// 19 mins read
A few months ago, it would have been impossible to predict where we are today. A world where brands would be facing their own real-time life or death decisions; for their business, their employees, and their families. This is a time where every step matters more than ever because there’s no template or projection to navigate this scenario. We haven’t been down this road before. A map doesn’t exist.
Business leaders face an inflection point. Some will make the decisions that will set them on a course for unprecedented success. Others may falter as they flail in the uncertainty of these uncharted depths. With the right decisions, the novel Coronavirus pandemic can become an opportunity to forge unity, inspire loyalty, and stir creativity within their teams and customers. But the pitfalls can be numerous.
Here, we will examine the fundamental elements that guide brands through uncertainty. When it comes to making tough decisions with little information, organizations have two pathways: the first, and most common path, focuses on the bottom line and optimizes for short-term profit. This route is fraught with pitfalls because the collateral damage is often human. The second pathway is rooted in what we call the “3 Ps” of a brand – the Purpose, Person, and Positioning of that brand. These elements are fundamentally human and point to decisions that align with the true interest of the businesses’ staff and customers.
By understanding a brand’s core purpose, person, and position, business leaders can make the uncommon, yet critical, decisions that enable them to lead and succeed through this crisis.
P1: Write Out an Actionable Brand Purpose
From Chick Fil A’s meteoric rise as a leading fast-food chain to Dove’s ascent from #30 to #4 most trusted brands, we see evidence that market domination is possible in even the most saturated and stable spaces. But what takes a brand from challenger to champion? How do some companies capture the undying love of their market while others fall flat and fail?
The answer is simple: winning brands know their purpose and live it daily.
The best way to identify a brand that is operating in its purpose is to think of the company as an undercover advocate for its worldview. Use this sentence: “Brand X is a Y (ideal/philosophy) disguised as Z (service/product.)”
- Chick Fil A is a leadership development company disguised as a chicken restaurant.
- Dove is a women’s empowerment organization disguised as a soap company.
Brands that live their purpose get more than customers, they get a community of followers who share in their beliefs and values. Knowing your brand’s core worldview is the north star that guides your team’s decision-making. There’s a huge difference between making a decision for profit, and making one for purpose. The purpose-driven brand aligns its decisions with the inalienable values shared by its staff and customers, often leading to uncommon levels of success. For example, REI’s decision to close on Black Friday (the biggest retail holiday on earth) may have cost the company short term profit, but it earned them a fiercely loyal global following of environmentally-conscious customers.
How To Define Your Brand’s Purpose: The best way we’ve found to define brand purpose is through our take on a classic exercise pioneered by Ogilvy & Mather called The big ideaL. The concept is a simple Venn diagram. On one side you have a cultural tension – the problem in the world that you intend to address. On the other side, you have what we call your “uncommon future” – this is your vision for the future you aspire to create. At the intersection of these two ideas is your brand’s purpose.
- Identify the Cultural Tension – the problem you’re trying to solve in the world.
- Identify the Uncommon Future – your brand living its vision to the fullest capacity.
- Identify the intersection of the two – your brand’s purpose.
Start with a brainstorm. Write down everything that comes to mind and drill down until you find the heart of your company’s driving belief system. The key is to be aspirational and actionable in your thinking. Once you have the rough idea nailed down, you will want to take time to craft the wording until it feels true. Finally, write your brand’s purpose as “The world would be a better place if _________.”
One trick for testing your purpose statement is to use this sentence: Every day, we will [brand’s purpose statement]. If your purpose is clear enough and true enough, it can be a guide in daily decision-making.
For example, let’s look at Patagonia.
Test: “Every day, we will work to save our home planet.” This kind of purpose statement empowers brands like Patagonia to run ads encouraging customers to stop buying their products in favor of second-hand clothing. They are an environmental conservation team disguised as a clothing company.
(Bonus: click here to read more on Patagonia’s philosophy on finding culture adds rather than culture fits)
A clear and actionable brand purpose informs the decisions of the world’s most visionary brands, guiding them to uncommon levels of success.
P2: Align Your Purpose, With Your Person
As much as we’d love for an aspirational purpose to be all it takes to fuel business growth, we all know it takes sales to scale. Cue the second P, your Person. At ThreeSixtyEight, we understand that deep customer personas and demographic data have their place, but on a brand level, we believe that less is more. We define a brand’s person as the human that you can make a hero. This starts with an alignment of core values (your purpose), which ultimately leads to brand-level actions that empower your customers to live their purpose through your goods and services. When you deeply understand the human that you can make a hero, you’ve unlocked an uncommonly powerful marketing playbook.
How To Define Your Brand’s Person: Uncovering your brand’s person is all about focusing on the person who will love you the most. For many teams, they can actually think of someone they’ve served before, and know at a gut level who it is that adores the brand. For those who feel stuck, you can reveal your brand person by answering four simple questions:
- What is their name?
- What is their passion?
- What is their pain?
- How do you make them a hero?
For example, we’ll examine how a brand like Chick Fil A might answer this question:
- What is their name? Amy
- What is their passion? Being the best mom to their kids
- What is their pain? Overwhelmed by the exhaustion of raising 3 kids
- How do you make them a hero? Serve up delicious quality food in a positive, family-friendly environment
Remember, Chick Fil A is a leadership academy disguised as a chicken restaurant. In reality, Chick Fil A delivers much more than chicken nuggets. They deploy services like mom-valet, parent’s guides, and a role-model staff of leaders who can inspire the children they serve. It’s only in knowing their purpose, and their person, that Chick Fil A has been able to make the uncommon decisions that propel their unrivaled success.
Brands that align their purpose with their person have the power to make heroes with every transaction. Internally, they help their person be more secure and empowered. Externally, they help this person get seen in a different light.
Knowing your person at a human level is the second key to becoming an uncommon brand.
P3: Take The Uncommon Position
Having a lofty purpose that aligns with your core person sets the stage for uncommon levels of success, but the third P, your brand’s position, introduces marketing strategy to the equation. Your position is a short statement that defines what your brand is going to deliver, who wants it most, and how it is a better, different solution than what’s out there. Put simply, it’s what makes you different in the mind of the market.
To illustrate the power of uncommon positioning, we’ll borrow a concept devised by Roy Spence, founder of GSD&M and mentor to our leadership team. Imagine trying to climb a ladder with an opponent positioned at the top. Every time you scale the ladder, the person perched above simply kicks you down. In business, challenger brands often face this level of adversity, and the only way to reach new heights is to get around the “big guys.” To do this, the uncommon brands don’t climb the same ladder as the competition, they build a new one.
Take, for example, Casper: the emergent multi-billion dollar mattress brand. When faced with a goliath like Serta, they refused to offer deep discounts or sell through the existing mattress store supply chain. Instead, they took sales online, disrupting the mattress industry seemingly overnight. Casper knows that their purpose is to awaken the potential of a well-rested world, and that their person is a savvy millennial consumer who doesn’t fall prey to traditional sales tactics. They know that in order to make their customer a hero, they must provide a better night’s sleep in an era of anxiety and overstimulation. Finally, Casper positioned themselves online, taking an uncommon path to the consumer, and building a new ladder that has elevated their brand globally.
How To Define Your Brand’s Position: When defining your brand’s position, we like to use the “For, Who, That, Unlike” mad-libs template as a guide. This is a flexible template that every brand should make their own, and it looks like this:
For (target customer)
Who (statement of need or opportunity),
(Product name) is a (product category)
That (statement of key benefit).
Unlike (competing alternative)
(Product name)(statement of primary differentiation).
The best way to understand this template is to see an example. Let’s look at what Casper might have written in:
For savvy, busy consumers
Who want to get better rest without feeling ripped off,
Casper is a sleep company
That helps awaken the potential of a well-rested world.
Unlike traditional mattress brands that focus on high-margin, brick and mortar retail products,
Casper sells better sleep at a better price… directly to the consumer.
A well-crafted positioning statement enables everyone within a brand to immediately understand what makes the company different and explains the unique characteristics of your product or service in simple terms. In essence, it’s the new ladder that your team can scale to uncommon heights.
Uncommon brands are not built on fancy tag lines or hollow values. The uncommon ones live their purpose daily, make their person a hero, and know their position in the world. Using the exercises outlined here will help you make the difficult decisions necessary to set a course for an uncommon future. By filtering the tough decisions through this framework, you can act quickly and confidently at times of uncertainty, remembering that your purpose doesn’t mean anything until it costs you money.
There’s much more to share on this topic at no cost – simply email Justin.email@example.com for a recap of our webinar, our 3Ps presentation, and our brand scorecard to help you assess your current standing. For those of you who feel like you have a great grip on this, keep striving for that uncommon future for your brand, your community, and the world at large!