On purpose: Why some brands have already failed in 2010

Simon Mainwaring / Brands / 10 years ago

Credit: Mark Stivers Cartoons

I’ve written often about the need for a brand to define who it is and what its core values are. I wanted to take that further by saying that it is equally critical to define the goals of a brand in terms of purpose for the year. Without doing so a brand is likely to slip backwards within a marketplace that is moving so fast. You only need to look at the leadership positions Nike, Pepsi, Starbucks and Coke are taking in the social space to see major brands that are tracking with the marketplace.

To be fair brands are often so overwhelmed by the need to survive, meet their next quarterly projections or turn themselves inside out in the face of social media, that they don’t get time to sit down and articulate how the next year can contribute to what the brand wants to be. Yet there is time if a brand puts it first at the beginning of the year.

When I speak of goals in this way, I don’t mean the number of visitors to its website, its profit or market share. I mean how will it change what consumers think about it so that their perception is more closely aligned with the brand’s core values.

The compass in this area is the brand’s purpose, and on the flip side, it’s that purpose that generates meaningful exchanges with consumers in the social space. For example, Timberland demonstrated its committed to the environment by jumping into the fray over climate control in Copenhagen. They saw that as an important contribution their brand could make to achieving their purpose even though brands don’t usually protest or dialogue with heads of state.

If a brand does this work, it reaps unexpected benefits. Their clearly stated purpose and yearly goals become a filter for all the incredibly confusing decisions they have to make in the face of technology and consumer behavior shifts. And this translates to time, money and anxiety saved.

If a brand doesn’t do this work, the consequences are dramatic and often unseen. Not only will a company waste time and energy on marketing efforts that are schizophrenic and inefficient. But without a clear goal as to brand purpose, they further compound their lack of definition and uncertainty.

A brand must be its own compass in an shifting marketplace.

Consumers are not looking for a something to buy. They are looking for extensions of what is meaningful to them.

By simply articulating your purpose, a brand can set itself apart from the majority of brands that are second guessing what consumers want them to be or what the marketplace will do next.

As 2009 fades from memory and 2010 lurches forward, a brand must steady itself with a clear sense of purpose as it enters the social flow. Without it, a brand will stumble and consumers may not reach out to lend a hand.

How important do you think a brand’s purpose is as a goal? Should that goal be built into its yearly planning?

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  1. Avatar Wilson Raj says:

    Great post Simon! I thoroughly agree with your distinction between business/marketing or financial goals vs. brand goals. Too many companies are focused on the former while overlooking their internal “compass” or brand goals as you described.

    I cannot imagine a strategic planning exercise without considering brand goals and how the organization is tracking to those.

    Thanks for your insights, Simon.

  2. Avatar Brandon101 says:

    Nice post Simon. Thanks for sharing. You know I am in total agreement with you on this one as I've written about this very topic on my blog. This is the standout quote for me:

    “Consumers are not looking for a something to buy. They are looking for extensions of what is meaningful to them.”

    I think a brand's purpose is absolutely critical in goal-setting. This will only become more evident as time passes and customers have more and more instant access to information on what/how brands support causes and passions that they believe in. Brands must acknowledge this and integrate this thinking in order to be successful in the future.

    Thanks again for the post, Simon.

  3. Thanks, Brandon. I agree with you that purpose will become more and more important as time goes it. It will be the great distinguisher along with a the quality of listening exercised by a brand. So many brands are yet to adopt purpose as a priority that it's unrealistic to expect them to goal set around it. But they must. For their own sake. Great chatting again and thanks, Simon

  4. Avatar Iconic88 says:

    Great thoughts Simon.

    A brand's purpose is a very important goal in my opinion. Not only do brands have to navigate these times to its strategic goals, they have to also understand why.

    There's an expression that says, 'a tree with no roots is like a person without no history'. This would apply to brands as well.

    Purpose stems from a set of a brand's values developed from the founder(s) (or core) of a company. A brand's 'roots' define the heights of its success and strength of its growth as well as its appeal to its audience.

    Another appropriate term here would be 'meaning'. Purpose and meaning are tightly interlinked which are represented by the free flow of rich nutrients throughout the brand's tree of life. It gives a brand the 'fire in the belly' as they say.

    Not everyone loves a eucalyptus but koalas do and its the koalas you take care of.

    Thanks for the post Simon.

  5. Wow, I love that quote. Thanks. And yes, purpose and meaning have always been important but even more so now as they is the currency being exchanged by consumers through social media. It's as if all our individuals hopes for meaning are being shared (as well as what we had for lunch). Thanks for the great response, Simon

  6. Thanks. You're right. Too many brand fail to include purpose in their goals yet that's what consumers are looking for in distinguishing what brand to buy or remain loyal to. What they stand for is arguably as important as what its product does. My hope is that purpose is being built into planning sessions at ad agencies and the corporations themselves.I haven't seen purpose feature heavily in many. But it's what consumers want. Thanks.

  7. Avatar Iconic88 says:

    Thank you Simon 😉

    You're absolutely right. Purpose and meaning are the currencies being exchanged through social media to build connections. These are the prerequisites to bind the community together with trust.

    In my opinion, purpose and meaning have always been at the heart of branding since marketing was marketed. The reason why it's more prominent today is that social media tools have enabled more shrinking of the world. Communication barriers and layers have been stripped away to the audience of one on a massive scale.

    It's no difference to this. If you go to a village in Tonga, or the Cheers Bar in the tv show where everyone knows your name, people know you, your history, probably most things about you, the environment is the same there as it is online now. The transparency of the web and the constant upload of information about ourselves onto the web is creating that parallel.

    Purpose and meaning from a brands perspective is like a candle light waiting for others to light their wicks. When you share candle light, nothing is lost. The light simply illuminates brighter. Add more people to the community and the light gets brighter. This is how you can stand out in a dark room (new market) or a light filled room (competitive market).

    Best, Mahei

  8. Well put. Brands are effectively becoming self-correcting through their community. And isn't that how it should be anyway. Advertising always uses language like 'at your service' or ' how may I help you?' but now they really need to mean it. I think just as brands lost sight of the meaning of that language, they have forgotten the rewards it holds. Here's hoping consumers help them get back there. Thanks again,


  9. Avatar mikescheiner says:

    As you point out Simon, this is such a common problem for companies and brands. They get so hung up on their own “internal perception” and short term goals. Instead of really thinking about what is really relevant to their audience and what the audience will perhaps want to “share” with others in terms of positive opinion and referral. Most of the time the efforts as you mention are based on quick short terms goals, as opposed to long efforts that bring true purpose and meaning of their brand with their audience. What most brands fail to understand is the perception you produce internally, is reflected externally.
    The companies you mentioned such as Nike, Starbucks, Apple etc are excellent examples of a consistent brand message, strategy and culture. That results in value and market share. Great post that brands should read and consider.

  10. Mike,

    Killer comment there. The point you make is so true – brands very rarely understand that what you do internally manifests its in your public perception whether you like it or not. It's the same with individuals in the real world I suspect. Such a great point, I'll write a post about it. Thanks and great to be in touch. Simon

  11. Avatar Iconic88 says:

    It's a lot like quality isn't it?

    At the end of the day, it's the consumer who decides what quality is for a brand not the brand.


  12. Totally agree. The market is self-correcting and we'd all be wise to trust its judgment. Thanks again. Simon

  13. Avatar mckra1g says:

    To answer your question, the brand's purpose is intrinsic to it's goal. They are symbiotic and complement each other, for one buttresses/reinforces the other.

    A brand is a 3D kaleidoscope of shifting and distinct parts, all of which revolve around a central core.

    IMO, it goes without saying that this goal should be built into yearly planning strategies. Great post – thanks for the opportunity to comment. Best, M.

  14. Thanks for the feedback and yes, they are intertwined. I have to admit though, in all my dealings with brands, I rarely hear the words purpose. Too often its assumed, overlooked or consider irrelevant. I'd love to see purpose become a line item in the briefing/planning process. That way we'd know its in the mix. Thanks agin and best, Simon

  15. Avatar mckra1g says:

    Assumptions are dangerous and costly. It's like a frigate leaving the harbor in the 1500s without having a compass.

    “Oh, I think I heard a rumor about land being [vague gesture westward] over that-away.”

    Not smart. 🙂 I agree that purpose should drive the purse strings.

  16. Thanks. Yes. “Creative destruction” Schumpeter called capitalism. I think those that ignore purpose may sadly find themselves on the rocks.

  17. Avatar Iconic88 says:

    Fortunately for many brands, with the right stewards at the helm, they can change course and recreate themselves to add purpose and meaning to their business.

    The purpose for brands can last throughout the test of time and resonate in the market place. The vessel(s) to carry the message of that purpose changes with the times.

    Cheers Simon.

  18. Agreed. We must provide that leadership too and old habits die hard. Thanks agin. Simon

  19. Avatar jeremymorris says:


    I came a bit late to this post but wanted to say I couldn't agree more with your point here.

    Unfortunately I think the vast majority of companies lack a clear mission or sense of purpose. Most are demonstrably just in it for the money – and consumers see through that. It's one reason why companies like Apple and USAA stand head and shoulders above their competition. Their sense of purpose shines like a beacon.

    For companies that don't have 'it', I think they have a big and growing problem. As consumers gain access to greater and more accurate product and service information and opinion via the web, and as entire product categories are commoditized, so the ability to articulate and demonstrate a clear business-driving mission that employees, customers and other stakeholders can really believe in will become just about the only genuine differentiator left.


  20. Completely agree, purpose will be the forward facing determinant and the quality of a brand's listening will be the backward facing one. As such brands must constantly stay true to their purpose as its intersects and acts with consumers conversations. That way they can stay authentic and relevant while recognizing that control has largely shifted to consumers. Great insights, Jeremy. Thanks.

  21. […] some of the sharpest bloggers are weighing in […]

  22. Great article! Covered a lot of perspectives. A lot of good points, I can learn a lot from this, thank you.