Why Resilient Brands Sell With Purpose, Not Claims

By Jonathan David Lewis

As Hitler’s armies covered Europe and bore down on Britain, Winston Churchill made one of the most famous speeches in history. Instead of arguing that a retreating Britain held the upper hand or making dubious claims about Britain’s military might, Churchill wisely spoke to the people’s hearts. In one of history’s greatest moments, Churchill gave his citizenry purpose in their darkest hour, defiantly proclaiming, “We shall never surrender.”

Building and maintaining a brand is harder today than ever before. Modern marketers don’t just face challenges gaining internal buy-in and customer loyalty; they also face a market that is in constant flux. Just as Churchill had to form a persuasive message for his bewildered citizenry with very few supporting facts, marketers today face a similar (if far less dramatic) challenge: How do modern marketers form a logical argument for their brand when circumstances on the ground change daily?

If they want to win, they don’t.

The Power of Purpose

The most resilient weapon in a marketer’s arsenal is purpose. Where logic-based claims can be rebutted, savvy marketers rise above the noise to champion brand purpose. The increasingly complex war between cellular carriers is a case in point: Sprint will make a “better, best, most” claim, so naturally, T-Mobile must spend thousands of dollars to create an ad rebuffing their argument, which initiates further claims by Verizon, and so on.

Product claims make today’s marketers particularly vulnerable, as they are static arguments begging to be debated. Purpose, on the other hand, transcends time and space. To navigate uncertainty in the marketplace, marketers must avoid static arguments. Flexibility in the form of a purpose-focused message is essential to survival.

Nike is a master of purpose-driven marketing: When is the last time you saw Nike make an ad claiming to be better than Adidas? Instead, it focuses on creating messages that grab your gut and make your heart flutter. The next thing you know, you’re putting down your bag of chips, getting off the couch and jogging to the Nike store to buy another pair of shoes. Why? The company didn’t claim to be “better, best, most;” it championed a purpose. It’s hard to argue with that.

Using the power and resiliency of purpose is an ancient stratagem of war. Sun Tzu, considered to be one of history’s greatest strategists, famously wrote, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Guerilla armies like Genghis Khan’s golden horde and General Washington’s colonial rebels rarely engaged in open warfare with their adversaries. Instead, they fought for the hearts and minds of the people. Over time their enemies, neglecting the power of purpose, fell from within. Standing armies may have the advantage in battle, but purpose often wins the war.

Opting For Purpose Over Claims

To elevate a brand above arguments and claims, we counsel clients to avoid the temptation to focus on what they provide and how they provide it. Instead, focus on why you exist and why your target needs you. “What” and “how” are based in logic; “why” is based in purpose.

Purpose-based case studies are ample. While the deodorant industry bragged about the latest odor-killing technology, Old Spice focused on a simple purpose: being cool. The groundbreaking “Smell Like a Man, Man” campaign completely reinvigorated the ailing brand. While many beer brands spent countless dollars on their TV shoot getting the “golden pour” angle just right, Dos Equis focused on a compelling purpose: being a more interesting man. The effort helped make Dos Equis the fastest growing import beer brand in America.

Navigating Uncertainty With Purpose-Driven Marketing

Your consumers and competitors can argue with every claim you make, and industry circumstances can change so quickly that your marketing can become dated before it even goes live. But how do you argue with cool? How can industry changes undermine the basic human desire to be more interesting? In a world marked by constant change and ambiguity, the resilient brand navigates uncertainty through purpose-driven marketing.

The constant barrage of competitive claims can be overwhelming, as is the temptation to go tit-for-tat with the competition. But there is hope in purpose. As you tackle your next brand challenge, remember the wise words of one of the world’s greatest leaders: “…never surrender!”

Originally published on Forbes

Jonathan David Lewis

President and author, Jonathan specializes in the spirit of the matter. Call Jonathan when problems feel ambiguous and morale is low. He’ll know what to do.

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