Why Not Every Company Needs To Embrace Brand Purpose
“If you don’t have a brand purpose, you don’t have a brand” was the title of this Grapevine edition. The article went on to promote the idea that a brand has to stand for something more important than itself.
While it is important to talk about brand purpose, it shouldn’t be every wine brand’s goal to have one, because purpose doesn’t work for everyone, nor it is expected of every wine brand.
Ten years have passed since Simon Sinek introduced the Golden Circle concept in this TEDx talk, where he explained that the core of a brand proposition should be the “why” of the brand. Inspired by the advice to start with WHY we make the products we make instead of starting with WHAT we make, marketers around the world jumped on the brand purpose bandwagon.
Today, brand purpose has become omnipresent. Now that consumers, investors, and stakeholders expect brands to stand for a cause that’s bigger than their profit – whether it’s sustainability, social justice causes, or community building, to name a few – more companies are positioning themselves as do-gooders in their marketing campaigns.
However, embracing purpose doesn’t work for every brand in every product category, and consumers don’t always care about a brand’s do-gooding, as Warby Parker’s case illustrates, where the founders of the online glasses empire discovered that fit and style was much more important to their customers than the company’s charitable program.
In other words, we’re happy if a toothbrush brand supports lower income households by giving out free toothbrushes, but we don’t expect our shampoo brand to do more than clean our hair, or female hygiene products to do more than save women from embarrassing situations.
What about wine? Do we need all wine brands to have a higher purpose than to give pleasure and joy to those consuming it? Some wine brands do stand for great causes, like Barefoot Wine supporting LGBTQ community since 1988, but most wine companies can't do that sort of fantastic long-term commitment to a cause.
What consumers want:
According to a recent Cone/Porter Novelli study, more than three-quarters of Americans want to see businesses lead with purpose. It has become an expectation. They want to see more action and less talking. In fact, 88% feel companies have a responsibility to demonstrate their purpose in society, and it is no surprise that corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports are highly rated among respondents.
With social justice issues and movements like #MeToo, people are deeply engaged in these topics, and 79% of Americans expect companies to be part of the conversation. However, here is the issue, how many wine companies and brands can actually commit to embracing any of the below listed leading top-of-mind issues consumers want companies to address?
It’s harder than it seems:
Consumers want to see consistent brand messages from one campaign to the next committing and supporting a cause. It can be counterproductive to launch a single brand campaign that follows the latest social justice movement. Often these one-off operations lead to no action or positive results because they don’t come from a place of integrity, and consumers know it.
So if a wine brand’s usual marketing campaigns were about its impressive quality features, points, and awards, or about price promotions, and tasting events, then a new purpose-driven campaign about how much the same brand cares about gender equality or equal pay won’t have any short-term impact. It will most probably confuse consumers and will feel fake unless the wine brand is dedicated to standing by the cause for decades.
Another factor that makes embracing purpose challenging is when traditionally built, profit-maximizing companies reverse engineer purpose through their marketing activities without incorporating it into their corporate guiding principle. Redefining organizational structures and culture to fit with new business purpose isn’t something most wine companies are able or willing to do. To do it well and adequately, they should consider a complete repositioning of their brand to step away from what the brand was to move closer to what it wants to stand for.
Last but not least, consumers want to see more facts and listen to less talking, so purpose-driven actions need to be measured. As Peter Drucker said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” However, not many wine companies have the proper means to measure their results. A perfect example is sustainability and how companies are measuring their CO2 emissions throughout the entire supply chain from land to glass. It is not as easy and as straightforward as it seems.
Make it simple:
While consumers want to see companies doing more than just work for profit, it is also true that companies need to be profitable to be able to operate. Putting purpose above profit is a tricky and complicated game to play.
Therefore, not every company needs to embrace a purpose but, a more straightforward and easier alternative would be to stick with a clear business vision and mission. Part of that vision can be, for example, to live in a greener planet, and the mission can be to adopt kinder practices for a more sustainable environment, product, and well-being of the society. And this is already being done by many in our industry. These companies don’t necessarily need to embrace purpose for marketing reasons.
A version of this article first appeared on The Buyer on July 22, 2019