We are living in truly exciting times.
COVID has caused a reduction in travel and social interactions and a revolution in technology, finance and science. We’re witnessing a radical transformation of society, industry and culture. It feels like we’ve experienced 10-years in just one.
The fundamental ideas of business management and leadership are being challenged, disrupted and reinvented daily. The ‘new normal’ has become, well, ‘normal’ and the imperative for company leaders now is to think ahead and invent what’s next; how and where will you find sustainable growth?
I’ve been a brand and marketing consultant for longer than I care to remember, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with many ambitious and influential Indonesian and international company owners and leaders. They have the usual focus on P/L - of course, creating shareholder value - and many times there’s just a cursory nod to customers blended with a smattering of being ‘innovative’ and a smidgen of being ‘socially responsible.’
What I found missing in many cases was a softer more engaging and let’s say a ‘human side’ to the company: an emotional connection – positive impact. Something more than just selling stuff. They’d talk about it of course, but when it came to implementing or putting this front and centre in their brand DNA, there wasn’t much else.
In the recent past, companies behaved as citadels with a single-minded pursuit of creating shareholder value, with brands built to defend a fixed market position. But that was then and this is now. Technology and consumer activism have brought greater transparency, revealing the inner workings of companies – both good and bad.
By creating new brand strategy and repositioning programmes, we would see if companies could perhaps be wired differently to their competitors.
Whether they could in fact ‘think differently’ and start looking at delivering a human aspect of their new brand to the world. We discussed and workshopped to see just how we could use their brand to not only drive growth but to also make a real difference in their world, not just the financial growth they demanded.
Purpose in your brand’s DNA
These days customers expect a company to be more intentionally and genuinely purposeful and these same customers are willing to reward them with a share of mind and wallet and critically, their loyalty. One step above brand-loyalty is brand-like but the ideal is for a company to achieve something called brand-affinity.
The most engaging companies are starting to use their brand to place what they truly care about at the heart of what they do. Not only the ‘what’ of what they do but the ‘how’ of how they do it, and also ‘why’ they do it in the first place.
High-growth, impactful companies understand that having a brand with a strong sense of purpose is now more attractive to stakeholders – that means customers, employees, partners, suppliers and the community at large.
They understand people buy from companies that are driven by higher motives than merely increasing the bottom-line and creating shareholder value.
A shared purpose puts the brand at the heart of the customer’s world, making service smoother, communications more efficient and adding a feel-good factor to everything it chooses to do. They now invite employees and customers and in some cases, even the communities in which they operate, to be part of the vision.
They’re now using the brand as a positive, proactive and driving purpose that aligns operations to the benefits they want to see in the world – the ‘world’ being global, regional or even just within the local community.
Brand purpose in action
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to work in Bangladesh for a major telecommunications company as part of a global brand repositioning programme.
During this time I was exposed to, and worked alongside a non-governmental organisation called Grameen Bank, which was founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Muhammad Yunus - also described as a ‘social entrepreneur, banker, economist, and civil society leader.’
Grameen (which means Village) Bank built its purpose around finding ways to get company funding to individuals in poor communities. It makes small loans to Bangladeshi women and has become a pioneer in the world of microfinance.
Its beneficiaries are rural and from low-income groups unable to provide collateral. The bank reduces non-repayment risks by loaning to the whole village, where peer pressure ensures the village works as a community to pay the loan back, and therefore improves its credit rating for better terms in the future.
The bank has so far disbursed over USD14 billion to borrowers in need, with a 97% loan recovery rate!
I was working with GrameenPhone, a sister company to the bank, which meant we worked closely with them to integrate initiatives to our CSR programmes. So I saw and experienced the Bank’s operations and success of the programmes very closely. GrameenPhone provided mobile phones mainly to women, who used them as a basis to set up a business; one phone per village, which was then monetised. The phone provided communications between villages, between sellers of commodities as well as good, connected healthcare and aid … you can see where I am going with this.
Seven Stones Indonesia had an article published in November entitled ‘Doing Good is Good for Business.’ An excellent message but, we must keep in mind that this focus must be part of a greater aspiration and vision. Doing ‘good’ must be just one of the central pillars to an overarching brand purpose.
It’s not a one off, it’s an ongoing! If you run or manage a company, you all know there’s a fine balance between making money and being socially ‘good.’
Purposeful is not a tactic or a one-off handing out of donations - it should be, must be, the essence of the ‘why’ one does business and that’s playing a bigger part in the lives of customers; help them do more.
So, what’s your brand’s purpose?
What we say to clients when we’re advising them on using brand strategy to pivot, reposition or transform their company is to define their purpose beyond just profit - to stand for something that will inspire people on the inside as well as outside the company; to ensure that all of their actions and behaviours deliver across the whole organisation across all brand interactions, to keep track of how well this is being done by continually reviewing the customer, employee, partner and community experience. Connecting to people. Connecting to communities. Connecting at a local human level.
And, to also make sure purpose is central to the brand, integrated deeply into its DNA and essence not just a nice panel of words in a framed picture in a boardroom or a sponsorship (donation) packaged as a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programme.
Is it easy to do? No, it’s not. But my experience rolling out brand transformation programmes shows that it does create financial value as well as loyalty and deeper engagement from customers and loyalty from employees.
Brand-led companies are very successful. Brand-led companies with purpose at their core are value-creative.
They think less about selling/ transacting and more about enlisting and delivering on a purpose that’s important to all its customers and employees and its future customers and employees.
One last thing to keep in mind, whilst companies may own the name or trademark they don’t wholly own the brand. The brand is also owned by the customer. It’s the badge under which they engage on their terms and with purpose, just as much as the company.