Brand Purpose: What's Your Why?

I spend most of my time challenging the status quo to make brands purposeful. Challenging the status quo is a must, especially for brands that default to legacy marketing mix models focused on driving short-term ROI. Being purposeful is a must because it forces brands to be thoughtful about the why behind their reason for being versus the what or how. Challenging the status quo and being purposeful are two philosophies marketers must embrace to create remarkable experiences.

Many of the remarkable brand experiences of today are built with digital at the core. Warby Parker, Twitter, Evernote, Chipotle or Starbucks. Each of these brands is led by purpose and, not surprisingly, has stellar digital execution. Brands who are not lead by purpose get eaten alive by the Internet. Yahoo!, Blackberry, Best Buy, Blockbuster or Border’s. These brands got caught up in the what and how versus the why.

Starbucks gets the why. And it all starts with ceo Howard Shultz. (Yes, the lower case acronym is intentional; to demonstrate Shultz’s commitment to the philosophy that every employee has a voice in shaping the Starbucks brand). In his book, Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul, Shultz obsesses over the importance of brand purpose.

Shultz wrote Starbucks original purpose and continually scrutinizes its relevancy to ensure Starbucks is evolving as employees, consumers and shareholders offer feedback. By doing this, Shultz has successfully steered Starbucks marketing strategy away from the previously mentioned legacy marketing mix models focused on short-term ROI. In Shultz’s words, “A well-built brand is the culmination of intangibles that do not directly flow to the revenue or profitability of a company, but contribute to its texture. Forsaking them can take a subtle, collective toll.” He continues to say, “Every brand has inherent nuances that, if compromised, will eat away at its equity regardless of short-term returns. Growth for growth sake is a losing proposition.”

Because Starbucks is clear on the why, it makes the what and how easier. What they decide to do with the in-store experience. What they’re doing for local communities. How they’re ethically sourcing coffee beans. How they’re creating remarkable digital experiences. Their purpose leads all efforts, including Starbucks’ digital strategy.

The Internet has not eaten Starbucks. Quite the contrary, actually. During the low point of the recession in 2008, they launched My Starbucks Idea. An idea far ahead of its time. They were one of the first brands to embrace social media, with more than 35 million followers between Facebook and Twitter. They appointed Adam Brotman to Chief Digital Officer earlier this year. Shortly thereafter, Starbucks announced a partnership with Square, which was rolled out in stores last month and is fully integrated with My Starbucks Rewards. They even pay attention to what seem like the little things that make a difference, like their responsively designed website and customized URL shortener for social media posts. Steve Jobs-esque. Nicely done. 

Rallying around the why makes sense of the what and how. It encourages purpose-led decision-making and marketing strategies. Which, in turn, drive remarkable digital experiences that brand fans are proud to be part of. Experiences that are focused on building relationships and brand equity. Experiences that provide scale because they outlast campaigns and focus on more sustainable long-term relevancy.

All of this certainly challenges the status quo. Which makes it challenging in so many different ways. Marketers are resistant. Business models are old. Consumers are way ahead of us. They know what, where and when they want something. It’s our job to proactively let them know why so they know what to expect in return.