Businesses move forward with purpose ~ Brand Mix

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Businesses move forward with purpose

Photo: Vintage Woman Soldier Veteran Bugler, WAF U.S, Air Force 1950s by Beverlykahuna (Flickr)

Two powerful forces are combining to push businesses to catch up with Peter Drucker's ideas about them serving a higher purpose--just in time for his 100th birthday (which would have been today).

Drucker was a strong proponent of businesses going beyond maximizing quarterly profits for shareholder benefit. Why? In his words (from this HBR tribute): "Most people need to feel that they are here for a purpose, and unless an organization can connect to this need to leave something behind that makes this a better world, or at least a different one, it won’t be successful over time.”

So what forces are pushing companies in this direction?

1. The Recession: The recession may be technically over but the current economic conditions continue to impact both consumer confidence and marketing budgets. As Landor-colleague Allen Adamson points out in this Forbes article, such conditions foster purpose-driven branding: "a company whose employees can answer the question, 'Why are we here?' will be the company that makes stronger connections with consumers in search of solutions to life's new normal issues." This Advertising Age article and this WARC News item list a growing number of companies that have become mission-marketers in the U.S. and the UK including P&G, Unilever, Heinz, Wal-Mart, General Mills and Sony.

2. Changing Media Dynamics: The challenge with social media for traditional marketers is the "social" bit. It's less about broadcasting and publicizing, more about 1:1 conversations and dialogue. And the fact is you just can't have a very interesting chat about a box of cereal or a can of soda. As Dove shows, there's much more social media potential talking about real beauty than there is talking about the new range of beauty bars and lotions. As the media change and evolve, so will brands.

To what purpose?

Back to Drucker. The sort of purpose he had in mind was not something superficial as represented by so many mission statements that companies have today. But something grand-- like GE's ambition to be: "the leader in making science work for humanity."

I'll leave you to pick through the current crop of examples (here and here) to decide which of them seem grand vs. less grand. But, to give you some guidance:

More grand if:

The purpose is connected to the intent of the founder (or a later visionary): Pre-recession, Wal-Mart went though a few years where it was struggling to define itself. Should it move more upscale? Should it be more like Target? But then it looked back at its history and chose to embrace the vision of its founder, Sam Walton, which was, yes, to offer low prices but with the intent of helping people provide better lives for their families. With a renewed sense of purpose, Wal-Mart now has direction and energy for its marketing programs and employee engagement with its "Save money. Live better" tag line. Charles Schwab is another company that has rediscovered its purpose by considering its heritage.

Less grand if:

It's mainly about saving money: An umbrella campaign that features all the products in a portfolio can be much less expensive than spending money on each product individually. It's a temptation for companies looking for ways to cut their marketing budgets. All they need is some kind of mission-statement-thingy that can cover all their stuff. With this kind of thinking, they usually end up with something bland and uninspiring to customers and employees alike. Or, as Jack Neff describes in the Advertising Age piece, mission statements that: "Can provoke eye rolls nearly strong enough to cause head trauma among journalists, not to mention the more cynical or maverick elements within corporations."

In case you missed it: 10 Peter Drucker quotes (from earlier this week)


Anonymous said...
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1day1brand said...

"And the fact is you just can't have a very interesting chat about a box of cereal or a can of soda."

I agree. What concerns me about examples like Dove is that they seem purpose driven. But are they authentic? After all, the same corporation is simultaneously objectifying super-perfect-sex-kittens and ultra-sexy-hipsters in adverts and social for its other brands.

-- Axle Davids

Martin Bishop said...


Great point. I think there's definitely an issue when product brands of the same corporation take very different paths. It does make you question the credibility of the brands. I wrote several posts about Axe and Dove a while back:

Peter said...

Great post!
These underlying principles of the brand, company values and culture never went away during the last decade, they simply took a back seat. Employees yearn for a more noble purpose to their work. The question remains, is this a more permanent change in behavior because consumers will take into consideration the noble purpose of a brand and its parent company or will they switch to a "good enough" private label knock off beacuse it is cheaper?

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