Seth Godin had famously proclaimed, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make but about the stories you tell”. I for one couldn’t agree more. What I wonder though is whether I belong to a rather small minority of brand marketers that accord premium to this belief.
I say that as I often see most brands’ communication centring around product features and benefits – almost a hard sell, a technique which, according to me, is certainly past its sell-by date! This in an age of abundance where consumers today are spoilt for choices and quite honestly, there are far too many “similar” products with extremely comparable features to choose from. Let me give you some examples. Quite a few toothpastes talk about removing 99% germs just as many hand sanitizers do in a similar vein too. Again quite a few competing car models boast of almost an identical feature line-up and the new generation of mobile handsets don’t behave much differently either.
In each of these categories, almost a certain minimum value is assured to the consumer for the money she is willing to pay. Therefore, the question is whether brand copy that largely romances undifferentiated features will be enough to ensure a brand’s fortune? And if not then what exactly will make a consumer choose a product from a particular brand over another?
So let us try and deal with it in two parts. The first, and something I have written a fair bit about in my earlier articles, is the role of storytelling as opposed to broadcast communication. About stories, it is important to note that stories must be authentic, strike an emotional chord and should be brave in the message they deliver. Effective stories allow brands to become a part of a consumer’s life stage – her narrative and belief systems, providing her with themes to rally her thoughts and actions around. To that effect, the stories must also be curated and told in a manner that is more personal and engaging, hoping to trigger an exchange or conversation between the brand and its consumer.
The second, and something that I want to draw attention to in this piece, is crafting stories not around product features but rather around a bigger “purpose”. A purpose that touches humanity in ways over and beyond what just any product feature would immediately deliver. Purpose-led brands triumph because I strongly believe that in today’s age of abundance and surplus choices, consumers actually are seeking to choose brands and organisations that are born out of a certain ethos or larger vision, and the one from among them that most closely resonates with their own individual value systems and beliefs.
Some researchers and academics have called this “massive transformational purpose” or MTP. It is this purpose that has driven most of the successful organisations of today to build rapidly growing multi-million brand businesses, each empowered by unequivocal consumer patronage. Let me again give you some example of brands that are led by very strong, transformational purpose:
Interestingly, not only millennial consumers are more strongly attracted to purpose-led brands, even employees themselves gravitate to organisations that promise a meaning and fulfilment. Needless to say, purpose-oriented employees are more likely to be high performers given their strong level of engagement with purpose-driven organisations that employ them.
So the next logical question would be why are there so few brands and organisations that are genuinely purpose-led? I wish there was a simple answer. My hypothesis though would be that for brands to be purpose-led, they need to be born that way. They need to be born out of an innate desire, direction and enthusiasm to achieve a higher super-ordinary task. One that provides meaning and helps overcome obvious challenges of and in the real world. The real irony is that there are actually enough examples of brands and organisations that were actually born out of a higher purpose but not only have they abandoned it (in their communication at least), but even worse, today they stand to represent the finest examples of feature-driven broadcast brand communication.
I would like to end this piece with a clarion call to all brands – for them to find their purpose, even if they were not born out of it but can adopt and sincerely live their future by it. And to espouse this purpose though effective storytelling. As I see it, if brands are like people, then as Thomas Carlyle famously said, “The person without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder”. And neither will such person nor ship make many a profitable sail!
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