I once worked with a consultant who said, “There are two milestones in life. One is the day you are born and the other is discovering why?” and to this day, I think that’s one of the most concise ways I’ve heard to describe purpose. ‘Purpose’ is elusive. Some people find it necessary to wander down a road of discovery and introspection, taking a ‘deep dive’ to unlock their ‘why?’
But I’m one of those impatient types, so I think it’s a bit more straightforward than that.
More often than not it’s simply how we articulate the right kind of behaviour: behaviour that’s encouraged. When we talk about ‘brand purpose’, it’s not the same as a sales message. In fact, it’s better to think of it as a sleep remedy. Having a solid brand purpose should be the thing that stops you from staring at the ceiling in panicked palpitations. It’s the moral compass that keeps you on the straight and narrow.
In short – it stops you from acting like a dick.
But, as in life, many brands fall into the trap of manipulating purpose just to be relevant. Pepsi, Heineken and Dove have all been guilty of launching campaigns that, while culturally relevant, lacked authenticity.
These ‘skin-deep’ campaigns that owe more to research than to purpose have kickstarted something of a revolution – The Truth Revolution.
Sick of being spun vapid marketing BS, we are embarking on an ethic-seeking voyage, sailing sea after hopeful sea in search of the Authenticity Promised Land. But instead of finding something new, we’re rediscovering well-trodden lands from days gone by.
We’ve unearthed principles based in things that people actually care about. Brands rooted in authenticity and honesty, capable of standing the test of time and naturally making the world that little bit better… by simply being.
Lego, Volvo, Braun, Levi’s…
These aren’t brands. They are institutions. They have a clear sense of self and comfortably transcended product to purpose. But even more powerfully, in doing this they maintain positive perception effortlessly. They go their own way, hold themselves morally accountable and have a clear and easy to understand purpose that is underpinned by the consistency of their actions.
Newer, challenger brands, such as WeWork, don’t just get the power of authenticity – it’s just who they are. This simple fact means that their shared workspaces are a world apart from their closest competitor. The founders grew up in kibbutzim and communes, so their desire to create communities of like-minded people and the WeWork ideology of “make a life, not just a living” are genuine. They’ve invested not insignificant sums of money in designing unconventional social spaces and have bars, events and Community Managers on-site. The founders now have plans to grow the WeWork experience to include apartments, luxury gyms and even a kindergarten in the pipeline
However, as parents across the globe are fond of saying, “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” and this is the point at which purpose prevails. Purpose requires faith and asks difficult questions of businesses and people alike. As the advertising legend Bill Bernbach once said,
“A principle isn’t a principle until it costs you something.”
But at least it’s your decision. Your guns to stand by. Your principles to defend.
These days, a lack of brand/consumer barrier means that people are pretty forthcoming in saying how they feel. The Pepsi/Kendall Jenner backlash reminds us that that it ain’t no disco out there when brands get it badly wrong. After an ill-advised bandwagon jump onto the #blacklivesmatter campaign, Pepsi were left with no option than crisis manage their way out of the worst-case scenario, pulling the campaign and making a painful public apology.
“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark and we apologize.”
It’s a stark reminder that although the truth might hurt, falsehood can be fatal.
Be morally conscious and ask big questions to become a brand that the world would wish for and invent if you hadn’t. Reward the behaviours you encourage and have a heartfelt opinion about those you don’t. In a world where everyone mutes ‘fake news’, actions are the new deafening. So don’t tell us you’re funny – make us laugh. Stay true, back yourself and break your own heart.
Because The Truth Revolution is upon us and it’s only when the tide goes out that we see who’s been swimming naked.