This is not achieved via sensitivity training or New Age crystals or a séance; it's more like making vanilla extract: distillation to the point of essence. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the process is very simple, and very hard. The process begins with assembling the team and posing one central question: Why does the brand exist?
Everybody then contributes thoughts of what they consider to be core beliefs. This back- and- forth will yield many, many true statements, yet most of those will not address the fundamental question.
Some will seem very close to getting at the heart of the matter, but eventually be recognized as merely describing a goal ("to lead the world in microprocessing"), a market condition ("because some people's breath is rank") or simply an irrelevant bit of emotion ("to honor the vision of our sainted founder").
Look at a few purpose statements:
- "Secret exists to help women of all ages be fearless."
- "Louisville Slugger exists to make players great."
- "ME plus YOU exists to advance relationships."
What do all these statements have in common? They are not slogans. A purpose statement must be derived, not contrived, even if the process seems New Agey, or simplistic or silly. Worry not about reduction ad absurdum. What is absurd is the idea that your complex understanding of yesterday's reality will be relevant to a radically different tomorrow. If you are honest in your deliberations, this core purpose will be at the heart of everything you do, from your marketing to your hiring to your supply chain to your voice mail greeting.
For one company, the process of teasing out its purpose lasted seven hours. The entire time the room had been crackling with ideas, insights, challenges, beliefs and passions. When, finally, the clear, succinct statement of purpose was projected onto the conference-room screen, the CMO declared, "That's it! That's what the brand stands for." Huzzahs and high-fives all around.
Except for one person. The head of marketing communications frowned. Fidgeted. Scowled. "Well, it's what we stand for," she said, "but we can't use it like that. At least two of our competitors could say the same thing. It's just not unique. Couldn't we say. . . ." And thereupon she commenced spouting taglines about how their products were the best, were the coolest, make you rich and beautiful and ward off all disease.
It was quintessential marketing thinking: differentiate above all else. What she failed to understand was that purpose is not positioning. It is not a differentiator contrived to set a brand apart. It is emphatically not a slogan coined to impress outsiders. It is an internal watchword meant to be a point of departure for every aspect of the enterprise.
Adapted from "CAN'T BUY ME LIKE: HOW AUTHENTIC CUSTOMER CONNECTIONS DRIVE SUPERIOR RESULTS." Published by Portfolio/Penguin. Copyright (c) Bob Garfield and Doug Levy, 2013.
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