It should be driven by a deep understanding of the values of the people that a brand exists to serve and a desire to help them lead lives that are content.
After all, brands that empower people to lead happier lives will be best placed to build trust and connections on the audience’s terms. So, forget about tactics that persuade people to buy something they don’t really want. These techniques are dehumanizing and will leave a bitter taste—a sure way to erode brand value.
In pursuit of happiness
Brand purpose projects should begin with an exploration of the people the brand serves and what values are important to them.
Consider what drives their behavior and how this frames their belief systems and emotions and what they see, feel and experience.
Empowering people to lead their lives through their values will make them happier, whether that’s in terms of how they manage their finances or relationships, as well as the choices they make about brands. Perhaps they cherish benevolence (being honest, kind and caring) or conformity (being polite and reserved). Or maybe it’s power (being influential and prestigious)—or something else.
By understanding the values different customer and prospect segments live by, it’s possible to create a brand purpose that will have relevance and meaning to audiences.
Take sustainability. This issue is close to many people’s hearts, especially Gen Z and Millennials, according to The Deloitte Global Survey in 2021. It is important to engage with sustainability because it is the right thing to do for our planet and its people, but it is also important for brands to engage with sustainability in a way that will help them connect with their audiences.
Consider how they experience sustainability and why they believe in it. Do they value sustainability because it’s their social responsibility, or is this simply a power statement? Or is it about protecting others, creating security or simply about conforming with established views?
It’s crucial to think about why audiences believe in sustainability so that the resulting brand story is ownable and the messaging is effective.
It creates a deeper meaning for the person buying the brand and must also dovetail with the brand history. Simply bolting sustainability onto brand purpose won’t work. So how do you achieve this?
Challenge your assumptions
Don’t assume that audiences have the same values as you or the brand.
Imagine your own values and what these mean in your lives.
Next, think about your audience’s values. How do these values impact their behavior and the way they see the world? Get inside their values, emotions, behavior and how they feel and what they seek.
Unpack your hypotheses and prejudices. It’s human nature to harbor prejudices so get these out on the table and unpack them. Listen to everything. We all look to inhabit echo chambers, so it’s important to step outside of these to experience reality.
Now consider those prejudices. Look to debunk them—don’t look to confirm them.
This will enable you to see, feel and believe the world through your customers' eyes. It’s like virtual reality from the inside out.
When a brand misfires in engaging with people’s values it can lead to a backlash. Just look at what happened when Pepsi launched a campaign with Kendall Jenner.
The advert failed to acknowledge the real experiences of people protesting and what they were fighting for. It tried to tap into the human value of universalism and communicate fairness, understanding and tolerance. Instead, it generated rancor on a fundamental level. It didn’t connect with the values of people who like Pepsi and it didn’t connect with the brand’s heritage. Fundamentally Pepsi didn’t have the credentials to communicate in this space.
However, when brand purpose is rooted in human values it connects with people instantly and successfully.
The Dirt is Good campaign by Persil builds a story around universalism (being ethical, responsible and fair) but also connects Persil with benevolence and fun.
It beautifully leans into the role of the mum being kind to her family by fostering love and learning, but also by being kind to the planet and world around her. There’s a real expression of joy and fun as the kids play in the dirt.
Together these generate a parental warmth in a message around universalism that is perfect for the brand. As a result, Persil carved out an authentic space by credibly tapping into empowering people to be kind to others and to enjoy life.
Values are a compass for how people want to lead their lives. Once you understand this, then you can comprehend how to engage with them and what you can and cannot say.
People do not exist to consume—they are human beings. Once brands understand and unpack people’s values, they will be able to empower people to lead more contented lives. Then just like any great relationship, it will have the foundations to endure.
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