What's your company's "why" - the power of a good Brand Purpose

The origins of branding go back thousands of years to farmers marking their stock. Think the branding iron. It identified their stock from other farmers’ animals.

The brand mark also helped explain “what” the farmer’s business did, “how” they did it, and occasionally “why” they did it. 

For example, when it came time to sell at the markets, it clarified “what” breed the animal was and where it came from. And to convince the potential buyer to purchase theirs over another, the farmer might have had to explain “how” he produced such a good quality animal. And very rarely they would have explained “why” they decided to farm such a great animal.

Marketers since then have followed the same formula when creating and communicating their brand - the “what, how and why”, in that order. Our computer is the best. It’s the fastest. We made it for busy people like you. 

But in the last decade, marketing visionaries like Simon Sinek have turned this norm on its head. They’ve highlighted the power of thinking about brands the other way around. Start with the “why”, and follow with the “how” and then the “what”.

Think about Apple as opposed to the computer example above. Why does Apple exist as a brand?  To think differently. How did it do this? It created products that were eye-pleasing in their design, and easy to use. What did they do? They made computers, mobile phones and music devices.

Similarly, Coca-Cola’s brand purpose has been happiness, Under Armour’s has been about a fair advantage, Tesla’s has been about sustainability and Ikea has always been about creating a better everyday life for people.

It enables brands to set up their purpose for “why” they exist in a way that resonates with consumers. These consumers are drawn to the strong beliefs of the brand. As Sinek says, “People don't buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”

This is particularly true for the millennials. A recent survey showed 87 percent of them believed brands should generate more than just profit. Senior executives are starting to think likewise, in regard not just to consumers, but also their employees. EY research highlighted that 89 percent of senior executives felt a strong sense of collective purpose drove employee satisfaction. And in a Deloitte survey of millennials six in 10 said that their company’s purpose is part of the reason they chose their job.

Two Australian organisations with strong brand purposes are also two of the most well-known indigenous ones: Bangarra Dance and Indigenous Business Australia (IBA). For both it would have been very easy to defer to the “what” in promoting their brands. Certainly their brand names, created in a previous era, do exactly that. Explain “what” the organisations do. To their credit they now have higher reasons for being; brand purposes that draw in both consumers and employees.

Bangarra Dance’s is to create inspiring experiences that change society. “How” they do it is through powerful storytelling, and “what” they do are dance performances forged from more than 65,000 years of culture, done in a contemporary way. Its brand purpose provides a guiding light to the organisation, its dancers, its employees, and its patrons. The outcome is moving performances such as 2017’s “Bennelong”, telling the story of Bennelong’s conflicted relationships at the time of Australia’s first white settlers some 240 years prior.

IBA’s brand purpose is to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who want to own their future. IBA believe in the financial success and economic independence of Indigenous Australians. “How” they do this is to invest in people, places and ideas that are ready to be brought to life. And “what” it does are business loans, home loans and investment opportunities for indigenous Australians.

A strong brand purpose also affords the leadership team of that organisation a reference point and filter for decision making. Does the structure of the organisation support the brand purpose? Does the potential acquisition? Does the new product being developed? Does off-shoring this department?

A good brand purpose, executed well, will also ensure that your brand remains authentic. And authenticity is a sought-after brand value in the context of today’s world of increasing fake news and decreasing transparency.

For many brands looking for a marketing edge, switching the lens of their brand purpose from the traditional “What, How, Why” to Sinek’s “Why, How, What”, has proved a winning strategy. It’s enabled them to unearth the power of “why” they exist, and build a far more loyal group of customers, and employees.