The DigitalK Conference in Sofia is a great opportunity to meet some amazing thought leaders on digital transformation. Some of them I’ve been following for a long time and was excited to see in person – like David Armano, Global Strategy Director at Edelman.
His talk focused on the concept of brand purpose and how it is changing in the 21st century – and we got to talk more about it in an impromptu interview after his presentation. This write-up covers both the talk titled “The Purpose Paradox”, our interview – and some thoughts of my own.
Why focus on purpose?
The cool thing about the topic of purpose is that David brought the numbers. They truly convinced us this is the modern battlefield for the minds and hearts of customers. According to the Edelman Earned Brand report, a person’s purchase intent is influenced by the brand’s social stand just as much as the product features:
We’ve already seen similar results in Edelman’s other seminal report – Trust Barometer. People believe “the system” is broken and governments are no longer the answer. Instead, 64% say that CEOs should take the lead on change. We’re looking for socially aware and socially active brands – and we’re willing to put our money where our mouths are. This is especially true for
Purpose has evolved into a brand strategy rather than just a corporate communication function.
This whole notion of purpose sounds remarkably similar to a communications pillar we’ve had for a long time: corporate social responsibility. For a long time brands have been following the concept of “doing well by doing good”. But according to David, the area has been growing and evolving:
“In the three to four years, [CSR] has gotten broader into not just the good things the company does but also part of its brand strategy. How it sees the world, what it stands for in the world. But the space is evolving and I think we’re evolving along with it – to think of it more as a brand strategy than just sort of a corporate communication function that allows businesses to give back. It’s a much broader area than it used to be.”
And, as David mentioned, “doing well by doing good” will no longer cut it, since consumers are much savvier. They go deeper than the nice ad copy into the actual behavior of the company.
Purpose isn’t only for the big brands
There are brands that get this right. They take huge risks and show that they stand for something. The most salient example that comes to mind is Nike’s Collin Kaepernick campaign. Huge bet, lots of turmoil, and a true win – both in terms of relationships with fans being strengthened and in terms of sales increase.
If I’m being honest, I don’t like the Nike example precisely because it comes from that brand. It’s easy for SMB marketers to get discouraged because it seems that only the big names can really create a compelling purpose-driven message. David gave another great example that shows the opposite is true.
GoGo SqueeZ is a children’s drink brand that reinvented its purpose and showed it to the world. It’s great to see a FMCG brand that’s closer to being a commodity create a strong brand purpose. For them, it was all about kids having the freedom to be kids – and parents letting them do it. Here’s a video that tells the story:
It really brings home what David told me: “Any company can do it even if your product is boring.” A company that makes small airplane parts actually thinks of itself as the people who keep airplanes up in the sky and safe for passengers. Your company can do it too, with a bit of soulsearching.
The GoGo squeeZ campaign actually came about after talking to the team and understanding what drives them beyond making a profit. They really believe in keeping kids energetic and healthy – and so the brand purpose sounds authentic. “Letting kids be kids is key to kids being healthy and happy. That’s worthy to create a discussion around because that’s what [GoGo squeeZ] care about. They care about the happiness and health of kids.”
Find a tension that aligns with your brand
The key to winning in this game of purpose is to find a social tension that aligns with your brand. There are tons of examples where that didn’t happen and the brand took
There is no specific framework on how to know if you should speak up or not, but David’s advice is sound:
“A lot of companies will find the thing that people are talking about and they’ll say “Well, let’s talk about that” because they want to be relevant in the conversation but they really have to dig and they have to be true to themselves and they have to say “No, we don’t need to have a voice in that because that’s not true to us.” They need to look out what’s true to them and their space and then find where the opportunities are.”
So what we should do is find the brand’s why, identify the right cultural tension and then apply our unique brand voice to the issue at hand.
A tale of two razors
Let’s look at Gillette’s campaign on toxic masculinity. It’s an important topic for a lot of people. But (and I can’t believe I’m quoting Joe Rogan here) to be told to get your sh*t together in a razor blade
The reason this campaign doesn’t work is that the brand did nothing beyond a manifesto and a cool video. There’s no long-term plan by Gillette on fighting that fight. The tension point is there, but it doesn’t align with the brand truth.
On the other hand, we get Billie, the razor company that vows to free women of “the pink tax” by selling affordable razors designed for women. It also shows female bodies with (gasp!) hair before being shaved.
To David’s point – a brand’s “Cultural Purpose Platform” needs to stand at the intersection of:
- the brand truth (your mission, what you stand for, how you view the world),
- the customer truth (what your audience cares about),
- and societal tension (where the conflict lies).
For Billie, these three areas are clearly overlapping. For Gillette, the brand truth is far removed from the topic of toxic masculinity.
So start from your brand’s why and develop your purpose from within. Statistically speaking, 64% of your audience is waiting to see what you come up with.