Why Brand Purpose Is Everything, but Not Everything Is Brand Purpose

How is your brand addressing the real needs of society?

Several highly valued and respected brands are investing in finding and disseminating their purpose, mainly through compelling brand storytelling. The level of success they are achieving is because of their intention and vision, which goes far beyond the immediate reward of doing good by embracing a cause in a month, increasing sales or generating brand awareness. Successful brands are creating history, and it is far away from commemorative-dates ads or an advertising campaign of opportunity that seeks to generate controversy and repercussion in social or even the emotional institutional campaign of the year. 

By the way, a brand purpose communication effort is not an alternative that could replace the institutional campaign because is a parallel and deeper conversation that happens with the society and is not limited to connecting to the consumer. It goes beyond that. It is something that is not related to a brand talking about itself or selling shampoo, even in a very emotional way. 

Brand purpose is legacy.

To find the purpose of a brand is a very deep process that aims to reconnect the brand with its soul and mission in the world, which should be totally in tune with the contemporary culture and what really matters to society today. 

It is built with ethics, seriousness, truth, relevance and much, much consistency. Purpose is not a cause because it is not a fleeting thing. Purpose is not related to what is trending because it is connected to permanence. It does not change from year to year. Brand purpose means legacy and creates a future for the brand. 

Brand purpose redefines and creates change.

It looks at society, not just the target audience of a product: The brand needs to identify the social conflicts and tensions, the issues that permeate and affect contemporary society, and then transform the culture.

5B is the Johnson & Johnson documentary that tells the true story of a group of nurses at San Francisco General Hospital in the 1980s who established a ward to care for AIDS patients. A powerful human story about the power of human touch. A brand full of courage, committed for many years to provide support to nurses and other health professionals, dared to bring to life a great piece of storytelling that reminds us how important is to care and to love.

The purpose of P&G's Always brand materialized in the #LikeaGirl movement to combat stereotypes and rephrase what was previously perceived as something pejorative: playing and being like a girl. Unilever, with Dove's "Real Beauty," pioneered and unveiled, with absolute consistency, the feminine self-esteem territory, showing and redefining what it really means to be and feel beautiful.

It takes the conversation with the society and also with your consumers to another level.

Discovering the purpose of a brand is a complex and challenging task, but essential for the survival of a brand. For individuals in the world today, who live dispersed in a world-culture permeated by a collapsed universal language, where social relations are mediated by images and there is plenty of information and absence of meaning, it is no longer enough for a brand to offer good products, services and bring innovation from time to time. People want close, true and transparent, deeper and meaningful relationships. Relationships that create value in their lives. 

Brand purpose is the why.

It's a clear sense of what the brand can and wants to be. In what the brand believes, from the understanding of human behavior to what is relevant to people. It's the powerful intersection of the brand's vocation with the current needs of society. 

It is not the brand positioning or product differentiation. It is not related to the sales and profitability of the company, but it can be something so powerful and broad that helps to leverage the profitability of the brand, as in the case of Dove. 

Brand purpose refers to the role of the brand in people's lives. Volvo cars' brand purpose—"Everything we do is designed around people, so every innovation we make is designed to simplify and improve your life"—is very well embodied in its documentary series "Human Made Stories" and makes Volvo's brand belief tangible in a very meaningful way: Cars do not move the world forward, people do. Good and meaningful stories like that are bigger than products; they humanize brands.

In rare examples, the brand purpose can even match the brand positioning, as in the case of the "Made Of More" communications platform by Guinness beer, which celebrates people with character who put more into life to get more out of it.

Generalization does not talk to everyone. Nothing is more bold than being yourself. 

We are living in the age of truth and transparency. As society is hyperconnected, the truths, conflicts and differences between individuals come forth much more intensely. People can notice what's fake, and therefore, the intention of the brand is the new authenticity. The nuance is clear, the human differences gain more and more voice and meaning, and what used to be peripheral becomes mainstream, because it affects and moves people. 

Generalization becomes increasingly disposable in communication and in any form of content and entertainment, giving way to what shows the differences of types, races and genres, evidencing the extraordinary in the ordinary. Showing how normal it is to be what looks different. And actually, how normal it is to be anything you want to be. 

PepsiCo Brazil launched Doritos Rainbow in the country in 2017, from the brand's purpose to support diversity and reinforce the importance of people being proud of themselves, giving voice and support to the LGBTQI + community through various good initiatives. 

Nike's mission to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete (if you have a body, you are an athlete) in the world brings more than a positive impact on the brand's reputation. In a very clear, relevant and humanistic approach, the message creates a very important contrast to the hard times of intolerance we are living in, encouraging people to be anything they want to be, even if it looks like crazy.

Nike | Dream Crazy

A brand narrative with a broad meaning to society materializes the encounter between brand's purpose and the human insight. When the brand's truth is in tune with people's truth through relevant and meaningful stories, it really creates value. So brands should choose the path of meaningful narratives, where stories that are based on truth and made for real people has proven to work very well. A choice that is directly related to the brand's purpose, its vocation and role in the world and to what is relevant and makes sense to audiences. 

The big marketing revolution happens when a brand really puts itself in people's shoes, embracing the commitment to represent society and dare to transform the culture as the catalyst of a broader conversation that is more people-oriented and less product-oriented. Telling relevant stories where the hero and protagonist is the audience. With less promise and more purpose.

Because what really matters isn't what or how brands do things, but why.

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Patrícia Weiss
Patrícia Weiss is head of branded content and entertainment strategy and executive producer at ASAS.br.com and the chairwoman and founder of the Branded Content Marketing Association (BCMA) South America.