Charlie Butterfield, September 10, 2020

If lockdown taught me anything it’s that the brands that have a very concrete purpose were able to pivot quickly to serve the world. From Brewdogs ‘Brewgel’ to Dyson’s Ventilators (here are a bunch more some companies seemed to comfortably transcend product to purpose overnight.

But how are some brands so comfortable when the world turns upside down? How can they adapt so quickly when everything changes? And how do they do so at speed and at scale?

The answer is that some brands know themselves and their role in the world so clearly that they can hear when they’re being called upon.

Some of today’s most loved and successful brands have been born out of an annoyance with what preceded them. As Uncommon’s Nils Leonard puts it so well: “The music industry was ripping everyone off so Spotify, renting property was a minefield so AirBnB, local taxis were rank and unsafe so Uber, big banks are pissing everyone off so Monzo and cable TV providers were drip feeding content like crack dealers so Netflix. These ideas and businesses are born from frustration, annoyance and a need state”.

The old adage “necessity is the mother of invention” has always fuelled progression. The difference today is that the changes we need aren’t practical or technological in nature. They are human. Like before any period of significant change through history, people are restless. The tipping point has been reached. And when that happens, the world will turn.

The world NEEDS to be a better place. That is the great “need state” that will drive the change I believe we are about to see. 

Prejudice must be eradicated. People must be respected. The environment must be protected. We have reached critical mass.

And so the changes will come. Good changes.  I really do believe that’s what will come, as the weight of humanity is demanding it. But for us to bring about these changes, we can’t purely rely on governments, charities or individuals to do the heavy lifting.

For too long businesses have excused themselves from this great responsibility, citing the pursuit of profit as the reason for their existence. Historically businesses have opted out of playing their part, largely because it’s so easy to alienate someone when you have something to say, when you have a wrong to right. Being neutral offends no potential customers. 

It once seemed impossible that this would ever change. But we now live in a world where it will become a commercial necessity to do the right thing. To treat people in the right way, to take responsibility for creating positive change. It’s no longer just the right thing to do, it is what audiences from all demographics are demanding. 

If you are the owner of a business or find yourself marketing a business or brand it is your responsibility to make that business matter more to the people that use it and the world it inhabits. Though the pace of change in the world is unsettling, we can’t go backwards. Brands who are seen to have not just a positioning, but a passionate purpose at their heart top brand indexes time and time again. They are the ones felt not to just respond to culture but actively shape it. 

While, undoubtedly, the primary motive for most brand work is to grow a business, business and positive change aren’t mutually exclusive and the brands that adopt this mindset are able to gain share of mind, command a premium, create value and outperform the market. According to a recent study from Wolff Olins x Citizenme these factors are the most important in creating a brand of the future:

17% Their business strategy and operations 

19% The impact they have on the wider world 

27% The way they treat their customers 

37% The way they treat their employees 

So how do you identify your reason for being? What is your purpose? The path to discovery is not straightforward  – it usually involves lots of workshopping, profiling, interviewing and a serious amount of brain power. But I believe there is a shortcut – ask yourself what you hate and seek to overthrow it.

We’re shaped by history but not bound by it.  At fst we build the brands of the future and we do so by beginning with a simple but tricky little question – who/what is your common enemy? Once we have the answer to this question we can start to right the wrongs and build a brand that the world is proud to own. This is no longer just the right thing to do. It is the only path forward in a world demanding better. To survive in what I hope will be a brighter future, we must all find our purpose and use it to make a difference.

The next revolution is here and it will leave many businesses behind. 

So now is the time to ask. What do you hate?