Brand Purpose: ‘Going Steady’

When do you care about purpose? When does a purchase go beyond instant gratification? Sam Hollis, Senior Brand Strategist, discusses.

I had an interesting chat with some colleagues last week. Probably the kind only brand consultants would have, and probably the kind that only brand consultants would call interesting. In any case, we did and it was.

We were discussing the varying role of brand purpose (‘why your organisation exists’) - its significance for different kinds of organisations and different kinds of consumers.

As a strategic brand consultancy specialising in purpose-led branding, we’ve seen first-hand the cultural and commercial impact purpose can have on all kinds of organisations - from global businesses to charities.

And yet we’re often challenged on the area. It’s usually along the lines of “When I buy X, I don’t care about the purpose of the seller!”

X might be a hamburger. It might be a rug. It might be a dog. It really could be anything.

In fact, when would you care about a brand purpose? You care about whether the product or service meets your need state in the moment. Right? What’s that got to do with purpose?

Well that’s where it gets interesting (and not just for brand consultants).

Satisfying your rational, tangible need-state can give instant gratification. A petrol station when you’re running on empty. A kebab when you’re drunk at 2am. A coffee shop when you’re neither bright-eyed nor bushy-tailed.

These providers could have the most malevolent brand purpose imaginable, dictating strategy with evil in their hearts… it wouldn’t sway your purchase decision. Hell itself couldn’t keep you from their doors.

On the other hand, they could have the most inspiring, wonderful purpose that drives everything they do. The world might be worse off without them in it. You still won’t seek them out if you come across someone else offering the same thing first.

The point is, many of our purchases are driven by a desire for instant gratification.

But while instant gratification can drive a purchase, it won’t lead to loyalty. Tweet this

Loyalty requires a deeper connection between a brand and its consumers. A reason to keep going back. An intangible, emotional reward to accompany the satisfaction of a tangible, rational need.

Enter purpose.

When Simon Sinek said ‘the goal is not just to sell to people who need what you have, the goal is to sell to people who believe what you believe’, he was talking about loyal advocates with an emotional connection more powerful than a purely rational one.

It’s not as simple as customers agreeing with an organisations purpose at face value – most aren’t aware of what it is. But when an organisation has a clearly defined purpose that sits at the heart of everything it does, it manifests itself in all kinds of ways that customer do notice.

How it talks, what it says, how it looks, what it does, how it feels. The promises it makes and how it delivers against them.

A thousand deliberate, orchestrated touches that culminate in a brand experience consumers ‘get’ intuitively and start to relate to.

When Apple asked ‘are you a Mac or a PC?’ they created a tribe of people hell-bent on showing the world that they were an enlightened, creative, independent mac - not a grey, dreary, drab PC.

Most weren’t aware of Apple's commitment to ‘contributing to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind’. But they loved the products and the brand this purpose led to, and were happy to be judged by their peers in the context of their association with the Apple brand.

It fitted their idea of who they were, reaffirmed what they believed about the world and themselves, and gave them a way to project this. For millions of customers, Apple joined countless other diverse expressions of identity that combined to form their own personal brand.

Having a purpose won’t, in itself, lead to brand loyalty. Tweet this

But when brand is led by an authentic and powerful purpose to create coherent, meaningful experiences for their customers…tapping into a shared sense of expression and identity and maintaining relevance, then it’s a big step in the right direction. And for a customer, understanding why an organisation exists, what it believes and what it’s trying to do provides all the foundations for ‘going steady’.

Instant gratification can be… gratifying.

But ultimately, aren’t we all looking for something a bit more?