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Settle in for the long-haul if you want to create an authentic brand, with a clear purpose…

A truly authentic brand isn’t built in a day, a month or even a year – it takes time and patience to build authenticity and earn trust from the communities or markets with whom you’re hoping to establish a long-term – even lifelong – relationship.

A brand is the persona that consumers come to trust, and it is only once that relationship of trust and authenticity has been established that they will willingly – and repeatedly – pay for their relationship with a brand.

At the heart of it
Furthermore, trying to build a brand is meaningless unless it is done with purpose. But what does it mean to operate with authenticity, and how does a brand identify whether it really knows what its purpose is – and how to make sure that the two elements align?


Purpose is the unifying force that cascades throughout the enterprise, from culture and strategy, through to brand and action. It responds to our innate desire to make a positive impact on the world we inhabit – regardless of whether the enterprise is non-profit, social, or a conventional business.

As an example, we worked with Clientèle to help it identify its vision and purpose. At first glance, the purpose of an insurance company is to provide insurance, right? Well, in collaboration with the client’s core teams, we helped them identify that its purpose was ‘safeguarding your world with compassion’ (referring to its clients). Once everyone in the organisation understood all the implications of that purpose and embraced it, it cascaded down to every level. Not only did it reflect in the brand’s new product development and business structure, it was felt at customer-facing level, where call centre staff were specifically trained to manage calls reporting losses or accidents with real compassion, rather than just reading from a prepared script.

When your purpose is clear, there’s so much more you can say than just trotting out CSI stories to bolster your brand’s feel-good factor. The insurance brand we worked with could draw on its’ customers real stories of the compassion, care and support that they experienced when turning to their insurer in a time of loss and need. This also confirms that, the more you understand your consumers and the communities they are a part of, the easier it will become to align your content, messaging and marketing activities to align with their needs in a relevant way. That’s when brands become authentic – when there’s a purpose at the heart that motivates what they do. Everything else then works towards that purpose.

Innovation and inspiration
Innovation is also unleashed by purpose. New products and services, as well as changes in operations, are inspired and guided by referring to the core purpose of the enterprise. Purpose demands a deeper way of thinking to fulfil unmet needs for people, planet, prosperity and posterity.

The essence of culture is a shared sense of purpose, when everyone understands why they are doing their jobs, from the simplest most mundane tasks to the most innovative and groundbreaking inventions. For a brand to be authentic, the people who work with it need to know whether they are doing something towards a greater good – which is more meaningful than just doing a job to earn money. Having meaning in your daily tasks adds depth and meaning to a brand, and while it may appear intangible to those who have not experienced it, brands that follow through on this do see the results.

Unilever did its own research to measure the success of a portfolio of their brands, and its findings were unequivocal: the products that had a stated purpose, and that were clear about that purpose in all their collateral, were the ones outperforming the rest. CEO Paul Polman said at the time that, “We have made great progress. Our results show that it (purpose) is good for business, with increasing evidence that our purpose-driven brands do better. Our 18 Sustainable Living Brands grew 50% faster and account for 60% of total growth.”

Purpose must come before profit because profit is a natural follower, but a harmful leader, and so often, brands get lost in the chase for more money, that they lose sight of the bigger stuff – their purpose, their true meaning. It’s in these situations of chasing the money rather than being true to purpose that brands become jaded and lose the trust of their customers. This in turn affects profits, making it even more difficult to keep up with financial expectations.

Embracing authenticity is a long-term strategy. Whatever time it takes will be worth it, because you build loyal consumers that want to do business with you for years to come.

This article appeared in the February/March issue of Your Business. Read the free issue online or download here.

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