What makes a brand powerful?

Why certain brands command such irrational loyalty? Why Harley Davidson loyalists wait for six months to get their hands on a bike. Why Apple fans sleep overnight outside an Apple retail store to be the first to get their hands on their latest toy? One could argue that in both cases the products driving such fierce loyalty are technically NOT one of a kind. For both Apple and Harley if those customers sought out comparable alternatives they would find decent options to choose from. Then what drives such cult like following. And how you as a brand owner can achieve the same? The answer is going to surprise you. And it’s rather simple. Yet it’s a point that’s missed at a massive scale by so many businesses today. The way I see it, it all comes down to one thing and one thing alone – larger purpose.  Yes that’s the single most defining difference between a brand that is loved and one that evokes indifference. How crucial is this? It’s like taking a thousand mile journey but taking the wrong turn from the word go!

We are wired to respond to a larger purpose

The reason why has a lot to do with biology. It’s the way our brains our wired. Our decision making is driven by our Limbic Brain. The part of our brain that controls emotion. Research from Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Kahneman has proven that 95% of our decisions are driven by our emotional brain. We do things NOT because we think so but because we FEEL so. Some would say we make decisions based on our gut feelings. Our reactions to purpose driven brands are the same. They are visceral. They just feel RIGHT, down to the core. Just like falling in love. It’s irrational. You fall for that one person and you really don’t know why. There are no words to explain why you feel what you feel. There are REALLY no words. Because the limbic brain that controls our emotions is unable to translate these feelings into words. But this is not a new idea for most marketers today now is it? Despite the fact this connection between a brand’s purpose and our biological wiring is clearly not something most marketers live by. Why do I say that? For one most market research still ignores this biological limitation. It is designed to ask people why they choose one brand over another. It is asking respondents to express the reasons driving their choice when biologically the brain center that led to their decision is incapable of such an articulation. What they express as reasons for choosing a brand are merely manifestations of a larger purpose. Of course they are going to talk about quality and features and in some cases even price and availability. How helpful would that be to craft a way forward? Are competitors offering a poorer quality product? Can you debate the difference in quality of a sole made by adidas vs. Nike? Perhaps if you are responsible for manufacturing rubber soles for sure but are most people making their decision to choose one brand over another because of those manufacturing differences? Hell no! They choose a brand driven by a purpose because it makes them feel a certain way. These feelings emanate from their core values and beliefs. Those who believe what the brand believes are magnetically drawn to it. Yet larger purpose is still not a topic of discussion in many boardrooms even today.

The C-Suite is still operating on another tangent unfortunately!

Many CXO’s believe that talk of a larger purpose is all fuzz. Distant from the realities of business. It’s about the bottomline they say. It’s about efficiency and value. It’s about pushing the product down the supply chain as quickly as possible. Why can’t a brand be magnetic without a larger purpose you ask? The connection can never be the same but the cash register can certainly be made to ring. But the results would be short-term. There are many ways brands are achieving this. Some play on price to lure you in. That works because it makes choosing one vanilla brand over another easier since you are not bothered as long as it gets the job done. But what happens when the competitor comes up with a better offer. Do you keep lowering prices? Oh you are playing the volume game! Great you nailed that quarterly target. Good luck with that end-of-the-year board meeting. Others play on your fears. Fear is an emotion alright. But are they engaging your gut. FOMO is going to get you hooked a few times but can it work every time? How about aspiration? Buy me and feel like the seventh heaven. Doesn’t the fairy dust wear off rather quickly post-purchase. Speaking of dissonance haven’t we all been in situations when we are buying something and the choices leave us baffled. We tend to overthink. It just doesn’t feel right. Sometimes we make a decision on impulse but it leaves us feeling rather uneasy. That’s how brands not driven by a larger purpose make us feel. Indifferent. Uneasy. Unsatisfied. Or a combination of two. Which two? Trust me any two will make you feel equally sucky!

But driving a brand on a larger purpose is easier said than done

This is the reason why so few brands are doing it because defining the purpose is the tip of the iceberg. Ensuring if everything a brand does is truly inline with it’s larger purpose is a mammoth undertaking that only a few brands manage to accomplish and even fewer manage to do so consistently over a long period of time. Why? For any business starting out the purpose is an idea embodied by the founder. Communicating it and translating into action is a whole new ball game. From hiring people who truly believe in the same purpose to enabling them to live that purpose, from the way the product is developed, the features that are incorporated, to how it’s sold, how it’s communicated, how problems are solved after it’s sale, all have to prove the driving purpose. If everyone involved internally is living the purpose and doing their part to reflect the same in their work whatever that maybe, then and only then will the promise become a reality to the outside world. From what the brand does and how it does it, will the buyers of the brand connect with the purpose. Because it is only the actions of the brand that can offer proof of the underlying purpose driving the brand. And this is what makes brands powerful. This is what drives fierce loyalty. This is what makes those who believe what the brand believes choose it over competitors offering similar or even superior features. This is what makes them pay a premium and suffer inconvenience just to be able to get their hands on that brand.

But that is not all. For those few brands who do get it right their own success can get in their way. Even the most powerful brands have failed after achieving much success. Simply because they lost sight of their purpose. That’s the topic for another post! And it only goes to prove how crucial a larger purpose is in making a brand truly powerful.

This blog post has been inspired by Simon Sinek’s book “Start with Why”, although I have tried my best to summarize the key learnings and do justice to his amazing work I cannot urge you enough to read the book.

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