Sophisticated marketers know that a brand is much more than a company name or logo. Yes, a brand has those elements of identity. But a well-developed brand has many of the same qualities as an individual person; most importantly, Character and Purpose.
Brand Character—like a person—is reflected in externals like the aforementioned logo, color palettes and fonts, tone of voice, and so forth. This character is also reflected in how sales engages with prospects, how customer service is handled, and the nature of ongoing customer communications. In effect, brand character is how the market experiences a company’s culture and, more importantly, its pursuit of its Purpose.
Know Your “Why”
So, what is a brand’s “Purpose?” If a company’s products or services are its “what” and brand character is its “how,” a brand’s purpose is its “why.”
The reason this matters so much—and why every company is well-served to articulate it—is because this is where the market connects with the brand emotionally. Think of the best brands you know. What is it about them that speaks to you?
Yes, it may be the design of their products, the tone of their communications (especially non-verbals like imagery), or the way they conduct themselves as corporate citizens. These connections are bonds than can get customers past the occasional design bug, system outage, or other business hiccup. But the emotional connection comes from a sense that the brand shares your value system; it sees the world the same way you do and wants the same things you want for your life.
The elements of a brand’s purpose are its Mission and Vision. The brand’s Mission is the change it wishes to see in the world, and the Vision is how the brand—and the world—will look when when the Mission is fulfilled and the Vision is achieved.
Your Purpose Is Right In Front of You
Invariably, this goes back to the inception of any business: Find a need, and fill it. This simple axiom is actually much more profound than it might seem. To find needs in the world, one must empathize with others. To fill those needs demands a sense of purpose greater than “make left-handed widgets.” It has to go back to the empathy that connects a brand with its market: “To empower left-handed people to achieve their full potential.”
Every company already has these things. They just need to be recognized and articulated.
Though the Marketing department is usually tasked with articulating these elements, they are really for internal consumption. As Elon Musk put it: “Putting in long hours for a corporation is hard. Putting in long hours for a cause is easy.” The Purpose is the values the company aims to reflect every time their brand engages the market; every time a customer experiences a product or service, encounters a representative, or sees a communication from or about the brand.
Which brings us to how to most effectively communicate that Purpose. As noted above, it’s important that the Purpose be clearly articulated and shared with everyone associated with the brand—in-house, with vendors, and with partners. Internal communications are crucial for this. The more completely a company owns and communicates a brand’s Purpose, the better it will seep into the thousands of touchpoints that influence how the market perceives it: the product planning, the design decisions, the go-to-market initiatives, the sales and support, and customer loyalty programs.
Brands can also be proactive in getting their Purpose in front of the market. Social responsibility initiatives are an obvious and time-honored way to accomplish this, endorsing or sponsoring programs that align with the brand’s Purpose or even launching fresh initiatives. This goes beyond donating money or putting logos on T-shirts. The brand must make it clear and obvious why it supports any particular program and how that program fits with the brand’s Mission.
Of course, such corporate citizenship is only effective if the values are reflected in everything the company does, such as operations, finance, and workplace culture. Sometimes, that depth of commitment should be articulated as well, so long as it does not come off as self-serving or self-congratulatory. For example, identifying packaging as “Made from 100% recycled materials” helps a prospect understand the company’s values and see that they match the customer’s own.
When customers see that a brand’s Purpose matches their own, they are likelier to buy and remain loyal. This makes a brand’s Purpose worth a lot more than its logo.