Nine Questions To Ask To Build A Purpose-Driven Brand

By Stephen Dupont, APR

This article was originally published by Forbes.com on March 30, 2018.

When an organization considers its brand in terms of purpose, it can become mired in the age-old argument about how much profit a company needs to sacrifice to be recognized as a do-gooder.

If the intent is to build a brand with purpose, such a distinction is beside the point. Just as a person who seeks to live a purpose-driven life must undertake reflection, defining a brand in terms of purpose is also a complex task.

At their most basic, brands serve as tools to help a brand owner communicate the identity of a product, service or cause to a consumer. Brands help consumers make better choices faster as they learn to trust certain brands.

When a brand owner adds purpose to the equation, they are seeking something deeper – a relationship that connects the purpose of the people behind the brand with the purpose of the people who use the brand. No longer satisfied with a mere transaction, the brand owner desires the opportunity to create an emotional experience with the end user that has the power to transform lives.

Buyers become superfans who freely share their happiness with a brand with others. That transformational experience is often at the heart of many testimonials and/or case history stories.

So, how can you move your brand beyond mere features and benefits to a brand that serves a greater purpose? Based on my experience working with business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) brands over the past 25 years, here are nine questions to consider:

1.) Why did we get into this in the first place?

Take a close look at your company’s history. Why did the founder(s) of your organization start it? What unmet need did they see in the marketplace? What drove them to risk fortune, time and reputation? Go back to the creation story of the organization, as well as other key milestones in the organization’s history, to understand the decisive moments that have fueled the brand over time.

2.) Do we want a close relationship with our customers?

It would be easy for a candy company to simply make a lot of product at the right price and profit as a result. On the other hand, a friend of mine who owns a well-known chocolate shop in St. Louis speaks glowingly about his customers (many of whom he knows by name) like this: “I love to see the joy on my customers’ faces when they bite into one of my hand-crafted chocolates. I want to make their lives better through that joy.” See the difference?

3.) What is our impact beyond the product or service?

In working with a B2B manufacturer of refrigeration systems on its brand narrative, I realized that this company did more than keep food and other perishables cold. With the company’s products, wedding cakes don’t melt on hot summer days, fruits from Chile don’t spoil on their way to Minnesota and people in Africa receive lifesaving medicine. Look beyond the basic function of your product to see the real life, day-to-day impact that you’re having on people’s lives. Tell that story. Or, imagine what the world would be missing if your product didn’t exist.

4.) What are our real values?

Many organizations have a written mission statement and a list of values. Some take these very seriously; others pay them lip service. Your leadership team should ask: “Are we truly living up to our mission and values?” If there’s any question, hire a third party to interview employees, customers and other stakeholders to learn how your brand is actually living up to its creed. Hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised by what you learn.

5.) Are we ready to take a stand?

Where does your brand stand on such real-life issues as gay marriage, gun control, equal pay or sexual harassment in the workplace? Don’t wait for a public controversy to force you to decide where your brand stands on an issue. And stop playing it old school, trying to please everyone by attempting to remain neutral. Think through these issues with this question in mind: “What is the right thing to do, regardless of the bottom line?” Bold, purpose-driven brands take sides with intellectual curiosity, transparency and an unwavering faith that they’re doing the right thing.

6.) What could our brand change?

Is there an issue such as safety, product quality, employee pay or sustainability, on which your organization could take positive action to create a defining moment within your industry? A well-known manufacturer of jeans recently announced its intent to phase out harmful chemicals that are manually applied to create certain styles of jeans in favor of lasers to obtain the same effect. Are there tangible actions that your organization could take now that would not only enhance your business systems but also make the lives of employees, subcontractors, your community and, ultimately, consumers, better? If you want to be a game-changer, start changing the game.

7.) With whom should we keep company?

Brands often partner with other organizations or influencers to gain favor and access to a potential group of fans. However, some organizations or individuals, through their public statements or actions, become too toxic to continue such relationships. Don’t wait for your customers to boycott your organization. Carefully evaluate relationships before they bring you trouble.

8.) Are we willing to make it right?

People own and nurture brands. People make mistakes. If the people behind your brand make a mistake, go back to your core values, and correct that mistake fast. If you own up to it with authenticity and sincerity, most consumers will forgive.

9.) What is our future?

As our world becomes more digitized, dramatic changes are coming. Will your brand advance boldly into that future, or sit back and wait for change to happen? Change isn’t easy, but being left behind is worse. What will your brand do today to connect with the customer of tomorrow?

Stephen Dupont, APR, is VP of Public Relations and Branded Content for Pocket Hercules (www.pockethercules.com), a creative branding powerhouse based in Minneapolis. Contact Stephen Dupont at stephen.dupont@pockethercules.com or visit his blog at www.stephendupont.co.

© Stephen Dupont, 2018

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