Building a brand with purpose

Brands today are looking beyond profits and also focusing on building a purposeful brand. Here’s why.

It’s been said that a brand is an organisation’s most valuable asset. And the ability of strong brands to raise company share price is well-documented.

According to Brand Finance (2017), brand value makes up 18% of the market capitalisation of the biggest companies in the world. Additionally, a McKinsey & Company study revealed that brands with strong reputations generate 31% more returns to shareholders than the MSCI World average.

Given Singapore’s heritage, thriving spirit of entrepreneurship and diverse multi-generational workforce, Singapore brands have immense potential to create a brand purpose that speaks to our unique values, culture and history. We’re a young nation of innovators, creators and givers. Young Singaporeans are increasingly putting into action their desire to do good. A 2017 National Youth Council survey found that nearly seven in 10 were involved in community groups such as those for the arts, sports or social welfare in 2016, up from 65 per cent the previous year. The rise of social enterprises, not just amongst the new generation of the millennial workforce, has derived a strong correlation between a company’s purpose and employee engagement.

To that end, 24 young business leaders of the SBF Young Business Leaders Network (YBLN) recently attended a “Building Purposeful Brands” workshop hosted by Mr. Daniel Comar, Regional Executive Creative Director, Geometry Asia Pacific.

We speak to Mr Comar to find out what brand purpose is all about and how it may be the difference between success or failure.

What is a purposeful brand?

When we talk about “brands with purpose”, we mean that the brand has a clear viewpoint of the world and a reason to exist beyond making money or delivering value to the shareholders. Those aspects, of course, remain critical for their continued existence — like the air we breathe — but it’s not why we’re here. All commercial endeavours require some level of commercial success by definition.

Brands with purpose, however, are perceived as aiming for a higher goal that delivers value to the people, the community or the world at large. It allows their stakeholders – employees, clients, partners and shareholders – to actively participate and contribute to a greater good. This ultimately makes people feel good and in return, have a higher propensity to stay engaged with the brand.

What does a brand purpose look like?

There are many ways to depict the brand purpose, from well-crafted mission statements to clarity on brand values and how this translates to the way a business is run, as well as visual graphics and taglines. These can all be valid representations; yet, what really matters is how clear it has become to the brand’s followers, and what internal or external actions the company takes to fulfil that purpose.

Also, purpose does not necessarily mean saving the world. Sometimes it can, and does. In the case of Dove, for example, challenging the status quo against beauty stereotypes or the Patagonia story, whose founder has committed to taking action to protect the environment. However, sometimes, purpose is also in the everyday. The purpose of a brand could be simply to address a need better, provide an easier solution based on their unique views. Take the simple idea from the founders of Netflix, HonestBee, Airbnb or Razer.

Why does brand purpose matter? Is it just the latest marketing buzzword?

I believe that every business has a purpose, whether the organisation is conscious of it or not.

And there are many benefits of knowing your purpose and articulating it clearly. Some are very obvious, like galvanising the staff, providing a guiding light for all branding and marketing activities and bringing the right partners with similar values to the table. Others are less evident but equally important, like the fact that the younger workforce joins and stays with companies because they want to do something meaningful. They’re less concerned about immediate returns and very aware of the impact of doing business in the world. The rewards and fulfilment come hand in hand.

How can being purposeful help drive sales and grow profit?

Today there are just a handful of truly unique products and services. Having a clear purpose provides a unique point of difference to other brands and attracts the right kind of customers, employees, partners – those who share the same values and might even get involved for a cause.

Consumers, too, are increasingly concerned with the way companies conduct business and at the very least, they know all too well how a brand addresses their needs. A clear purpose amplifies all of the above and has a proven impact on a company’s profitability.
Companies like Unilever have declared that their ‘brands with purpose’ are growing twice as fast as others in their portfolio.

Based on your extensive experience working with various brands, what do you think is a perfect example of a purposeful brand?

There are the obvious examples, like Apple and Nike, which sell on purpose first, rather than on product features. But there are many more all around. Outdoor clothing brand Patagonia is a great example of an organisation fully committed to do business in a sustainable way, not just to do no harm but to actively protect the planet. The outdoor apparel company walks the talk of their mission which is defined simply as “We’re in business to save the planet.”

There are more humble examples of brands that might not be changing the world but contribute in a very singular way to their very own causes. Like countless startups trying to fix something that’s broken, or the small business across the street that offers convenient organic food because they want you to eat better. This is where the spirit of entrepreneurship comes from and was borne. From a desire to do better, be better and get better.

How can a company start on this journey?

A good place to start is to look at the formal mission statement (if there’s one) to find some clues. Or dig into the company’s founding history. Also, look into existing activities. Is there something you or your customers are really passionate about? Are you doing things with the people or the community in mind? And if not, is there something that could be ‘fixed’ moving forward? Another source of inspiration for a brand purpose is to look into the company’s CSR activities. It’s not uncommon to see some brands taking those initiatives to a higher level to become an all-encompassing cause.

The most important aspect of this journey is authenticity – which is equally the biggest challenge.

What are the common challenges that companies face when building a purposeful brand? How can companies overcome them?

I’d say that the main challenge is not just to impose a cool purpose on the organization for the sake of keeping up with the times. No matter how worthy it is at face value, it must come from within for it to truly resonate. It might look good on a mission statement, or it might be what the customers are expecting from a particular category. But if it’s not coming from an authentic place, it becomes very difficult to galvanise others and overtime, it just doesn’t get traction. It’s better to start small and build over time. Senior leadership involvement and conviction is also critical. They need to signal that the company’s purpose comes first through concrete actions rather than words.

If there’s one thing businesses need to remember about building a purposeful brand, what would it be?

Make it identifiable for the man on the street, tangible and easy to understand. Try to convert your brand purpose into visible behaviours that people can easily grasp and adopt. Bring the ideals down to earth. And show how each individual contribution matters.

Are you a young business leader who is driven by purpose? Come and join the SBF Young Business Leaders Network for more events like this one. Contact the YBLN Secretariat team at [email protected].