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Walking the Talk
The Bright Side of the Brand

The “brand purpose” bandwagon has become awfully crowded. And as more and more brands seek to capitalize on the opportunity to cast themselves in a more authentic, meaningful light, the language of “brand purpose” has become weak, watered down and increasingly meaningless.

Marketing purpose is easy; embedding purpose is hard work. And while a number of pioneers and purists remain committed to embedding purpose at the organizational level, the temptation to cut corners and to exploit purpose for marketing “quick wins” — rather than to embed it in more meaningful, transformative ways — has become too great to resist. The phenomenon of “purpose-washing” is real.

This is bad for a number of reasons. For one, as more shallow and meaningless “purpose” messages flood the market, the more difficult it becomes for audiences to differentiate authentic purpose from marketing fluff.

While one of the benefits of sharing your purpose-oriented outlook with the world is to create deeper, more authentic connections with audiences, the misuse of purpose actually has the opposite effect — it increases skepticism and fuels mistrust between audiences and brands. The market isn’t consistently holding purpose-washers accountable for their abuses yet, but the hashtag #purposewashing is already active on social media. It can only be a matter of time before broader audiences start organizing against the worst offenders or tuning out altogether.

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The fact that the language of purpose is being abused doesn’t mean the concept of purpose is completely powerless. What it does mean is that if we want to harness purpose to foster greater differentiation, greater engagement and more authentic connections, we have to work a bit harder to stay ahead of the curve. We have to push beyond a simple purpose statement and show — not just tell — our stakeholders that we’re genuine in our commitment to purpose.

We call this process — of pushing beyond a simple purpose statement to more meaningfully embed purpose within an organization — getting to The Bright Side of the Brand*.*

The Bright Side of the Brand is a special place reserved for brands that aren’t afraid to do the hard work to ensure that their purpose is more than just words on a page or a campaign tagline. Brighter Brands know who they are and what they stand for; they understand that they’re a part of a larger community, and their actions demonstrate an interest in the well-being of society-at-large.

For simplicity, we’ve divided the most common attributes of Brighter Brands into three sub-categories: Bright Culture, Bright Storytelling and Bright Leadership.

Brands with Bright Cultures know what they are and what they believe, and they’re not afraid to stand up in support of those things. We call this having a clear Brand Standpoint.

The core elements of their brand — their mission, values, and purpose — are clear and consistent, and they have a coherent plan for pursuing their vision that allows everyone to see how their work connects to the bigger picture — regardless of their role. As a result, they’re able to attract, retain and engage top talent, and drive positive impact on the overall brand from the inside out.

Bright Storytellers view things through a particular lens and paint a clear picture of the world — including their role in it — in a way that inspires and empowers others to take part. We call this having a compelling Brand Worldview.

Bright Storytellers deepen bonds between brand and audience and create a sense of community by helping to connect the past, the present and the future. As a result, they enjoy greater differentiation, broader reach and more authentic connections with their stakeholders.

Bright Leaders raise the bar and inspire others to follow. They take bold action before customers, competitors or regulators compel them, and they’re recognized by their peers and the broader community for being invested in, and contributing to, something greater than themselves.

Bright leaders enjoy more earned media attention and attract followers and fans organically by going beyond storytelling, consistently translating their vision into action.

In many ways, getting to the Bright Side of the Brand is about putting purpose to work. After all, when leveraged properly, purpose can be a powerful tool — a means to a number of desirable ends.

But finding your “why” isn’t the finish line. It’s the starting point.

To that end, we hope that the concept of Brighter Brands can serve as a tool for those in a position to influence brand strategy and communications — CEOs and executive teams; brand, marketing, communications and HR leaders; or anyone with an interest in the role that brands play in our lives, and the world at large to:

  • Decipher how and why some brands shine brighter than others
  • Identify patterns and techniques that we can apply on our own
  • Transform the role that brands play in our lives, and the world
  • Accelerate a shift to a world where brands are catalysts for meaningful change

Ultimately, we believe this simple concept can serve as a roadmap to help business leaders get to the Bright Side of the Brand, sharpening their focus on the three key elements of culture, storytelling and leadership.

We’ll be exploring this topic further in our upcoming Sustainable Brands webinar on July 10th at 10am PST, and at our upcoming InsightOutside retreat at Zion National Park in October. We hope you can join us!

This post first appeared on the ThinkPARALLAX blog on May 31, 2018.