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True brand purpose isn’t just about a noble cause

In retail, as in most businesses these days, brand strategy is more than just a logo, slogan or ad campaign. It is the overall story or narrative that brings to life a retailer’s value proposition and guides its customer experience – be that in-store, online or direct-to-customer communications.

As renowned UK brand consultant Mark Thomson puts it, “Brands are the stories that unite us all in a common purpose within an enterprise and connect us with the people we serve on the outside. These brand stories give meaning to who we are and what we do.”

At the heart of a brand’s story is its purpose. Brand purpose was originally conceived to demonstrate an understanding and commitment to the essential role a brand plays in people’s lives. Recently, however, somewhat overzealous companies have begun to treat it as a higher-order idea that requires a commitment to a social cause or charity.

Identifying your true brand purpose

Scores of brands have established a purpose based on how the company contributes to society or how it intends to change the world for the better. Patagonia is case in point, a brand built around the social cause of helping the environment. Similarly, Australia’s own Thankyou is, at its heart, a social enterprise donating profits to safe water, hygiene and sanitation programs.

While these noble purposes are admirable, the reality is not all brands are in a position to follow suit. And if you have one of those, don’t despair.

In the first instance, purpose should boil down an organisation’s fundamental reason for being. What are you really providing your customer and what gap in the market do you fill?

Having a clearly defined brand purpose can help you to stand apart in a cluttered category. It makes consumers more likely to select you when all else is equal and it makes it harder for competitors to muscle in. With many retailers stocking the same or similar products, brand purpose can help you to differentiate less on what products are offered and more on why and how you offer them.

This is not to say product can’t play a role but a focus on a specific style, quality, aesthetic, technology, category, financial model or segment, for example, can make the product offer more potent.

Bunnings and Priceline do it well

Many successful retailers have explicitly or implicitly built a business around how they contribute to their customers’ lives then developed the offer to align with this. This can be done through staff culture, customer experience, communications or policies.

An example is Bunnings. The hardware store’s implicit purpose is to inspire and enable DIY aspirations and this drives the brand’s mission to provide the widest range of home improvement products at the lowest prices backed by great service. This comes to life as part of the brand’s free DIY workshops and online resources.

Priceline is another good example. The brand states its purpose as, “Helping women look good, live well and feel great”. To fulfil this Priceline looks to be first with beauty trends and brands, works with leading makeup artists and big beauty brands while providing customers with the latest beauty advice. The brand also runs The Sisterhood Foundation supporting women in need through six charities across Australia which speaks to the brand’s purpose but is an extension of its everyday application.

Brands in retail matter. The ones that matter the most are backed by a solid purpose. In the long term, purpose will help consumers to build a stronger connection with your brand. You’ll be better placed for being first to consumers’ minds when they have a need. And that’s a race we all dream of winning.

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