Purpose: Separating the wheat from the chaff, building purpose from steel

‘Sometimes good things fall apart so better things could fall together.’ Marilyn Monroe

This blog is about breaking things. Most things are breakable, but few are truly unbreakable… A brick of Lego, the Nokia 3310, the Toyota Hilux sitting in Top Gear HQ (which continues to amaze) or even this rather handy bulletproof kimono I’ve just found. The purpose of such products is perseverance in the face of adversity. Unbreakable things are made to deal with the kind of hardship that comes from anywhere, be it the natural elements, human error or even the persistence of Jeremy Clarkson. If only we could adopt this constructive rigour and mettle when building purpose into the heart of brands. An unbreakable, Ritson-proof purpose made of steel and built to last.

So, we did just that. At MullenLowe salt, we created a set of rules for purpose made of indestructible steel that Henry Bessemer himself wouldn’t dispute. Whenever a brand is creating, finding, growing or changing its purpose, there are four steel principles to live by.

  1. Be authentic.

The only place to start when building with steel is at the core. At the core of brands and their meaning to others is trust. Not just trust in quality and product promise but about saying something and backing it up. Surprise, surprise this is EXACTLY where brand purpose trips itself up, smashing like glass – not steel, time and time again. Whatever a brand advocates when talking or campaigning about purpose, must be reflected in the way they treat their people and the planet. Oh, and this includes paying their taxes.

If brands don’t adhere to this simple rule, they should brace for impact. There’s an army of activists outside the door, ready to leg sweep any brand that can’t back up their campaigning.

  1. Stay relevant to your product.

Purpose made of steel isn’t just about trust, it’s about product. A brand purpose must help sell the product or it’ll never be sustainable. The notoriety of such failure is laughable at best and offensive at worst (take note Gillette). Thanks go out to Oasis for having the sense to call this out early on. Brands simply need to remember what they sell and align their purpose to sell it. Mattel (Barbie) has not forgotten this. A deep dive into brand heritage (and a few historical corrections later) and Barbie now has a product and a purpose fit for the modern world. In less than two years since activating their purpose (closing the ‘dream gap’ between young boys and girls), Barbie has reversed a two-year sales decline, improved Mattel’s share price by 36% and ‘returned Barbie to the top of the Christmas chart.* Congratulations. Nailed it!

  1. Position with purpose.

A purpose that’s authentic and relevant is great, but that alone doesn’t make it steel. Too many categories are flooded with countless purpose statements and campaigns that look and feel the same. Brands should not forget to map and position the purpose of their category in the same way they would their brand platform. They also shouldn’t feel committed to the same innocent and caregiving archetypes that all too often devour the excitement purpose brings. Brands can still be cool AND do good.

To position in this vein, brands should look to ‘deposition’ their category by finding the right purpose. By creating a purpose that is unique in a category, brands can deposition their competition with a relevant ethical message centred on people and underpinned by planet (sustainable business). Depositioning is a social brand positioning that forces the category audience to focus their attention on a brand (positively), whilst forcing the rest of the category to (rush to) find their own social positioning (or risk losing the ethical/sustainable growth of their competitors).

The Tony Chocolonely brand is testament to this. Tony’s (as it’s more affectionately called), created a business reflective of such a method. The brand was born from a problem in the cocoa supply chain and continues to grow at pace because of their attempts to provide a resolution to this problem through their brand. The tagline, ‘together, we make 100% slave-free chocolate’, is a simple, emotional and unique way into the category, and this is just the beginning.

  1. Make it last.

It’s authentic, it sells, it’s cool. YES! Yes? No…

When making purpose from steel, there is one final crucial component. It has an obligation to be built to LAST! Not just for a campaign, or for a few years, but for as long as humanly possible. For brand purpose to be real, it needs to be able to grow and develop with the product it reinforces. A purpose must lead to deeper emotion, more colourful creativity, inspire partners to get involved and (more than anything), encourage people to buy the brand more.

Laundry brand Persil’s purpose – ‘Dirt is good’ (DiG) is one of these rare beasts that has gone from  strength to strength because of this Mullenlowe salt helped engineer this concept of depositioning categories through purpose early on, helping launch the DiG platform with an intellectual argument about the benefits of letting children get dirty (in partnership with Oxford University) providing Persil unprecedented credibility and emotional resonance over their category rivals for the next two decades. From getting kids outdoors to teaching the importance of creative play, Persil continues to be the flag bearer for a steel purpose with longevity.

These four pillars of unbreakable steel are the foundations of purposeful brand building today. If a brand forgets any one of them, there’s a large chance it’ll fall flat on its face in front of a hungry and critical mob chanting ‘bull$hit’. So, let’s not give them the overreaction they want.

Be authentic, stay relevant, position purposefully and never forget to make it last. GO!

Get in touch with MullenLowe salt at hellolondon@mullenlowesalt.com if you need help crafting a steel purpose and look out for our next post on best practice in all things purposeful.

*Transformational thinking, APG Creative strategy awards, 2017, Mattel: Barbie (Grand-Prix winner)