Woolley Marketing: Is there a purpose to brand purpose?  

In his regular column for Mumbrella, Trinity P3 founder and global CEO Darren Woolley ponders the P-word.

Perhaps it is the copywriter experience, but whenever I wonder about the appropriate use of a word, I look it up. And my purpose here was to give myself a foundation to address this question of “to brand purpose or not to brand purpose” by firstly defining the term itself. 

The dictionary defines the noun as: purpose: the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists. 

I turned to the dictionary only after the great default reference platform – Google – failed me with 37,000 definitions of “brand purpose”, many of which appeared similar, but not the same. Plenty of these articles were very clear on what brand purpose isn’t. For instance, it is not brand promise, as this is what the customer can expect from the brand. But it was also not brand values, or brand vision, or brand positioning, or even brand mission. I guess defining what it is with what it is not is helpful. 

The more I read, the more the collective wisdom seemed to define brand purpose as the reason the brand exists beyond making money or profit. It seems straightforward. But why does the brand exist beyond driving propensity to purchase and maintaining a healthy margin? 

Cartoon by Dennis Flad, with permission (2021)

I am not being flippant here. When you read that without a brand purpose you have no chance to take your brand to the next level, it is clear many believe having a brand purpose is an essential. But there are many brands that appear to achieve the next level without having their brand purpose clearly on display. 

But then branding experts are quoted as saying “Prospects are drawn to the idea that their spending can do more than just help them acquire goods and services—it can help them feel like they are part of a bigger effort. A movement to make a difference.”  

Or that “A rising generation of consumers is looking for brands to stand for something bigger than the products they sell. They want brands to embody an inspiring ethos, bring a strong point of view, and take action to make a positive impact in the world.” 

That’s when I start to feel like perhaps Corporate Social Responsibility (CRS) is getting confused with brand and marketing strategy. What happens if the brand and the products and services of the brand are not part of a bigger effort? Or do not have an “ethos, point of view or action”? Should we just bolt one on to the brand strategy and hope for the best? 

Well, the answer is no. In fact, “brand purpose lives at the intersection of a company’s authentic reason for being and the unmet human needs that it can uniquely fulfill in the marketplace and the world”. Which then makes me wonder if what we are really talking about is corporate purpose. 

If brand purpose is built on the “company’s authentic reason for being”, doesn’t it mean the foundation is the corporate or organisational purpose and that the transition into a brand purpose can only be achieved if – and only if – there is an unmet human need that this corporate purpose can uniquely fulfil? 

It is also common advice that you should not start communicating or marketing your brand purpose outside your organisation until the purpose is infused into and aligned across all your business functions. Feels very much like corporate purpose to me. Rather than the choice being brand purpose or not, the real question for marketers is whether their organisation has an authentic purpose or reason for being and, if so, does that purpose have an unmet human need that supports the brand as a purpose, to provide a reason why?  

If it is a ‘no’ to any of these questions, then brand purpose is not a dilemma. And if yes and yes, then what are you waiting for? 

Darren Woolley is the founder and global CEO at Trinity P3. Woolley Marketing is a regular Mumbrella column.


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