but how many brands truly have a higher order brand purpose that gets activated in an authentic way across all internal and external touchpoints?

I can think of a handful of brands, and most of them play in the social impact space. The reality is most people just don’t give a crap about brands, and we often overestimate our roles in their lives.

We’re now seeing so many esoteric and vacuous brand purpose statements, which often only serve to make a marketer feel like they’re doing something more meaningful.

A little bit of me dies every time I hear the words: “We need to rethink our North Star…” Think Coke’s “To refresh the world… inspiring moments of optimism and happiness”. Think Starbucks with their purpose of “Inspiring the human spirit”. Seriously, it’s BS. I just want a brilliant coffee experience, thanks.

Whilst I certainly don’t discount the need for brands to contribute to humanity beyond generating profit and shareholder value, I think we as marketers need to be a little less indulgent in the role we think our brands play in people’s lives.

Brands like Patagonia have it built in at a foundational level, that’s why their purpose works across their entire business.

People want to believe in things. We are a herd species and we generally swarm towards ideas, movements, people and brands where there’s a shared belief system. Strong heuristics that activate the Systems 1 (primal, emotional, fast, unconscious processing) part of the brain.

In my humble opinion, I’ve found that by obsessing about your brand conviction (or belief), marketers can get to a far more interesting, inspiring and genuinely insightful space that’s centred around the value the brand can create for people.

If brand purpose is at 30,000 feet, a great brand conviction is 10,000 feet. Still inspiring and aspirational, but within reach (for a skydiver anyway) and most importantly, actionable.

Brand conviction/ belief statements should express what the brand is passionate about and how they deliver on that experience. It needs to have stretch but be based on truth. It should then inform how the brand behaves.

It should serve as your guiding light to attract believers, not just consumers. Those folks that will defend you and stick with you when times are tough. I don’t see people lining up to defend Coke’s ‘refresh the world’. How about a commitment to drastically reduce plastic bottles? That’ll refresh our world a little bit.

Here’s a handful of brands I respect who have simple yet powerful brand conviction/ belief statements that inform not only their brand communications but their entire brand experience, both internally and externally. (Disclaimer: I work/ have worked with Samsung and Nike so have experienced their brand belief in action first hand).

Airbnb

– We believe that travel is better when you experience it as an insider.

Tesla

– We believe the world needs to transition to sustainable energy.

Nike

– We believe if you have a body, you’re an athlete.

Patagonia

We believe a love of wild and beautiful spaces demands participation in the fight to save them.

Samsung

– We believe meaningful progress comes from daring to defy barriers.

When trying to unlock your key conviction or brand belief, you’ve got to get under the skin of both the roots of the brand and the key motivations/pain points of the people you serve. It’s also good to look at the culture in which your brand exists and how your brand resolves a cultural tension.

Here’s a list of 10 key questions which may help when looking at getting to an authentic, insightful and inspiring brand conviction:

1. Why was the brand created in the first place?

2. What does the brand fight for?

3. Who/ what is the enemy?

4. What do the true believers say about their love of the brand?

5. Why do people love to work for the brand?

6. What should never ever change about the brand?

7. What is the epicenter of the brand’s passion?

8. Why would people give a damn if the brand ceased to exist tomorrow?

9. How does the brand behave during rocky times?

10. What keeps the brand up at night?

Once you’ve done a bit of a cultural dig into the brand roots and the relationship it has with its most passionate consumers and stakeholders, it’s helpful to connect the origin story of the brand with the behaviour today to ensure you’re not steering too far from what people know and love you for.

We were created to: [original motivation for the brands creation].

And now we’re passionate about: [our core passion/belief that drives all brand behaviours].

It’s also worth looking at the extremes, brand rejectors or haters and see what’s at the cause of their frustration with the brand. Most of the time it’s because the brand engages in dodgy business practices or has a rubbish service experience. If this is you, then best get this house in order first.

Once you’ve done that, you’re in a great position to write a brand conviction, which should always be written in the form of a ‘We believe….’ statement. This forces a motivating anchor point.

In terms of judging whether your brand conviction is on point, there are a few simple filter questions you should ask yourself:

– Is it based on brand truths?

– Is it both timely and timeless?

– Is it unique and distinctive to your brand?

– Is it inspiring/ motivating/ actionable?

It’s important to say that brand conviction alone will not solve how you position the brand for success. It’s one part of the puzzle and needs to align with brand behaviours (tone, personality, values), brand experience and the functional, emotional and social benefits the brand delivers.

Here’s to helping build a few more brands out there that create genuine believers, not just consumers and get off the marketing crack that is empty brand purpose statements.

Daniel Pankraz is head of strategy at Leo Burnett Sydney. This post first appeared on LinkedIn.

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