No Brand Purpose? No Worries!

New research, new insights, and suddenly, greed isn't good anymore. Great news, but is your branding not right when you lack some coveted higher purpose to show how do-good you are? No worries, you don't always need a higher purpose for your marketing to be 'doing good'. Suppose you do it right, of course..

There is a trend in consumer marketing that has entered the B2B (tech) markets: the need for a higher purpose for your brand. Brand purpose is a brand's reason for being beyond making money. Marketing for the sake of it, or 'just' to increase your profits, doesn't seem enough anymore.

Marketing according to a 12-year-old-kid?

According to Professor Byron Sharp, marketers have somehow gotten the idea that branding isn't good enough without connecting it to a higher cause. They seem to be insecure to step up to the plate and just do what they need to do: create an appealing offer for customers to let them feel they need it—nothing more, nothing less.

The problem with the addition of a higher purpose to your brand might be, according to Sharp, that all brands will soon start to look alike. "As a marketer, I worry that it leads to the sort of advertising a 12-year-old kid would come up with in a high school assignment. 'Buy this brand because it will help children in Africa'. If all brands do that it's very boring and not creative. It's not branding."

Growing a money tree?

If we are very honest (and we are), we can see this emphasis on a higher purpose in the B2B tech markets as well. Take the Dutch 'Rabobank' for example. This bank was already renowned for its more or less 'non-greedy' image within the banking world because it started as an agricultural cooperative bank. In late 2017 the Rabobank adopted a new slogan to show the higher purpose of their brand, 'Growing a better world'. The campaign explained how Rabobank wanted to contribute to a more sustainable food chain. Such a noble goal and such a brutal backlash… The following year, Rabobank won a 'Lying Animal' award. This anti-price was awarded to Rabobank because it also invested in less sustainable enterprises like intensive cattle farming and fast food chains.

This example, by the way, is not meant to state that a B2B company should never aim for a brand purpose. It just points out that you have to be very careful about this purpose's how and what. And you can argue if a brand purpose has to be philanthropic or green. Although some marketers at Johnson & Johnson or Unilever might say 'they are just selling soap', they might not have to look further for a greater purpose. As we all experienced the last couple of years, washing hands with soap can prevent people from becoming sick. Here's your higher purpose for you.

Find your (hidden) purpose

There is definitely no need for a higher purpose if you already have an appealing ‘own’ purpose as a brand. In the fintech industry, we see many companies offering tech solutions to banks. This might not sound like the highest of ideals, but let's take a closer look. Like with the soap business, it might not sound very heroic if you just focus on the product. But if you zoom out and look at the effects of the product fintechs offer, you might see a whole different picture. Maybe, your tool helps banks to work faster and more effective. This means that people can, in the end, get paid faster. Easy and better access to money means an increase in welfare for many people. Or, in short: it means food on the table.

No cringing? Consider these four steps

But, before we all go and find the hidden gemstones for our brand purpose, we need to zoom out even more. The line between a smile and a cringe is thin for brand purposes. To stay at the right side of the line, you need to see the whole picture of the brand purpose.

Please consider these four issues to decide whether you need a brand purpose or how to get your purpose right (choose wisely, as the Grail Knight said to Indiana Jones):

  1. Can you make it credible? - A brand purpose only works when people believe in it. Ensure there is a link between what your company does, stands for and it’s purpose. Not just any green initiative will do when you, for example, know your company is using above-average amounts of fossil fuels.
  2. Where are you entering the market? - To decide what purpose fits your brand, you sometimes have to search a bit up and down the food chain where your company is active. Where is the best entry point for growing your (future) audience? The brand purpose in B2B tech markets is, for example, often found as a good cause for universities or schools. The student of today might be your customer of tomorrow. Just look at how Microsoft translates its brand purpose ‘to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more’. They do so by offering free software to students, which is very noble and effective: they 'get used' to the Microsoft products at an early age.
  3. Find a 'popular issue' - Nobody likes issues, but everyone wants them solved. Actually, this 'solving-the-issue' is one of the core ingredients of brand purposes. When you show that you know where the pain is in your market, your potential customers will be more willing to listen to you. What better way to show (not tell) that you care for this widespread issue than by your brand's purpose.
  4. Consider physical availability - this might be a bit difficult in the B2B business as your products are (probably) not sold in supermarkets or at gas stations. Nevertheless, research has shown that the most potent purpose branding is when the in-store presence is aligned with the purpose. When choosing your physical marketing tools from your exhibition stalls to business gifts, keep this in mind.

No worries!

There is no need for a brand purpose unless it really supports your business activities. Which doesn't mean you shouldn't spend time and money for the greater good. On the contrary, please do so if you want to be a philanthropist, but sometimes it is just wise to leave your brand out of it.

But, if there is an excellent reason for connecting your good work to your brand, do consider the credibility. First, think it through thoroughly, so you know how it all adds up for your customers, for you, and mainly the good cause you are supporting.


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