Why Does Your Brand Exist?

Written by Rick Liebling

Over the last couple of years it has become fashionable to say, “You don’t own your brand—the people do.” Social media has apparently given the power to consumers, and marketers are just along for the ride. I think this is an accurate statement—if you manage a brand that doesn’t actually stand for something.

And the truth is that most brands don’t stand for something. Oh, sure, they parrot some mumbo jumbo about providing best-in-class this or leading-edge that, or they talk about shareholder value. It’s usually in the form of some Vision or Mission Statement—the type of thing that’s been mercilessly roasted in Dilbert cartoons. Umair Haque’s Betterness provides a proper analysis of how culture and modern business thinking has left those antiquated standards behind.

But some brands do, in fact, get it. They understand why they exist, what their purpose is and what value they provide to the world. And we all know which brands these are because they are the ones that turn up time after time in case studies and are mentioned at every conference.

Nobody ever suggests that “the people” own Apple. Or Nike, Chipotle, Netflix, Starbucks or Warby Parker. Why? Because these brands have taken the time to dig deep and truly understand the fundamental question of why they exist. They asked themselves hard questions, they’ve made sacrifices, and they’ve committed to staying true to their core values. That’s not easy—if it was, every brand would do it.

Of course the next step that takes an organization from being a company—a legal entity and a P&L spreadsheet—to being a brand, is marketing. These companies have become powerful brands because they are able to articulate their fundamental “why” in a compelling way. For a fantastic assessment of this, I encourage you to watch this powerful TEDxPugetSound video featuring Simon Sinek—a must-see for all brand marketers. Here, he explains his concept of the Golden Circle, and how companies and organizations focus on the “what” and “how” of the business but not the “why.” You can distill the idea into one simple sentence:

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Increasingly people want to have a better understanding of the “why” behind the brands they use. At the same time, marketers are striving to form relationships with people, yet they are unable to give a compelling reason why people should do so. Very few people want to have a relationship with a place that makes burritos. But plenty of people care about where a brand sources its ingredients, how its meat is processed and the connection the brand has with farmers. That’s why Chipotle gets more than 8 million people to watch a video that addresses those issues and 12 million to watch the follow-up (great songs don’t hurt either).

Do people own your brand? They do if you haven’t put the time and effort into owning it yourself. If every employee of your company doesn’t know your “why,” it’s time to rethink your marketing strategy, and as the Chipotle video and Coldplay song suggest, go Back to the Start.

Rick Liebling is the Global Head of Marketing for Unmetric, a competitive intelligence and social media benchmarking company that believes when you connect people with information great things can happen. You can follow him on Twitter @RickLiebling and @Unmetric.

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