Brands Are Like People

Brands are like people and people are like brands. They are complex, and like great people great brands are dimensional; they have a soul, personality and behaviors that differentiate them from others. They leave an impression and invite you to engage with them.
BY: Shawn Parr, Bulldog Drummond
Brand is misunderstood, underappreciated and very often underutilized. When brandcomes up in a meeting, it often means different things to different people, and many executives speak the language of brand the way some of us speak Spanish: with a limited vocabulary and rotten accent. And while being fluent in another language is helpful, not understanding the definition, and differentiating value and places to deploy it properly can be highly problematic. Despite the excellent books, many courses, and conferences dedicated to brand there’s still confusion surrounding its meaning and how it should be operationalized even within the most sophisticated companies.At Bulldog Drummond, one of our key practices guides a wide range of organizations, from multi-billion dollar internationals to passionate startups and not-for-profits, to define and unlock the power of their brand (whether it’s refreshing or repositioning tired brands or building new-to-world brands from scratch). We are most often hired by the executive team, venture firm or private equity group driving the business to help explore and define the brand’s relevance and reason for being—and we’re often asked to explore the permission that brand has to stretch or expand.After working with so many leadership teams to develop and refresh brands, I’ve come to the realization that brands are like people and people are like brands. They are complex, and like great people great brands are dimensional; they have a soul, personality and behaviors that differentiate them from others. They leave an impression and invite you to engage with them. Great brands are interesting and make it clear why people need them, and it’s from this vantage point that I’d like to offer a few key areas to help you think about the power of brand.

Brand is the sum of many parts

Why do so many executives who talk about brand not understand its full potential as a business asset? Many see it from a single tactical dimension instead of its entirety. Many mistakenly see brand as the logo, an ad campaign or what’s on product packaging. They don’t understand the strategic power that a fully articulated brand platform holds when deployed across all areas of the business.

Take a minute to think about a friend who stands out from the crowd, who has made an impression on others. Now think about why they’re memorable? The impression we create when we meet other people is formed by the way we behave, the way we look and dress, the way we communicate and the value we deliver. In the same way we form opinions about people, we form opinions about brands. Brand is the impression we have of a product or a service and is based on the sum of our experiences and interactions with it. Everything a brand does matters.

Brand is rational and emotional 

Like people, brands have two sides: the rational and the emotional. Both sides need to be clearly defined and deployed for a brand to unlock its full potential. Think of a brand like a person living with purpose, adding value to people’s lives and operating with a set of guiding principles. Start with being clear why your brand exists and what it’s trying to accomplish and then think about how it should behave to ensure it’s relevant and memorable. The rational side is built on the passion to solve a problem or meet an unmet or unrealized need, and this informs and fuels the brand’s purpose or reason for being. Just like a person who operates with integrity, a brand should have a clearly defined set of principles or values that guide how it behaves. The principles form the rational building blocks for the brand, and combined with a clear mission (what you intend to do to achieve your purpose) and a clear strategy (the immediate actions you will take to deliver on your mission) a working platform is formed to guide the brand’s actions so they are relevant, coordinated and consistent.

The brand strategy should guide and inform the brand’s personality and behavior, working together to inform the emotional connections it makes with the people it serves. The strategy should inform everything the brand does, the actions it takes, the places it appears and how it engages, educates and entertains. The emotional side of the brand is brought to life by all forms of memorable and relevant brand expression across internal (company culture) and external (consumer-facing) touchpoints. These touchpoints include the experience design of the product or service, visual, written and dimensional communication, advertising, outreach, customer service and the overall experience before, during and after purchase.

Brand differentiates

Just like memorable people, brands that stand out from the crowd do so because they intrigue people, are memorable and different. Compelling brands are relevant, engaging, entertaining and more often than not, courageous. They take a stand for or against something and have the confidence to stand apart from the crowd. People remember compelling brands and know what to expect from them.

Your brand is one of the most important assets you possess to drive and differentiate your business—if your brand is not clearly defined, understood and embraced by the entire organization it will never realize its full potential to impact your business. It’s important to ensure that there is understanding and clarity around what brand means in business terms and what it can do to drive innovation, communication and differentiation. And then it is imperative to have complete alignment on your brand platform with your entire executive team. Your brand is one of the most powerful drivers for engagement and performance across all areas of your business.

Brand does not belong to marketing 

Every CEO must be the leading brand ambassador and ensure every department head understands how to bring the brand to life at their level of the company. Because finance experts or lawyers lead many corporations, they often rely on the CMO to own and champion the brand. But just as culture isn’t the sole responsibility of HR, brand is not the sole responsibility of marketing. While the execution of many dimensions of brand, specifically expression and communication, traditionally sit with marketing the entire executive team has the responsibility to ensure they understand and champion the brand through their words, actions, and behaviors—and bring it to life through their function of the business. Every department in the company has a role to play in bringing the brand to life and to ensure it is alive, vibrant and maximized.

Brand needs love and attention

Just like people, brands need to be carefully nurtured and managed, and like people, they get old and tired and need reinvigorating. Every CMO should perform a regular health check on their brand. I don’t mean looking at brand awareness research, but fully understanding the health of your brand internally. Do regular refresher sessions on brand for all key leaders. Starbucks just spent $35 million to make sure their staffers are passionately connected and understand who they are and where they are going as an organization.

Brand clarity drives confidence and performance

We’ve spent the past eighteen months working with the CEO and executive team of a national brand that needed to redefine its reason for being and its place in the world. The business was in significant danger with sales down by 8% year-over-year, stock prices at a 52-week low, employees operating with an unclear business strategy, and a languishing culture. One of the most significant issues holding the company back was the lack of alignment around brand and what it meant to the business.

After working collaboratively with the executive team to develop a new brand platform and mobilize their organization of 60,000 people around it, same store sales increased by 11%, their stock price hit a 52-week high and their employee engagement significantly increased. This turnaround took courage, commitment and patience to drive change, and the single most important catalyst was brand clarity. Like confident people, brands that operate with clarity generally deliver more consistent results.

Creating Good, Serves Brands Well

Research proves that having things does not equal happiness. So, as brands look to 2013 and beyond, they’d be wise to consider how they can focus their vast creative resources on doing good. It will serve both the people in need and the bottom line.

Big Idea 2013:

Designing the Necessities of Life

Tim Brown, CEO IDEO

Humanity spends billions every year designing, developing, and marketing new things. The question I have is, are we directing those efforts appropriately?
Research suggests that beyond a certain point consumption does not increase happiness. So why are we spending so much time creating new things for those of us who already have so much?

The steady increase in new forms of consumption based on a ‘shared economy’ might indicate that many people—especially younger people—are turning away from materialism. Coincidentally, the steady increase in graduates choosing to pursue careers in social entrepreneurship might indicate a search for alternative forms of self-realization.

Most of the greatest challenges that face our species today are not ones that reside at the peak of Maslow’s hierarchy. Instead, they concern life’s most basic needs:

+ How might we create a sustainable balance between the needs of 9 billion people and the productive capacity of the planet?

+ Where will sustainable supplies of energy, food, and water come from in the future?

+ How might we design our cities to be safe, productive, and sustainable places for us to inhabit?

+ How might we conquer the ravages of chronic diseases that threaten to reverse the steady increase in human lifespan?

+ How might we design systems to support graceful aging and dignified death?

+ How might we feed, clothe, educate, and give shelter to the more than 3 billion people who live on less than $2.50 a day?

The list goes on, and yet we are dedicating a tiny proportion of our creative efforts to these challenges. What is especially confounding is that locked up in every one of these challenges is the potential for vast amounts of economic wealth. Never has ‘doing well by doing good’ shown such promise as it does today.

So, my big idea for 2013 is that we go back to basics and direct our creative efforts toward designing the necessities of life.

Which of life’s necessities are you choosing to focus your creative energies on?

Telling Purposeful Brand Stories

Mankind has survived and thrived based on our ability to tell purposeful stories that created social connection and community through language and storytelling. Smart business today must take this hardwired ability to heart if they want to compete and succeed.

A 10,000 Year Old Tradition -

Key to Your Success?

By: Peter Guber, CEO Mandalay Entertainment, Owner Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Dodgers, Author “Tell To Win.”

How could a 10,000 year old tradition be key to your success?

Simply put, without it, neither you, nor any of us, would be here. I’m referring to our ancestors’ ability to tell purposeful stories in order to survive. We’re all story listeners, story advocates and tellers of purposeful stories- – we’re designed that way. Don’t believe me? Let me tell you a story…

About 10,000 years ago, humans were prey and the predators were winning. We weren’t more ferocious than a tiger, faster than a cheetah, or bigger than a rhinoceros. So we had to outsmart them.

To compete we developed new technology, language, giving us the ability to communicate complex thoughts and create community through oral stories told around the campfire, which were memorable experiences told and retold that bound and passed down our tribe’s beliefs, rules and values, “the hard strategy and tactics” vital to our survival. In so doing, we worked together to outsmart these threats, turning us from prey to predator, and going from the bottom to the top of the food chain.

You think that Facebook, Twitter and even LinkedIn, created social cohesion? No! We did! Computers are just one more tool in our ever-expanding toolbox that includes “technologies” such as the pen, moveable type, photography, film and video allowing humankind to capture, share and spread their stories which had the vital information for their survival and success embedded within.

The opportunity horizon for businesses today lies in taking the value proposition of that 10,000 year old tradition and by combining it with the tsunami of technological advancements, turn that campfire into a bonfire. A cautionary tale – nowadays story creation and sharing have taken on a whole new meaning. Audiences expect to be part of the story, to contribute to it, morph it, and share it on whatever device they choose with their own audiences, networks and communities. Empowered by the Internet and social media platforms, they demand to be controlling the dashboard of their experiences.

Businesses must do just that. Surrender control over the telling of their product or services’ stories and let their customers/audiences pay them forward as apostles and evangelists. It’s the most powerful, authentic (and commission-free) sales force you can engage!

This 10,000 year old story telling magic is no gift from me to you. It’s hardwired in all of us today. Smart businesses must venerate and kindle this resource it in all of their stakeholders to reap the rewards of future business success!

What is Branding?

Ran across this nice article on the foundations of branding. It’s history. It’s purpose. It’s impact.  Enjoy!


By: The Smart People at BlackCoffee

While the concept of brand is ever-evolving, its primary purpose is to balance the objectives of an organization with people’s needs and expectations. It does this by building a trustworthy relationship with consumers. In other words, what is promised by the brand owner and what is expected by the brand’s audience become one and the same—It’s that simple and that complex.

Many people frequently misuse the term “brand” by interchanging it with advertising, marketing, naming or design. These improper applications have caused much confusion as to what branding is and how it works. Business consultancies, marketing companies, advertising agencies, public relations firms and graphic/web design studios each define brand within their own frame of reference and expertise. As such, “branding” has become a bit of a buzz word. But, what does it really mean and how does it work? Where did all start and how can it create value? To benefit from the effects of branding, a common understanding of “brand” must first be established.

Let’s begin with the etymology of the word “brand.” According to the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins:

“brands/trademarks. The practice of branding animals for the purpose of identification is so old that its exact origins are unknown. We do know, however, that brands were first used on humans—criminals and slaves. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the practice of branding animals to indicate ownership was well established in England before Shakespeare’s time and the term trademark for the word or symbol chosen by a manufacturer to identify and distinguish his product was in use before 1838. Official registration of trademarks by the U.S. Patent Office did not begin, however, until 1870.”

Academics and marketers unanimously agree that the origin and evolution of branding moved from a commodity-driven model to a value-driven model. Rice, sugar, cotton and steel were all strictly commodities at one point. Consumers used the identification system, designed to show ownership, as a tool to navigate their way through vast offerings of these common goods. This allowed them not only to identify the best products available in their market, but empowered them to repeat a favorable purchase.

Economists credit an English artisan by the name of Josiah Wedgewood [1730-1795] with creating the first modern brand. Born into a family of potters, Wedgewood was a pioneer in industrialization who greatly improved the quality of the crockery of his day. Christened ‘Queen’s Ware’ after Queen Charlotte, his goods were of such superior quality, they stimulated demand and commanded a premium price—“Wedgewood” became synonymous with “Quality.”

In 1924, General Motors’ newly named president, Alfred P. Sloan, began developing different automobile models around customer segmentation. The price and quality of each car was based on what each consumer segment could afford. While this marks a huge shift in marketing, it wasn’t until May 13, 1931 that Procter & Gamble’s Neil McElroy proposed the modern concept of “branding.” Through an internal memorandum, he proposed a new business strategy called “brand management” and the age of product and brand differentiation was born.

Brand management focused attention on product specialization and differentiation instead of business function. By distinguishing the qualities of each brand from all other P&G brands, each would avoid competition with one another by targeting different consumer markets with a different set of benefits. McElroy’s concept championed by P&G President/CEO, Richard R. Deupree became the foundation of the company’s business strategy.

Over the years, P&G and the companies that embraced McElroy’s brand management concept became extremely successful. In the early 1940s, Ted Bates & Company decided to conduct an extensive research study to find out why and reverse engineer the success of these brands. The company researched “successful advertising campaigns,” to see whether they could identify a pattern. What they found was that the most successful brands—those that both lead their category and produced the highest ROI—used what they termed the Unique Selling Proposition or “USP.”

In 1962 Ted Bates & Company’s Chairman, Rosser Reeves, wrote Reality in Advertising, in which he shared the concept of the USP and outlined its three guiding principles:

The proposition must be clearly stated to the consumer: “Buy this product, and you will get this specific benefit.”
The proposition itself must be unique. It must express a specific benefit that competitors do not, will not, or cannot offer.
The proposition must be strong enough to pull new customers to the product.
In the late 60’s and early 70’s, the concept of “brand” began to take on new meaning, including the larger concept of image and values. Al Ries and Jack Trout captured this evolution in their Harvard Business Review article and later authored a book by the same title: POSITIONING: The battle for your mind. Their concept stated that it was not product superiority that mattered, but rather consumers’ perception of a given brand that paved the road to success. This concept was dubbed “brand positioning” and to this day it remains the standard for developing successful brands.

Legal perspective: A brand is a trademark. It can be defined as a name, sign, symbol, device, or a combination thereof, intended to identify and differentiate the goods and services of one seller from those of other sellers, or group of sellers, within the same category. The owner or licensee of a trademark (brand) has the right to exclude others from using that trademark by being the first to use it within the marketplace and registering that trademark with the U.S. patent and trademark office.

Business perspective: A brand is a tool by which the company promotes goods and services to secure future earnings. As viewed by consumers a brand is the promise and delivery of an experience throughout every point of contact. When managed properly brands create sustainable long-term value for the organization.

In practice: A brand is an experience living at the intersection of promise and expectation. Here’s how it works. A company expresses its brand as a promise, both overt and implied. That promise lives in consumers’ hearts and minds as an expectation. When brand promise and consumers’ expectations reflect one another, the brand holds tremendous value for both parties. It is through this co-creation (consumer and brand) that true brand value is created. Yet, business and consumer each see their brand from their own point-of-view. Brand expression verses brand image, seller verses buyer.

Effective businesses view their brands as tools that allow their messaging to cut through the noise of an overcrowded marketplace. The parent company or organization expresses its brand’s position through carefully crafted Brand Signals that convey meaning that differentiates their brand. These signals underscore the position that the brand has taken, persuading consumers to consider, prefer, and ultimately buy their offering—businesses use brand as a differentiation tool.

Conversely, consumers factor brands into just about every purchase they make. Consumers use brands as a method for navigating their way through the marketplace. Each brand distinguishes itself, allowing consumers to identify their preferred products and services from those they see as being less desirable. When brand meaning and relevance are clear, the brand will hold a stronger position in consumer’s minds and the more likely they are to choose it. Consumers use brand as an identification tool.

Without brands, the marketplace would be overwhelming. Imagine a world without brands: You’re out of ketchup. You run to your local store where you are met by a wall of red bottles with simply the word “ketchup.” Without brands there would be no signals to illustrate the differences between the vast array of choices other than size and price. No name, no unique package, nothing! So which one do you choose, why and how?

You can quickly see how making a purchase becomes an ordeal and making a repurchase would be next to impossible. However, we live in a world where consumers have a system for differentiating products and services as well as tracking their experiences. Brands provide a method of classification, differentiation and identification which allow you, as the consumer, to simplify your ketchup buying decisions.

As you scan the many shelves of ketchup bottles, your brain subconsciously translates each brand signal: bottle shape, label, name, logo, color scheme and graphics. You recognize your preferred brand and wham, Heinz. You’re on your way!

It is important to note that “Value” is defined differently by different parties. Businesses measure brand value in terms of margin, market share and goodwill. Yet, each brand owner will asses these based on individual objectives. For example, a politician may measure brand value in terms of votes, a company in terms of profits and a nonprofit as contributions. Consumers place value on many factors ranging from emotional to rational, from exclusivity and rarity to the safety of commonality.

No matter how value is measured, if your brand does not deliver its value, it is merely an empty promise. Without a trusting customer base, a brand is nothing more than a legally-protectable name, sign, symbol or device.

Branding is not about getting people to choose your offering over the competition’s. It is the act managing consumers’ expectations so as to condition your target audience to see your offering as the only answer to a specific need. By defining a realistic and manageable promise of what the brand owner will deliver and what consumers can expect of the brand, branding has become the backbone of modern business strategy. “Brand” drives consumer purchase decisions and affects nearly every functional area of a business. With product offerings converging into sameness, companies are viewing “brand” as the only avenue of differentiation.

Branding defines market position (brand strategy) and, through a series of signals, articulates that position as promise (brand identity). When strategy and identity work as one, brands obtain sustainable and favorable market positions. This has shifted the task of brand building and management from a marketing tactic to the primary business strategy.


Find Your Purpose Fit

Does your brand  make people’s lives better? Can it fix an industry? Or, does it aspire to change the world?   

Brand Purpose: 3 Ways

From: Marketing + Good Blog Spot

Purpose-driven brands want to change things. They exist to enact change for the better on some scale. Great brands aim for three sizes of change – Personal, Industry, and World.

Some brands decide their Purpose is to make someone’s life better. That’s personal. It has to do with features, benefits, something a customer can put in their pocket to save time or effort or money. The brand with a personal-sized Purpose says, “Hey customer, we believe your life can, and should be better, and we work every day to make that happen.” They phrase their own Purpose in much more specific terms, but you get the gist. It’s not always obvious that these are Purpose-driven brands, rather than just really strong marketers. Examples include Apple, BMW, and our client Publix Supermarkets. They all wake up every day with a Purpose. They invite people to buy by over delivering.

Other brands decide their Purpose is to fix the industry. This is a larger scale Purpose, where a brand finds a common enemy with their customers; some injustice, or conspiracy, or failure of their industry. Some wrong to be righted. The brand with an industry-sized Purpose says, “Hey customer, we believe our whole industry can, and should be better, and we work every day to make that happen.” Examples include Southwest Airlines, Method, and Ally Bank (Google them, you know the spots). These brands invite people to not only buy, but also believe in their POV.

The biggest Purpose a brand can adopt is to make the whole world a better place. These brands claim that their belief about the world is so strong that their products are merely an expression of that belief. They sell the cause. They may reach to other industries to find other like-minded companies to partner with. They invite their competitors to do as they do, and welcome it. They envision utopia. They take the high road. You know these brands, and you’re probably seeing more of this advertising out there. Examples include Pepsi, Tom’s Shoes, Dove, SunChips (with an asterisk), as well as almost every organic food product and hybrid vehicle out there. These brands invite people not only to buy, and not only to believe in their POV, but to join the movement. To put their higher Purpose before lesser benefits like style, flavor, or price.

You can see the power of Purpose, and probably also see the challenge. No matter how big a brand’s Purpose is, it’s up to the company to deliver on that Purpose with its product and operations. You can’t really manufacture a trumped-up Purpose, because it will feel flimsy and people will call you out. That’s why Purpose can be harder to pull off than some other ways to get people to talk about your brand.

How Purpose Affects the Bottom Line

More proof that having a strong point of view and brand purpose provide clearer differentiation, stronger customer connection and healthier bottom lines.

Clearly Defining What a Brand Stands for Provides a Competitive Edge and Leads to Increased Productivity

By: Natalie Zmuda, Ad Age

 At Ogilvy & Mather’s New York headquarters, the heads of marketing for three of the country’s best-known brands eagerly picked one another’s brains about the strategies that are working and the campaigns that are resonating. Though Seth Farbman, global chief marketer at Gap; Jonathan Mildenhall, VP-global advertising strategy and creative excellence at Coca-Cola; and John Kennedy, VP-corporate marketing at IBM, are Ogilvy clients, it was the first time they’d come together as a group.

And while the executives have different products to sell and goals to achieve, they are approaching their businesses in the same way. They are defining, honing and marketing their brands’ purpose — in Ogilvy lingo, the “big ideal.” Separate from corporate social responsibility, this entails committing to and then identifying a brand with a cause of “enduring importance.”

“[These] brands have a point of view about the world. If you look at [their] major competitor, they don’t have a strong point of view,” said Miles Young, worldwide chairman-CEO at Ogilvy. “We’ve looked at brands that have a strong point of view vs. brands that don’t, and you can see a clear differentiation in brand imagery and consumer bonding translated into market share. That is a strong argument for purpose in an organization.”

“It’s good for the industry,” added Colin Mitchell, worldwide planning director at Ogilvy. “It’s what marketers and agencies can really add to the corporation. It can help give the corporation its soul back and a sense of direction and mission. That ultimately affects all sorts of things.”

Seth Farbman, global chief marketing officer, Gap

Seth Farbman, global chief marketing officer, Gap

Below are more thoughts from the three executives.

Ad Age: What is your brand’s purpose, in a sound bite?

Mr. Farbman: Gap‘s ideal is to bring American values and a sense of inclusiveness to an industry that otherwise will not provide it.

Mr. Kennedy: Progress is how we pull it together, in a word. It’s the belief that science, math, engineering and computing can make companies more competitive, cities more livable and improve society.

Mr. Mildenhall: For Coke, our purpose has always been to spread optimism and happiness further each and every day.

Ad Age: Purpose has been all the rage for the past few years. Will it continue to gain steam or is it just a fad?


John Kennedy, VP-corporate marketing, IBM

John Kennedy, VP-corporate marketing, IBM

Mr. Farbman: When I look at the fundamental contract that corporations have with society, purpose-driven branding is going to get more and more important. In exchange for limited liability, access to resources and government infrastructure, you must provide products and services that are of good quality for a fair price. That contract had disappeared and is coming back in a big way. You have to figure out what you do beyond your daily transaction.

Mr. Kennedy: It’s going to be about purpose-driven corporations. As a result of transparency brought to bear by social media and other technologies, our markets and customers can see behind the firewall. It’s forcing marketers, really the entire C-suite, to confront how they come across externally and how they operate internally. It’s going to change the role of marketing and the role of the CMO.

Jonathan Mildenhall, VP-global advertising strategy & creative excellence, Coca-Cola

Jonathan Mildenhall, VP-global advertising strategy & creative excellence, Coca-Cola

Mr. Mildenhall: At the heart of every good organization is a purpose. The challenge for all of us is to channel that purpose through every aspect of the organization, so that consumers can see it in the communication. Brands like Coca-Cola and Fanta have purpose at their core. And when we get it right, we put the purpose into marketing and communications.

Ad Age: What impact can purpose have on the bottom line and your place among competitors?

Mr. Farbman: Optimism sells. [Our] platform is called “Believers in Bright.” You see it expressed externally as “Be Bright.” We have a very clear filtering system now. Is that bright? Is it not? Is that optimistic? Is it not? We’re seeing early traction. That creates more optimism. It’s a virtuous cycle.

I challenge anyone to understand what [clothing retailer] Zara stands for. You buy, you transact; you leave. Then what? H&M is very similar. They’ve been trying to get a little more purpose into their brand, but there isn’t a clear competitor [for Gap] in this sense of “What do you stand for?”

Mr. Kennedy: Since we’ve launched “Smarter Planet,” the results have been very strong actually. It’s resulted in a lot of companies asking for more help, which is what we like.

We are always surveying the competitive landscape. That is essential to cultivating any brand strategy or marketing strategy. But we develop our brand positioning and strategy in response to the unique character of IBM and the purpose we serve for our key constituencies, rather than in response to what the competition is doing.

Mr. Mildenhall: Purpose drives productivity. It allows the people of your organization to get behind something and understand it. A brand like Coke is easier to manage than a newer brand, where consumers aren’t really clear on what its cultural purpose is.

We have two sets of competition, category competition and competition within the space of the purpose we’re trying to communicate. In terms of understanding where popular culture is going, we’re going to be much more successful if we look at businesses and brands in the space of happiness than if we just look at the beverage category.

Purpose + Passion = Performance

Brands, like people, that have a clear purpose, lived out passionately are healthier, more vital and engaging. The result is better business, motivated employees and more customer engagement.

Tap in to the Potential of Purpose to Help Your Brand Thrive

Adapted from an article by Joe Sullivan, CEO Market Insights


So what does purpose mean in terms of  a brand or an organization? Let’s first look at it from a first-hand, individual standpoint. What motivates you to get out of bed each day? What’s your purpose? To yourself? To your family? To your friends? To your employer? To your co-workers? Purpose does not need to be big and bold. It simply needs to be yours. So choose a purpose, something that will animate you to get up and going every day.

Any number of medical studies point to the fact that people with a purpose live longer. Think about someone in your own family — perhaps an uncle or grandmother, a dad or grandfather — who worked their entire life. When retirement day arrived, did they seem deflated, uncertain what to do with their time? Perhaps they had lost their sense of purpose, and there was nothing in line to take its place? In many such cases, a person’s physical health will actually begin to deteriorate. An individual’s personal sense of purpose can keep them vital, engaged and alive. The same can be said for organizations.

Organizations with purpose also live longer. They survive shifts in the market, and their brand remains relevant to consumers. Your brand will barely be noticed by the consumer if your purpose is all about profit. Your purpose should inspire, drive innovation and unify your internal culture.

Why do Apple, Google and IBM consistently rank among the strongest brands in the world? These brands wield such tremendous power because their organizations have purpose. Apple’s external message and internal structure is organized around “think different,” an invitation for people to create their world through self expression. Google focuses on the ideal of liberating people through the universal availability of information. IBM has embraced the purpose of helping create a “smarter planet.” These companies connect a clear sense of purpose with their audience, while setting them apart from competitors. Moreover, they tangibly express their brand purpose through their internal culture, something evidenced in the behavior of every employee.

The Harvard Business Review recently explored the concept of “Collective Ambition” within organizations. Simply put, it’s why an organization exists — its reason d’etre — what it hopes to accomplish, how internal team members collaborate, and how the organization’s brand promise aligns with core values.

This alignment is real, and the results tangible. In fact, according to one study, fully engaged organizations with a clear internal culture outperform others by 33% in customer retention, and outpace competitors in sales growth by 51% annually.



Passion can take many forms: zeal, enthusiasm, excitement, fervor, etc. Whatever you want to call it, passion is the key ingredient. It’s contagious. It’s what gets people united around a common cause, building momentum for your purpose.

Embrace your passion, even if you think it has nothing to do with your job, because it actually does. As you express your passion, you discover newfound vigor that transfers energy to other parts of your life — both personal and professional.

The power of passion can be demonstrated through the story behind Clif Bars, a healthy sports nutrition bar created by an avid backpacker named Gary Erickson. In 1992, he was living in a garage with his dog and a pair of skis as his only possessions. On his quest to create a sports bar without all the bad oils and fats, he experimented with various concoctions in his mother’s kitchen until he found the magic recipe. The rest, as they say, is history.

The opportunity to sell the company presented itself. He and his partner agreed that they would sell the company for approximately $120 million to a large food conglomerate. But the morning of the closing of the transaction, Gary realized he didn’t want to sell the company, and couldn’t go through with the deal. His partner still wanted to go through with it however, and expected $60 million. So Gary put himself $60 mil in debt.

He candidly approached his employees, sharing his vision of an independent company. But in order for that strategy to succeed, it would take everyone’s support, ideas, long hours and passion. With the commitment of employees — hikers, runners, health nuts and sports enthusiasts who were themselves passionate about Clif Bars — the company was able to prevail. Employees were drawn to work at Clif Bar because aligned with their own passions. Gary knew that a passionate employee is an engaged employee.


A shared sense of collective passion can engage customers in ways that reshape perceptions about your institution.. Studies suggest as much as two-thirds of a company’s profits hinge on enthusiastic employees effectively engaging consumers.

Key Takeaways

Profit is not your purpose. Find your purpose and let it guide everything you do.

Your purpose is what keeps you (and your business) active, engaged and vital.

Your purpose is unique to you. That’s what makes it difficult to duplicate, and what will set you apart from your competitors.

Your purpose is at the center of your brand position.

Passion animates your purpose and brings it to life.

50 Fastest Growing Brands Serve a ‘Higher Purpose’

Making a Difference, Makes the Difference


Brand driven by higher purpose are 400 % more profitable than S&P 500

Brand consultants Millward Brown and former Procter & Gamble marketing officer Jim Stengel developed the list of 50 brands, which they say built the deepest relationships with customers while achieving the greatest financial growth from 2001-2011. Furthermore, investment in these companies – the Stengel 50 – over the past decade would have been 400% more profitable than an investment in the S&P 500.

The study forms the backbone of Stengel’s book GROW: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies (Crown Business; December 27, 2011).

“We wanted to uncover which brands grew the most over the past decade, both in terms of customer bonding and shareholder value,” said Millward Brown Optimor VP Benoit Garbe, who led the study. “Once we identified these brands, our burning question was what, if any, were the common principles that sparked and sustained their growth.”

To arrive at the Stengel 50, Millward Brown Optimor valued thousands of brands across 30+ countries. The list included both B2B and B2C businesses in 28 categories ranging in size from $100 million in revenues to well over $100 billion:

Ideals – The Ultimate Growth Driver

A research team – comprising Millward Brown Optimor brand strategists, Jim Stengel, Professor Sanjay Sood and MBA students at UCLA Anderson Graduate School of Management – uncovered that the most successful brands were built on an ideal of improving lives in some way, irrespective of size and category.

“We define ideal as the higher-order benefit a brand or a business gives to the world,” said Stengel. “Some companies are very explicit about their ideals, like Zappos – their ideal of delivering happiness is on their boxes, all over their offices, even on t-shirts employees wear. Other brands, like Louis Vuitton, are more implicit about it. But all their actions – throughout their products, stores and communications – amplify their ideal to luxuriously accentuate the journey of life.”

Added Garbe, “We found that this ideal is both a source of inspiration externally among customers, as well as a compass for internal decision making. So whether it’s Red Bull which seeks to Uplift Mind and Body or Pampers which is all about Caring for Happy Healthy Development of Babies, an ideal influences all facets of the business from HR and Marketing to R&D and Finance.”

Through case studies, GROW demonstrates how brand ideals aren’t simply about altruism or corporate social responsibility but a fundamental human value that is authentic to the brand and ultimately a driver for extraordinary growth. In fact, Millward Brown Optimor’s analysis discovered that those who centered their businesses on ideals had a growth rate triple that of competitors in their categories.

How Ideals Impact the Consumer Mind

Millward Brown’s team also determined that the 50 brands touch on five fundamental human values:

  • Eliciting Joy: Activating experiences of happiness, wonder, and limitless possibility
  • Enabling Connection: Enhancing the ability of people to connect with each other and the world in meaningful ways
  • Inspiring Exploration: Helping people explore new horizons and new experiences
  • Evoking Pride: Giving people increased confidence, strength, security, and vitality
  • Impacting Society: Affecting society broadly, from challenging the status quo to redefining categories

The list of companies is as follows:

Accenture, management and enterprise consulting services

Airtel, mobile communications, e-commerce

Apple, personal computing technology and mobile devices

Aquarel, bottled water

BlackBerry, mobile communications

Calvin Klein, luxury apparel and accessories

Chipotle, fast food

Coca-Cola, soft drinks

Diesel, youth- targeted fashion apparel and accessories

Discovery Communications, media

Dove, personal care

Emirates, air travel

FedEx, delivery services

Google, Internet information

Heineken, beer

Hennessy, spirits

Hermès, luxury apparel and leather goods

HP, information technology products and services

Hugo Boss, luxury apparel and accessories

IBM, information technology products and services

Innocent, food and beverages

Jack Daniel’s, spirits

Johnnie Walker, spirits

L’Occitane, personal care

Lindt, chocolate

Louis Vuitton, luxury apparel and leather goods

MasterCard, electronic payments

Mercedes-Benz, automobiles

Method, household cleaners and personal care

Moët & Chandon, champagne

Natura, personal care

Pampers, baby care

Petrobras, energy

Rakuten Ichiba, e-commerce

Red Bull, energy drinks

Royal Canin, pet food

Samsung, electronics

Sedmoy Kontinent (“Seventh Continent”), retail grocery

Sensodyne, oral care

Seventh Generation, household cleaners and personal care

Snow, beer

Starbucks, coffee and fast food retailer

Stonyfield Farm, organic dairy products

Tsingtao, beer, e-commerce

Visa, electronic payments

Wegmans, retail grocery

Zappos, e-commerce

Zara, affordable apparel

Simplicity, The Most Powerful Branding Principle


With over 60 million Facebook users, 50 million tweets per day, 150,00o new products introduced each year and the collapse of human attention spans to just 9 seconds, brand must simplify if they want to stand out.

In a world of ever-increasing complexity, brand simplicity is critical for brands to get right or risk customer disappointment and defection.

BY: Russ Meyer, contributor Fast Company


Google, Amazon, and Apple are among the strongest brands of the last decade. They have created billions in brand value and have industry-leading business performance. What else do they have in common? Their brand success can be directly tied to simplicity–to making life simpler for their users, that is. They also adhere to simplicity rules to define their brand experiences. These rules are worth considering for any brand trying to simplify their customer experience and drive customer satisfaction, commitment, and connection.

Consider the context.
Every brand thinks it’s the most important thing in their user’s life. Seldom is this true. A user’s experience with a brand is just one event in an action-packed life. Good brands map out their customer experience looking for opportunities to simplify, eliminate steps, confusion, and complications in ways that add value. Great brands look to where the brand and the experience fit within their user’s overall life, looking to make not just the experience easier but a user’s overall life easier. Amazon, with its 1-click ordering, is a great example of a brand that ‘considers the context’. Typical web marketing theory of the time said that the goal was to keep customers on a brand’s website for as long as possible to increase interaction and engagement in the belief that this would increase purchase. Amazon took a counter approach, creating a 1-click ordering option where user preferences and purchase information could be stored in order to enable a single click purchase. Amazon’s 1-click ordering, and the resultant user satisfaction with its simplicity, is core to the Amazon’s brand promise. By making online shopping as quick and painless as a single mouse click, Amazon made simplicity and customer-centricity core to their brand over 13 years ago.

Go deep.
Simplicity is not just eliminating steps, clarifying language or using intuitive graphics. Brands that succeed due to simplicity understand that everything must work together, clearly and seamlessly. Apple is a brand that lives this. Not only are the devices beautiful, simply to understand and use right out of the box. Not only do the devices work simply with the iTunes store, iCloud storage, and other Apple systems. It isn’t just that their user interfaces are a model of clarity and simplified interaction. Apple realizes everything matters when it comes to simplicity. That there isn’t an end to what can be simplified and made better. That in order to get it right, they must consider everything, they must ‘go deep.’ Only by going deep can brands understand how everything fits together and how everything matters to the user.

Avoid ‘feature-itis.’
Rather than continuing to add incremental features to a brand experience over time, great brands stand firm once they reach a level of simplicity, resisting the urge to add brand bells and whistles. Melissa Mayer, former VP of Google Search Products, is credited with keeping the interface of the Google search page blissfully simple: a white page with a blank box. Despite constant pressure to use the power of one of the most visited pages on the web to promote other brands, Google resists that urge, maintaining a simple page in the best interest of the user.

Simple is a powerful strength for great brands like Amazon, Apple, and Google. Increasingly, it will be necessary for every brand. In a world of ever-increasing complexity, brand simplicity is critical for brands to get right or risk customer disappointment and defection.

Your Employees Don’t “Get” Your Brand

New study shows that a surprising number of employees have no clue about what their corporate brands stands for.


Aligning employees with your brand’s identity is essential to a company’s success. But too many employees don’t know what you stand for.

BY: John Fleming and Dan Witters, Gallup Business Journal

Companies often choose high-profile celebrities or sports stars to serve as brand ambassadors and advocates for their brands. Ellen DeGeneres, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Salman Khan, and a host of others have been the public face of brands such as J. C. Penney, Hanes, Nike, and

But celebrities and sports heroes aren’t the only — or the best — ambassadors you can find. You should be grooming other, more local ambassadors who can exert a powerful influence on your customers. To find them, look no further than the front line, or maybe the office right next to yours, because the world’s best brand ambassadors are your employees. Unfortunately, most of them are under-prepared for the job, and they could be costing companies millions of dollars in lost opportunity.

Competing in the “new normal”

The notion that your company’s employees represent the “face” of your brand isn’t new. But as companies seek to win in today’s hypercompetitive, post-financial-crash global marketplace, many executives have begun to recognize the untapped potential that their employees and customers represent.

To maximize the power of this resource, however, you must arm your employees with the knowledge and resources they need to be effective brand ambassadors. They must:

  • know what your organization stands for and what makes it different from others in the marketplace
  • understand your brand promise and be able to explain the most important elements of your brand identity
  • be empowered to deliver on your brand promise

These items fall under the general heading of brand alignment. In a previous article, we reported that American consumers who are familiar with a brand and who can successfully identify its key elements give about double their business to that brand compared with consumers who are equally familiar with the brand but unable to identify those elements. This pattern holds for six major American brands measured, though we also found substantial range in brand alignment among consumers of these brands.

But what about the employees of American companies? To what extent can they differentiate their company’s core promise and set up their brand for success? Not as much as you might think — and this is bad news for organizations that want to maximize the potential of their internal brand ambassadors.

Brand alignment in the workplace

To determine the extent to which U.S. workers understand their company’s brand promise, Gallup asked more than 3,000 randomly selected workers to assess their agreement with the statement “I know what my company stands for and what makes our brand(s) different from our competitors.” Surprisingly, only 41% of employees strongly agreed with this statement, while 24% either disagreed or were equivocal. This shows that too many companies are failing to help their workers understand what makes their company different and better than the rest.

The percentage of U.S. workers who strongly agreed with this statement differed substantially by industry. Employee alignment was greatest in the consumer packaged goods industry, where a solid 73% strongly agreed that they know what their company stands for and what makes it different from its competitors. Only one other industry topped 50% — the airline/travel/transportation industry — in which 51% of employees strongly agreed with the statement. Six industries failed to reach even 40% strong agreement among their employees: technology/information services, financial services, newspapers/publishing/media, healthcare, construction, and hospitality/hotel.


The alignment picture becomes more clear when we examine the data by job role: 60% of executives strongly agreed that they know what their company stands for and what makes its brand(s) different from its competitors; 46% of managers and 37% of other employees strongly agreed. But the greatest cause for concern is that 9% of other (non-executive, non-manager) employees strongly disagreed that they understand their company’s brand promise and brand differentiation, because it’s likely that these employees interact with customers every day.


Lack of brand alignment is particularly acute among non-executive and non-managerial employees in four industries. Fewer than one in four of these workers in construction (8%), hospitality (17%), financial services (22%), and healthcare (25%) strongly agreed that they understand their company’s brand and what makes it different. One conclusion seems inescapable: Companies are having a hard time communicating the core of their brand identity down to the front line. And if their employees don’t know the brand promise, they certainly won’t deliver on it.

The bottom line

As with other measures Gallup has studied — including employee and customer engagement — brand alignment varies considerably from location to location and team to team. For example, in a national quick-serve restaurant chain — widely thought to have a compelling mission and a clearly articulated brand promise — 78% of all employees strongly agreed that they know what the company stands for and what makes it different. This percentage, however, varied from 100% in a handful of locations to less than 50% in others. Locations scoring in the top half based on the percentage of employees who strongly agreed with the statement had better employee retention, higher operational scores, and higher scores on their customer metrics than locations in the bottom 50%.

Gallup found similar results for a regional retail bank. Branches in the bottom 25% had substantially lower scores on their customer metrics, higher frequency of customer problems, and lower rates of new account openings compared with branches in the top 25%.

So executives, take note: In many industries, particularly those with a high degree of customer contact, too few of your customer-facing employees know what your company stands for and what makes it different. Yet you are relying on these brand ambassadors — not celebrity spokespeople — to represent your company’s brand every day in the marketplace. If your employees don’t know who you are and how you’re different, it’s unlikely that your customers will. And that’s a big miss, one with substantial performance implications.

10 Ways to Boost Your Company’s Brand

Gallup’s research shows that few employees are aligned with or empowered to deliver the core elements of their company’s brand identity and promise. But there are actions executives can take to help their employees become effective brand ambassadors.

  1. Acknowledge that all employees play a key role in bringing the brand to life. Successful branding is not just a marketing or sales function; it is an essential activity for human resources, management, and leadership.
  2. Audit your internal communications to ensure that they are consistent with your brand identity and promise. Invest in making employees aware of your brand promise, and empower them to act on it.
  3. Articulate what your brand represents and what you promise to your customers. Inject the core elements of your identity into the workplace constantly and consistently across time, locations, and channels. Use these elements to define not only how you treat your customers but also how you manage, coach, and treat your employees.
  4. Deploy simple processes to ensure that you highlight and discuss the core elements of your company’s brand identity every day. Use minute meetings, lineups, or staff gatherings to provide specific examples of how to deliver the brand promise.
  5. Use simple tools such as wallet cards as ready references to the brand, and require employees to memorize the key brand elements.
  6. Regularly assess how well your employees know and understand your brand promise. All employees — especially those in customer-facing roles — should believe in and feel they have the resources and permission to deliver your brand promise. Provide additional support in areas that fall short.
  7. Ensure that new employees understand your brand identity and promise. All new employees should be able to articulate what your company stands for and what makes you different within their first 30 days of employment, and your managers should reinforce this message every day.
  8. Make sure that every employee understands how his or her job affects the customer experience. This is particularly important for roles that are not customer-facing. Constantly connect the dots between what employees are paid to do and what your organization stands for.
  9. Recognize employees who deliver your brand promise to your customers. Recognition is an important psychological need. Employees who know that they will receive recognition for acting on the brand promise will have a strong incentive to do so.
  10. Regularly solicit opinions from your employees on new and better ways to deliver your brand promise.Convene town hall meetings that allow employees to share their ideas and receive feedback. Demonstrating an authentic commitment to alignment is the best way to embed it in your company’s culture.