The great Purpose debate

We are big advocates of purpose here at The Kite Factory, but it’s always good to challenge our own assumptions. In this episode, Niki Grant, Charley Day and Christian Taylor sit down to discuss whether every organisation needs a brand purpose, the best examples and their most valuable advice when it comes to building and communicating an authentic ‘why’.


Hello, and welcome to Unmudded. Unmuddled is the new podcast from media experts The Kite Factory that is us. And in each episode what we’re going to be doing is taking some of the more complex matters that that are being talked about at the moment and we’re going to break them down to be a little bit more simple. We’ll be looking at why we care about it and what it is that we need to do about it. I’m the chief factories head of search, Nikki Grant and I’m joined today by my colleagues Charlie Day who is one of our strategy directors and our head of planning, Christian Taylor. Hello. Hi Nikki. Hi Nikki. Hello and welcome. Now we are big advocates of brand purpose here at the Kite Factory as many of you listening might be aware of because we’ve done several events and things like that of our purpose and I wanted to play a little bit devil’s advocate today because it’s fun. But also I think it is good to challenge our own assumptions and our own views and make sure we can back them up. So some of the best examples of brand purpose I find either come from brands with a very intrinsic link to a purpose like green and black chocolate and fair trade or challenger brands who have been created in the age where purpose was a massive deal and was really front of mind. So something like Monzo challenging high street banks. Now specifically I wanted to cite this quote and get your thoughts on it to start with because this has been in my brain for a long time now and this quote is from Terry Smith who is younger’s funds manager and he was sending his annual letter to investors and this is what he says a company which feels it has to define the purpose of Hellman’s mayonnaise has in our view clearly lost the plot. The Hellman’s brand has existed since 1913 so we would guess that by now consumers have figured out its purpose. Spoiler alert salads and sandwiches. Now firstly I just want to add for anyone listening thinking this, I do humbly think that there has been a slight confusion here over brand purpose and purpose I would not say that Helman’s brand purpose is sandwiches although it might be the purpose. And to start with, I just wanted to get your reactions from that comment as two people who work in strategy and are quite close to brand purpose on a day-to-day basis. Sure. It’s a really interesting one, isn’t it? I think broadly what they’re saying really is that does every brand need a brand purpose and I think there’s an interesting site. So, an outwardly facing brand purpose? Possibly not, but actually what we are finding from Unilever is that they are data driven company. So I think the reason it was born out of this is because of the idea that they’ve analysed the brands in their portfolio. And they found that actually, the brands that have a purpose at the centre of their communications, at the centre of the business, both internally and externally, are outperforming those that don’t. So you can understand from their perspective why they’re pivoting their portfolio to ensure that all of the brands have now the brand purpose. And I think it goes beyond the external communication. It’s not necessarily just about convincing consumers that we have a brand purpose, and that this helmet’s mayonnaise is more sustainable than any other mayonnaise. It’s actually another sort of statistic that they’ve brought out across Unilever is that 72% of their employees said that sustainability was the main reason why they joined the business. Now that’s a really interesting perspective because actually they’ve got the best talent working for them across the biggest brands who are motivated to create innovative new products for reasons above and beyond simplistic product features. And I think that is where brand purpose has the biggest strength when you look beyond the simple outward marketing aspect of it as well. Amazing. So, multiple reasons for brand purpose, not just to the consumer. How about you, Charlie? What was your instinct when you see that quote? I agree. I think there’s an argument that brand purpose is meaningless in itself. Interesting. So I think your organization has to have a genuine purpose and I believe that it has to be baked. Your purpose is baked into your DNA. It’s your reason to exist. I’m so sorry to interrupt, but I would love to ask to kind of pick you up on that point within this context as well. When you say baked into DNA, obviously Unilever has been around for a hugely long time. So what happens when you have a brand that is that old, has been around for that long, but that needs to be baked? How do you approach that for a business that’s been around for that long? Because I’m not sure I’d know how. I think you need to start by with the why. Why do you exist? And it’s why I feel really passionately in terms of what Christian was saying about your people. So I think you have to split out purpose. And brand purpose are so linked for me because two of the things I think drives your purpose, one of them being is your people. So you want your people to work for you rather than somebody down the street. And if you got everybody motivated around a purpose, it should drive your profit and the success of your business. So I really agree with Christian that you have to motivate your best, the best people to do great work and you have to motivate your customer to do great work. The other point is that people need to feel. So feeling is like a human instinct and brands arguably are just transfer of feeling. Right? I love that phrase. I’m a big fan of that transfer of feeling. So really early on in my career I worked at NSPC in terms of the full stock campaign. And the full stock campaign was unbelievably successful. From engagement and fundraising. Everybody believed that child cruelty needed to end. They had this belief system. It was a feeling, it was our purpose, and it drove the success of the campaign. There was a need for people to support the NFDC. We all had the belief and it all galvanized us. And I think when you think of girls slightly here, but when you think of brands and being marketers, we come back to a lot as strategists. We come back to a lot about things we’ll do. Field has always been the most important one for me, whether it’s your people or whether it’s the feeling you want your brand or your company to have. So this is fire in the belly. This is absolutely fire in the belly. You can’t make people feel what isn’t real, right? So it has to be real. Actually, coming back to your point about helmet mayonnaise and to the guys quote, I think you’re absolutely right. From a biological perspective, we are not built in a rational sense. No. And I think anyone that sort of follows behavioural economics or has read the classics, the Daniel Kahnemans of the world, and thinking fast, thinking slow, understanding the way that brains work and how we sort of have this rational aspect to us, which is very motivated by product features and all those sorts of things. But the core of us there is the emotional side, which is things like trust and feeling. And actually, it’s tapping into that which is really important for taking brand beyond a certain point. And I think actually thinking about the life stage of your business and what the market situation is. So how do I differentiate myself from the brands around me? And feeling is really important for that. And actually, how do I ensure that someone pays ten P more for my brand? Person to the next feeling comes into that as well. I suppose if you look at the history of your brand or your organization, your company, Lego is a really good example. So Lego is a very old brand, I think always been culturally relevant. Probably were the first to talk about gender and being really culturally relevant back in the day. What’s interesting about them is, I think the story goes that they came into kind of business trouble in 2004 and they went right back to a piece of research and found that children learn best through systematic play and creative play. And they took that insight and they redid the purpose of their whole organization, not just their brand purpose, which is to inspire and develop children to think creatively reason systematically and release their potential, their own future. But they did it, I think is true, say, across all their business, from their distribution, everything. And they galvanized their whole company around this new brand purpose, but it was linked to their purpose as well. So their staff were motivated and then so I think within ten years and that’s when you get Lego the Movie, the Oscars and the huge rise in the profits. So they’re a really good example of somebody that’s done it mid history. Back to your original question. You’ve gone back to that universal truth and back to that insight and found something genuine. They can pivot the whole brand and the company around. I was just thinking, imagine being that person who found that insight about systematic learning from kids. Lego is a great example. I love that. And it’s also something that lots of us have in our Harris’s. If you have kids, if you like Lego, who knows? We’re not here to judge. So I have a question for you. This is based off of the Hoffman’s refrigerator theory, which is open your refrigerator and behold all the products that you consume. Then ask yourself for how many of these products are you aware of the purpose behind the brand now for something like Lego? I love that they have found that insight. They have structured not just their consumer business, but by the time their own organization around it. Now, I have a question, devil’s advocate, please forgive me. At what point does it not matter anymore? So I can open my fridge and I can look at all of the brands that I’ve got, but you know what? They’re already in my fridge. I’ve already given my money to Al Pro or to Cathedral City just to make the point that I don’t need Alpro because I’m vegan. But I bought those products, they’re already in my fridge. So to this point around Hoffman’s refrigerator and saying our purpose doesn’t really matter, it sounds like it does, but it sounds like there is a time in the process, me opening my fridge to make a cup of tea probably isn’t the time that I’m going to have the brand purpose at the forefront of my mind. And I’d love to know what you guys think about that from a perspective of purposes important. Is there a point where it stops being important in that consumer journey? I think it’s probably a question about how important is it generally as well? And I think there are circumstances where brand purposes are relevant. And for example, I’ve got experiences working with innovative start-up businesses which have found a need in consumers lives. They created a product with fixed that need and all they need to do is communicate it quite logically and just say, I’ve got this product that fits your solution. And actually they can grow a business on that fairly quickly and get substantial sales and see that growth within the organization, maybe even become market leader quickly. The challenge is when the circumstances around you change and all of a sudden there are new market entrance with similar products and there is little differentiation and there are just as many catch ups in the market as there are value ones versus branded ones. So where does brand purpose become important? I think it is based on the circumstances around you, your market conditions and perhaps the maturity of your brand and maturity of the category as well. So I think those are really important factors to sort of think about in the process as well. But actually, do you need to have the purpose behind Tesco’s value? Tomato ketchup? So I’m going to ask both of you the fridge questions as well after we get Charlie’s input as well. But this is a tricky thing for me to ask you, given the topic. But Christian, how many items in your fridge or cupboards would you say that you know the purpose of now? Very few. I can’t think of any. Perhaps something like an Australia damn bit or something like that, who is driven by bringing people together and connections in life and that wealth is from I think this is the right brand wealth is from your friends and family and your life experience is not. There you go. That’s the only one I can think of instantly. But apart from that, very few. Interesting. And what is your experience, Charlie, of either bapling your fridge or cupboards? And also at what stage in the journey this brand purpose should be more the most prevalent opening my fridge. This is a telling question. So Cabbar is and brutal. That says a lot about how I’m spending my evening living dreams. Let me ask you a question. Probably a couple, but to your point, not very many. When I open my fridge, there are a couple in there, those probably being quite famous ones. Where do I think in terms of the journey? I think Christian is writing that there will always be markets and consumers motivated by price. And I think the current conversations we’re having around the cost-of-living crisis, that will become more and more relevant, I think, and that you can’t get around that. I think where purpose becomes interesting is where you have sections of your audience that can afford to make a choice and can purpose be your differentiator when you’ve got people who can make choice. But I think you’re always to your point, Christina, you’re always going to have people that are making decisions about price. And I would argue there’s no point in having a purpose. This is something that we talked about ahead of this session, that there are brands that I will avoid buying because of their not necessarily lack of purpose, but because of bad PR or bad news that’s happened about them. Really? I’m not a massively, like, environmentally friendly kind of person. I do what I can, but I’m not obsessed about it. So do you think there’s an argument to be had that said, even if brand purpose doesn’t massively accelerate your earnings and the quality of your workforce. It might not necessarily be the main reason someone purchases your product, but a lack of purpose could be the reason that someone doesn’t purchase your product. Do you see what I mean? Yeah, I would agree with that. I would agree with that. I think the interesting thing about purpose or brand purpose is that it should always exist. So what’s quite interesting for me about it is your business will change and your circumstances the market might change, the economy might change, but my purpose for me is so important and that should stay constant. So for people that are less strategically minded so I’m from more of a direct response background and I suppose the way that I make sense of that in my mind against things that I’m more experienced with is that your media objective should ladder up to a business objective. Those two things should be intrinsically linked. If you find that they’re not, one of those is probably not right. Do you think that’s fair to say about that organizational purpose in your marketing purpose, or do you think they can be completely different? No, I think they have to be linked. Ideally you’d have both, but I don’t think you should shoot horn in your purpose. It might be that you just have an organizational purpose. I think everybody should have one of those. That seems like possible to me, but I think you shouldn’t shoehorn in your brand purpose. So I have to jump on the fact that you’ve said that because I really wanted to ask at what point does it become shoehorning? So at what point is it again, we’ve got another quote here with regards to Unilever from Thomas Colston, marketing expert and author of The Hero Trap, who said that Unilever is at risk of diluting its brand when it’s zigzagging and band wagoning on the latest trends such as sustainability. So at what point does it become band wagoning as opposed to having a brand purpose? I think it comes back to that mismatching of what you say and what you do or who you are at the very core and the phrase green washing is banded about now. Which I’ve got the definition here so spending more time and money claiming to be green through marketing rather than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact. That’s just an example of how your mismatch of communication is kind of creating that imbalance between what you’re actually saying and doing. And I think that’s probably the point where you might be able to, if you really want to go and calculate it, how much time and effort we put into actually talking about something without actually doing any change or anything like that as well. What about you, Charlie? What do you think? At what point does it become disingenuous? I think it all comes back to me about why do you exist? Me? I don’t think we have time for that if you start with your why, because lots of people are going to create lots of different products that do lots of different things and lots of great products, lots of different things. I think you stay true to yourself. You’re like, why do I exist? And you should only be talking to why you exist. So staying focused, staying true to yourself. Yeah. It can’t be tacked on is what I feel. I feel very strongly to wrap up the final question that I’m going to ask both of you. And I’m sure that Charlie, your very strong feelings about this will help either or how you can answer this. So either the first step a brand should take. So if someone sitting out there listening to us now, going, goodness graciously, we are very behind on brand purpose, we need to do something about it. What’s the first step that they can take? Or your most valuable bit of advice when it comes to purpose, given that we’ve all had quite a few years experience in the area, any advice that you’ve lived that you can donate to someone so they don’t have to live the same experience to learn? It’s quite broad advice, but I think it has to start with your people. So I think we are all interested in your audience motivations, your universal truth, and whether it’s the people that work for you or your customers, I think start with your people and their motivations. And I think there’s probably something in looking at is your purpose about who you are as a company and why people work for you and what you do, or is your purpose, your brand purpose? Ideally, you’d have the whole thing, but I think if you start with your audience and actually, I think one of the points I really wanted to make was I think charities need to be better at this as well, because we talk a lot about commercials and charities have their missions, right, and they have their values and they have their visions. But I do think charities need to look at why they exist as well. It’s very meta question, isn’t it? Very existential. Yeah. What do you stand for? And I think that when we talk about brand purpose, we haven’t really touched much on charities, but I think you instantly think because people have not profits have their mission, but I think actually looking at why they exist is really important as well. So it all comes back to that to me, whether it’s your brand or your people. Yeah. Why do you exist? I start there. Start with your audience. Beautiful. Start with why and keep going back to why. Yeah. What about you, Christian? What’s either the first step to take or your best bit of advice? Well, I think what we’ve kind of gone through today, there’s probably two things. First is explore your market positioning. So where are you? What is your category sort of status or life stage? What are the implications for you as a brand within that market, in that category and how is that going to impact your future growth both now and the next 510 years? And then secondly, start going back to the audience. I think it’s really being consumer led in people’s decisions being made within that category and actually what that means for your positioning as well. Beautiful. And to round off, I think I would say as a digital data geek, measure it. If you’re going to be doing something to do with purpose, look at your kind of brand tracking, look at your time on website, on your visits, on interactions with social, with, whatever it might be. I think for me, if you want to know if it’s going to work or not, there are some things you can track in the first instance. Thank you so much. That’s been Christian Taylor, our head of planning, and Charlie Day, our strategy director. I am Niki Grant, head of Search at The Kite Factory. Please do have a listen to our previous episodes and we look forward to seeing you in future ones. Thank you very much.