But what has not been fully appreciated is the effect that a brand can have on the marketer. Marketers are also motivated by brands with meaning. And when a brand is more than just a bunch of products to consume but rather a source of positive change in the world at large, it can unleash marketers' passions, inspirations and imaginations.
Evolutionary scientists recently have come to a startling conclusion: We human beings have an innate desire to believe in something greater than ourselves. As a recent article in The New York Times Magazine, "Evolution and Religion -- Darwin's God" notes, while the experts don't always agree as to the reasons, the desire to believe is "an outgrowth of brain architecture that evolved during early human history." In other words, we are preprogrammed to want to believe in something larger than ourselves, be it a higher power, a philosophy of life or a greater cause.
Actions and beliefs
Yale anthropologist David Graeber, analyzing contemporary American culture, discusses this inherent desire to believe in something greater than ourselves in a recent paper titled "Army of Altruists." He adds that not only do we all have a need to believe, but we all have the need to act on it, to "do good in the world."
This desire to dedicate ourselves to something greater has now become part of the zeitgeist. Bill Gates' and Warren Buffet's creation of the biggest charitable foundation in the world turned them from nerdy brainiacs into enlightened leaders; Al Gore's critically acclaimed hit, "An Inconvenient Truth," transformed a has-been politician into a hip celebrity; and Bono's campaign for debt reduction in the Third World has reputedly put him on the shortlist for the Nobel Peace Prize.
What does this mean for companies and their employees? Marketers, like everyone else, want -- need -- to believe in what they're doing.
On a mission
As many brand managers will tell you, a compelling brand mission can unify processes, strategies and programs within organizations. But marketers also have more energy -- even passion -- for what they're doing, they collaborate better and they become more effective sales agents to both their internal and external audiences.
Even more important, belief in something greater than ourselves fuels inspiration, creativity and artistic expression.
Thomas Maschio, a social anthropologist who integrates his classical anthropological training with primary consumer research to solve today's marketing challenges for clients such as Unilever, Johnson & Johnson and Merck, notes that since the beginning of time "belief systems and religions have inspired the greatest examples of poetry, art, music, science and architecture."
The same phenomenon applies in the business world: Iconic brands Dove and Apple found a fight, a cause that focuses on something greater than selling products. We're not talking about sponsoring a charitable event or recycling used materials. It's more than that. And their missions fueled innovation.
Consumers will follow
I've seen this phenomenon first-hand, creating brand visions with companies including Philips and Unilever. In its search for a compelling brand vision, Philips noticed that historically the company had often created products that are easy and intuitive to use so that people get what they really need and want from technology. Reflecting on this, Philips realized that, fundamentally, they believe technology shouldn't be about the "wow factor" but about enabling people to actually live better. Their mission, or fight, then, was to give people all the benefits of technology ... simply. Not only did Philips fully embrace this new purpose in their communications (their tagline is "Sense and Simplicity"), they now use it as the guide for future product development. In January 2005, Philips developed an exploratory design project, called Next Simplicity, culminating in an exhibit in Paris and London, which showcased a host of new and exciting products based on this notion of simple-yet-meaningful technology.
When looking to reposition its brand, Lipton, meanwhile, realized that the world wasn't taking advantage of all that tea could offer. Tea is full of health benefits, but for years people either didn't realize this or just didn't regard tea as an everyday beverage. With its "Lipton Institute of Tea," its accessible price point and its trusted brand image, Lipton felt it could change all that. Lipton challenged itself to help people live healthier, better lives by bringing tea and all of its health benefits to everyone. This mission inspired a slew of innovations that harness these benefits in different ways, such as freshly brewed iced tea, pyramid teas and red tea.
And when you believe strongly in your mission, consumers follow. Philips moved up 12 points in last year's InterBrand Global Brand Scorecard survey, which measures how consumers perceive global brands. In the case of Lipton, consumers around the world have responded with both their minds and wallets. Not only did brand image scores rise in key measures like contemporary and healthy, but, in the U.S. alone, Lipton grew 20% after its relaunch, two times the rate of the category. What's more, a beneficial cycle is born. Company leaders inspire their employees, who in turn inspire their consumers, whose passion then refuels the belief the leaders have in the brand's purpose, and so on.
Science now proves what brand strategists always sensed: We human beings have a fundamental need to believe in and act upon something greater than ourselves. Let's realize the significance of this discovery and impress upon ourselves and our colleagues that a brand is a belief system, and that finding its greater purpose will motivate us to dedicate not just our brains, or even our hearts, but our souls.
As history and today's best-in-class companies show, dedication of this type is the wellspring of passion, inspiration and creativity.
Want greater rewards? Impart your brand with greater meaning.
Abigail Posner is the director of brand planning at DDB Worldwide's New York office, where she leads the development of brand and communications strategies for clients such as Unilever, Cigna, Pepsi and the New York State Lottery.