The adage a ‘brand is a promise’ has been repeated ad nauseum over the years. It’s been used as a statement, as a reminder, as a warning. It’s been said with raised eyebrows, with gravitas, even in beseeching tones. All this has not made it any less true, obvious or boring.
But there’s always a context to a promise. A kidnapper can’t hold his hostage to promises made under duress. Nor does a promise that lacks intent hold any value.
Purpose is the context of the brand promise. When a restaurant promises good, delicious food, this cannot be leftovers heated up and heavily dosed with MSG. Purpose is the fine print that makes the brand promise meaningful and inspiring.
For years, Wal Mart has promised low prices and savings. The entire brand is built on this promise. At first, it used large format stores in low rental localities along with the benefits of bulk buying and innovative pricing to deliver this promise.
Over the years as the benefits from these measures plateaued WalMart is said to have started employing illegal migrants and underpaying them. It bullied brands, vendors and employees alike and squeezed them for everything they could deliver. They continued to keep their promise and consumers stayed loyal but with a sense of unease.
Sam Walton’s purpose was simple and inspiring – to allow people get more out of life by reducing their expenses on day to day items. Over the years the brand kept its promise but lost the purpose which was the context of the promise. It was singing an incomplete song.
When viewed together providing lower prices and enabling people to enjoy their lives by ill-treating workers and associates doesn’t make sense. The end does not justify the means. Purpose inspires and in doing so sets you on the right path.
Let’s look at another brand that has used Purpose to stay on track and up its game over the years. Lifebuoy was launched in as a response to the health crisis. Its purpose was to prevent sickness and death as a result of poor hygiene.
Over the years Lifebuoy has stayed true to its purpose of preventing sickness and its promise of protection. The brand has taken more product forms with a liquid hand wash and hand sanitizer. The product has improved to work harder and faster. Its communication has become more edgy and intense.
Lifebuoy even offers an advance warning system online regarding transmittable sickness outbreaks across the world so people can take requisite precaution.
All that Lifebuoy is doing is a function of its purpose. The more it follows its purpose the more compelling a brand story it is building. The brand is now the World’s No 1 Germ Protection soap and poised to keep growing.
Brands can pick up direction from their purpose at any point of time. Decades after their launch, Pizza Hut, Pampers and Ford overcame their marketing problems by delving into the past and deriving inspiration from their founders’ purpose.
The above examples show that purpose can be a powerful guiding light for brands. A lot of brands however don’t have a brand purpose.
It’s never too late for a brand to discover or rediscover its purpose. Dove discovered its purpose with the Campaign for Real Beauty. The brand and its sales have not looked back since then.
Purpose is critical for steering a brand. Without purpose the brand will drift. Possibly consumer headwinds and marketing brilliance will keep it going for a while but the problem is when trouble strikes and it needs inspiration it won’t have anything beyond an outdated business plan to turn to for advice.