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How to nail your brand's purpose

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Purpose is a buzzword we've heard quite a lot in recent years. To some it's just a nice-to-have, a pleasant addition to the mission of your brand and a good complement for your products. For others, purpose is something else. It is direction, connection, and an effective way to reach out to your target audience.

Whatever your scope or reasons to work on your purpose, some consumers are sure to connect with you and possibly become outspoken advocates for your brand. There is clearly a reason to work on your purpose today.

Not knowing that reason, we reached out to Jos Harrison, Global Head of Brand Experience & Design at FMCG brand owner Reckitt Benckiser, to ask him more about how to nail your brand's purpose.


How Purpose is driving Success

Purpose can be a powerful vehicle for businesses. It is a lighthouse that provides a clear direction of travel for their brands. It is a force of positive momentum that allows everyone to understand the course they should be charting. For design teams specifically, it can be an invaluable enabler, helping to express and influence the development process.  

To get a sense of purpose right, though, requires more than just an adopted label. Purpose needs to be relevant and future proof. 

Our sense of purpose is about taking responsibility for our actions, but also building the conditions that enable the business to flourish 30 years from now. We want to do good, but we also need to do well. We exist in a capitalist world, so corporations need to grow and prosper to continue having that positive effect – doing well and doing good are intrinsically linked.

Stating the obvious

If you’re a brand owner in a public company, establishing purpose is a tricky process. You don’t have the time, money or effort to spend trying to convince people that you can have a positive effect in a certain space.

The purpose for a brand should be obvious, a logical progression from the item or service you’ve always sold. If you are going to establish a purpose for Harpic to have a positive effect on the world, for example, then of course it needs to be something to do with toilets, hygiene and safety.

The purpose for a brand should be obvious, a logical progression from the item or service you’ve always sold.

The purpose of a brand or an entity also doesn’t have to be some grandiose or world-changing goal. There is nothing lesser in addressing a need in the smaller community – a local restaurant, say, providing food for the homeless. 

From product to solution

When done well, purpose gives brands a clear sense of direction. When you have purpose, you have the ‘fight’ – the challenge a brand takes on to make a positive difference in the world – and you have an understanding of how the brand should come to life, its personality traits, its underlying values and resulting behaviours. You have the toolkit you need, no matter where you are in the company, to think in a focused way, and also to think about more than just product solutions. You can start thinking about partnerships, for example – who you can partner with to amplify your effect. Or about services, because sometimes you can’t reach people with physical products alone.

When done well, purpose gives brands a clear sense of direction.

With Airwick, this process of identifying purpose was less obvious, but delving into the brand’s history helped us rediscover its original purpose – to reconnect people with nature, to bring a bit of nature into their homes. We now work with expert partners to guide our innovation streams for the brand and assess how to have the most effective investment and build the most authentic experiences. Airwick now helps to preserve wildlife environments (for wildflowers, bees and other insects), a fight that is intrinsically linked to the fact that we sell fragrance.

Enabling design thinking

In addition, within design teams, purpose can provide a structured framework to create entire brand experiences that contribute to the brand’s ‘fight’. In large organisation, designers historically felt like they were pushing water uphill when arguing for a greater degree of sustainability. There are too many complex factors in bringing a solution to market, so the ‘business machine’ tended to win.

Whereas now, it is much easier to demonstrate how we can make progress, and how a particular way of solving a problem can contribute for instance to the UN sustainability goals – how it brings a brand’s purpose to life.

Purpose is now the ace card for designers. And for businesses, it will continue to provide focus and positive change – and ultimately enable long-term success.

Jos Harrison is the Global Head of Brand Experience & Design at RB. Header image: Anastasia Beltyukova.


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