I recently read two interesting points (both on Marketing Week) that got me thinking:
- P&G has put brand purpose at the heart of the business since its inception 179 years ago. Its brand mission, “touching and improving lives”, is central to everything the company does. Roisin Donnelly, brand director for Northern Europe at Procter and Gamble (P&G), explained: “Marketer’s campaigns can be seen by millions of people. Your brands are a positive force for good – both for people and profit. But changing the world starts with your purpose.”
- (The fantastic Mark Ritson) Typically, when a senior marketer gets a profile in the marketing press they wank on about beliefs, brand mission and their fascination with artificial intelligence. They do that because that’s what everyone else does and because marketing these days is not about profit, it’s about purpose. Brands have switched from an overt commercial focus to an abstract, belief-based approach for a number of reasons. Firstly, marketing is soft and full of people that don’t even understand gross profit, let alone possess the desire to increase it. Secondly, most marketers are incredibly embarrassed to admit that they spend 40 hours a week getting people to consume more of something.
So, “Purpose”… the word of the moment. Let’s discuss.
I’m all for companies doing right by their staff, their customers, and society as a whole. But let’s get one thing straight… marketing is about profit. Doing right by your staff, customers and society should surely be a given – why are we seemingly in an ‘either/ or’ situation? Marketing’s role is to drive sales for a business. The outcome of those sales is (or should be!) profit. Even if your communications sing about your purpose, the end result should still be profit. If it isn’t, surely your marketing is failing?
Some will claim that business in the current commercial environment is not just about getting people to like your products, it’s about getting them to love your company. Your brand. No it isn’t. People do not love companies. At least not in the majority of cases (granted, there are a few examples of fan-love that defy all reason and logic). People love people – partners, family, friends. But not companies and not brands.
If someone specifically dislikes your company, they are of course unlikely to spend money with you unless they must. But dislike aside, products are there for one reason… to satisfy a consumer need. If your product satisfies that need best all things considered, and you communicate in a way that is relevant to, and engaging for, your audience, they are likely to buy or at least consider buying your product.
Furthermore, it’s a fine line between purpose and patronising. When I launched a range of gourmet meatballs into supermarkets across the country, we initially claimed that “we make proper hearty Balls, so that you don’t have to”. Sure, that was part of it, there was certainly an element of convenience to the product. But lets not beat about the bush. We made meatballs to make money. We loved food, and we wanted to share that love with the nation by producing a quality product with great taste and great ethics, but you don’t work 90 hours a week for the love of it. At least not in commerce. So we changed our positioning to “Proper Food, No Fuss”. A simple declaration as to what we offer, and how we offer it. A clear signpost. People bought our Balls because they tasted good and solved a problem (lack of time). We sold our Balls because they tasted good and made us money (just not enough!). And sometimes, that’s enough. Lets not insult the intelligence of the consumers we serve. After all, away from the office we too are one of those consumers, and I for one do not appreciate being patronised.
There are, of course, examples of purpose being a very powerful commercial tool. Dove’s “Campaign for real beauty” is one of modern marketing’s most talked about success stories – resonating with audiences across the globe and powering a decade of commercial success for the brand. Or Hiut Denim – a tiny brand on the west coast of Wales that was founded with the sole aim of getting a town of 4,000 people (400 of which used to make jeans), making jeans again following the closure of a denim factory. But it seems, to me, that these authentic examples of purpose driven brands are the rarity.
I feel marketing, and perhaps more specifically brand communication, is in danger of losing it’s way – of focusing on purpose over profit. A free market economy demands that a successful business must make profit. The job of marketing is to grow awareness, drive preference and ultimately increase sales. Simple. I can understand how ‘having a purpose’ can help to create a ‘movement’ from within an organisation. But, third sector aside, would you prefer your employees focus on saving the world, or turning a profit to keep the business afloat?
Not everyone has to change the world. Just be good, make healthy decisions (for product, profit, people and planet), and do what you do as well as you can do it.