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In-depth: Purposeful brands are the future

Being the fastest car or the tastiest burger is no longer enough. Brands, today, have to stand for something but that something can’t be just anything either

There was a time when a great product and a great logo were enough to ensure the making of a great brand. Marketing, then, meant reaching people (a captive audience) and selling them a solution. While the basics of building a brand still remain the same, the language in which marketing is done has undergone a sea change.

Being the fastest car or the tastiest burger is no longer enough. Brands, today, have to stand for something but that something can’t be just anything either.

When Nike launched its latest ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, the brand attracted both admirers and nay-sayers. While a section of the society applauded the brand for taking a risk and ‘standing for something’, there were those who turned the spotlight to the brand’s apparent hypocrisy. Detractors of the brand pointed out how a brand which has been accused of running sweatshops (Nike has been blamed for not paying a living wage to their labourers across their factories) cannot take a high ground when it comes to the rights of African Americans.

This is exactly the minefield that brands today are traversing.

To remain relevant to millennials, brands today have to be purpose-led but in the age of internet and social media, it is easy to stumble and fall if a brand’s heart (read purpose) is not in the right place.

Interbrand’s Borja Borrero, who was part of the team that helped launch brand Jio in the country and also recently undertook the rebranding of Britannia, feels the old school marketing practices no longer have takers.

“A lot of products and services are getting commoditised so people are less and less driven by the logo. This is old-school branding. In the ’70s and ’80s if you had to create a great brand, you just had created something iconic and visually powerful and attractive and people would go to it, given that you had the right product. Now, more and more people are looking for a brand with a purpose. Like Ikea for example. The materials that the brand uses are 50% recyclable. So, brands that have a purpose and a role to play in the society, brands that contribute to the good of the society that they operate in and to the world in general are brands that attract the new generation. Today, experiences are valued a lot more than identity,” said Borrero, Executive Creative Director, EMEA & LatAm, Interbrand.

But a brand’s purpose cannot be cosmetic, it has to be skin-deep, in other words, it has to be the brand’s core and not just a part of its communication. Purposeful or purpose-led brands are often confused with ‘cause’ marketing.

‘Cause’ marketing is when a brand picks up a specific cause and launches a communication on the same or releases communication as part of their CSR.  Now this cause need not necessarily be a part of the brand ethos. A brand can believe in water conservation or animal welfare but as long as this doesn't become the core of the brand and is reflected in everything that the brand does, the brand cannot be called a purposeful brand.

A big reason why such tactics work no more is because of how aware the consumer (in this case millennials) has become.

"Consumers have become spoilt for choice. At a need-gap level the fight for mind space has become extremely competitive. This has resulted in the need to tap a deeper emotional space. Media insights clearly call out that millennials do not completely trust an advertisement. They look for brands which have a purpose and which add meaning to their life. The existence of a brand purpose expands the brand role from a pure psychological need to behavioural occasions as well. Going by this, the future lies in those brands who are able to adapt and fine tune their purpose as per evolving consumer needs," said Sriram Sharma, Sr Vice-President Leadership South, Mindshare.

For a purposeful brand, everything, from their brand offering to their communication, is decided by the purpose.

“A brand’s purpose is what makes it stand apart from a competitor and, therefore, is core to both its business and communication. Whether it is business decisions or internal policies, the brand purpose is the guiding light that will enable it to make its mark. To elaborate, our purpose at Viacom18 is to 'Open New Worlds' and, therefore, we have always brought forth content that is path-breaking. With our sustainability programs in skilling and education, we are enabling new opportunities for the community at large and it all together creates a niche for Viacom18 — being a network with a humane purpose," said Sonia Huria, Head, Corporate Marketing, Communications & Sustainability, Viacom18.

Another example of how being a purposeful brand reflects on everything the brand does is HUL. According to a HUL spokesperson, 'Brands with Purpose' is a passionate Unilever marketing credo. Many of their brands, including Brooke Bond Red Label, have a strong purpose which resonates with consumers and builds brand love.

Broke Bond Red Label has been at the forefront of advocacy for inclusivity with their communication.

"Inclusiveness is at the heart of Brooke Bond Red Label’s brand purpose. Prejudices do come in the way of inclusiveness and questioning some of our deep-rooted prejudices can pave the way for a more inclusive society," said the spokesperson.

The stakes are even higher for an alcobev brand. Especially because the alcobev category is not allowed to advertise directly in the country. In such a case it becomes important to connect with consumers on a personal level and being a purposeful brand helps with that.

"Your purpose has to be something that emotionally connects with the audience that you are trying to talk to. For Johnnie Walker, inspiring personal progress is something that we believe in.  Everybody connects with that because the basic insight is that everybody wants their tomorrow to be better than their today. And what you do with that purpose and what kind of stories you tell will instinctively start connecting with people because they will see a bit of themselves in the story that you are telling. Even our brands like McDowell's No.1 is led by celebrating deep bonds of brotherhood. And that resonates with everybody because everybody has that inner circle of friends whom they rely on for moving their lives to a better and richer place. These kinds of ideas really connect and stories that emerge out of a purpose-led brand are much more engaging and connect much more emotionally," said Abhishek Shahabadi, Vice-President, Marketing, Diageo India.

Research also says that a brand will grow by twice as much if the brand is purposeful.

But is this a new trend? Why are brands world over suddenly interested in being purposeful?

"Brands have always been evolutionary and hence this is not necessarily a new trend. This was more an underlying current which has come into prominence lately because the consumers have evolved as well. If brands need to be part of the consumer's journey their purpose needs to be in sync with it and hence unavoidable," said Sharma.

Huria too agrees that while the terminology might be new, the concept of purposeful brands is not.

"In my opinion, using a brand’s purpose is not a new trend. While the terminology may be newfound, it has been core to business to many brands. Global leaders such as Apple and Unilever have ingrained their brand promises into business, thereby incorporating innovation and sustainability into business. A case in point is Microsoft whose brand purpose is ‘To empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more’. This brand purpose has then percolated down to products, innovation and initiatives in sustainability, leading to creating a unique standing for the organisation," said Huria.

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