Branding in a Post-Digital World – Purpose

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Perhaps the most important thing for a brand to have in a changing world is a sense of purpose. This is often explained as ‘the fundamental reason you exist beyond making money’.

Communicating your purpose helps people to understand why you do what you do. It allows you to be constant, despite whatever else might be changing. If our job is to persuade people to choose us, then purpose is a powerful way to do that.

Method is a US brand making cleaning products that are kinder to the environment. Although they obviously talk about that, the brand organises itself around an idea called ‘people against dirty’. As a brand purpose, ‘people against dirty’ is inclusive, it makes the customers part of the brand and the brand ‘one of the people’. At a time when the products you make and the services you offer can evolve, it’s essential to have a clear purpose to keep you constant.

Don’t be led by technology

It’s also vital for the purpose to align with a human behaviour, and not a specific technology. A good example is Kodak. Their business was built around photographic film and processing. By the 1970s, Kodak had a 90% market share of photographic film sales in the US. But in the 1990s, they were slow to adapt to digital photography, even though they actually invented the core technology used in many digital cameras. After struggling for years, Kodak ended up selling most of its patents to companies like Apple, Google and Facebook, a pretty comprehensive split between old and new. Now Kodak is launching its first smartphone, marketing itself on the quality of its camera. But it still feels like a company trying to catch up, to find its footing with technology in a landscape that has changed.

It may seem a bit unfair, but compare that with Instagram. In 2010, Instagram launched with a blog post, announcing their aim to ‘make mobile photos fast, simple and beautiful’. Nothing more – or less – than that. But here’s the important thing: Instagram was born as a response to three complaints that users had with mobile photography:

1. ‘My mobile photos look lame’
2. ‘It’s a pain to share with friends’
3. ‘Photos take forever to upload, and viewing them is slow’.

So the app was built around helping people to do these three things easily, around consumer needs. And because images are sharable across all social platforms, it’s able to adapt and grow with them. Essentially a single-function app, the value of Instagram to Facebook is now estimated at $35bn. So it’s worth aligning with people’s needs and natural behaviours – the things they want to do, rather than with a technology or process.

In my next post, we’ll be seeing how a brand’s values support its purpose.