Branding Roundtable recently caught up with Mick McCabe, Leo Burnett USA's Chief Strategy Officer, and asked him to share his insights and opinions about purpose-driven branding.
Branding Roundtable: How do you define purpose relative to brands and the companies that own them?
Mick McCabe: Purpose is very close to our hearts, as Leo Burnett was an early pioneer on the purpose front. It represents one of the core principles that mark our HumanKind process, behavior and creative ideas as we work with all of our clients. We define it as why a brand exists. What its real motive is. What it’s trying to do in the world. And when you commit to that, it’s a powerful platform for brands, regardless of category or competitive situation.
BR: Is purpose a corporate-level driver/necessity or can it be implemented purely brand by brand?
MM: It’s most powerful when a company has a big human purpose that is given texture and dimension in the world through its individual brands. For instance, Nintendo as a company has a purpose that embraces the transformative, powerful good that can come when we play. And its consoles like Wii U and 3DS and games like Mario, Pokemon and Zelda all in different ways allow people to access that purpose and for it to be real, alive and thriving in the world. They all serve the big purpose but do it in their own charismatic, idiosyncratic, fun way.
BR: From a brand-positioning standpoint, do you see this as a task of corporations and/or their brands adopting new purpose or uncovering an existing, inherent purpose?
MM: From experience, I have found it more useful to look inside the brand to find a purpose. Brands are treasure troves, but you often have to look and dig a little to find the purpose and soul that can, over time, get a little foggy. Importantly, though, the placing of a brand’s purpose in the context of the times makes it magnetic. Allstate has had the Good Hands at the center of its brand for more than 50 years, but its longevity is because lots of smart people over the years have added to the meaning of it and given it new life as the culture has changed. So the character of Mayhem is a thoroughly timeless idea that gets his resonance from the here and now of people texting and driving and people applying makeup on the way to work.
BR: What do you see as the essential elements of a purpose-driven brand?
MM: Human truth. A purpose that allows people to access the great heights of the human condition and the possibility of us at our best is irresistible. And tension. The best tensions have friction, conflict and an enemy that a brand is trying to help right on behalf of people. Without it, I have purpose to wilt a little.
BR: What are the benefits of purpose-driven branding?
MM: To galvanize an organization and all of its constituents around a common mission and belief. People want to join, commune and connect, but they do so most passionately when they have something in common and when they share something. All religions, powerful organizations, clubs and brands know the uniting power of purpose. NASA could be about going to the moon. But more powerfully its purpose is to reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind. It feels very different.
BR: What have been, and what will be, the main obstacles of implementing and executing purpose-driven brands?
MM: Getting agreement is usually hard because how do you get thousands of people to rally around a single thought? That’s why the good ones are so powerful. Additionally, often purpose seems to smell of nonprofit in the commercial world. That’s the mistake. Purpose is actually an economic engine because it provides focus for an organization, it makes decision making more productive and it draws customers and talented people to a brand when they have a purpose that matters
BR: Is purpose-centered business a truly global strategy or more applicable in the West or developed economies?
MM: I think people are people, last time I checked. Human beings want and need purpose whether in India or in Ireland. Organizations want and need unity and focus whether in UAE or the USA. That is undeniable.