The purpose of branding

The purpose of branding

Do we live in a post brand world? Certainly the word ‘brand’ has ceased to have any real meaning, and using it tends to confuse people rather than inform them.

Not-for-profits and organisations can see ‘branding’ as the devil’s work, staff often perceive brand as separate to them, and many business leaders question the need for brand development in financially trying times.

Now, if a brand is simply a distinguishing mark that separates one product from another, we do indeed live in a post-brand world. A little bit of wallpaper over business as usual isn’t going to help anyone in today’s world.

I think we all now get that great businesses are far more than one big idea consistently executed. Success tends to be defined by energy and a constant stream of great ideas brilliantly executed. We call this ‘design thinking’.

We work with some well-known brands, but we also have a passion for working with the not-for-profit sector.  

People often assume the work we do is pro-bono, good for the soul and the business profile. But much of the work is far too important to be pro-bono. Not-for-profits are increasingly taking up the slack as the government steps back from involvement in a wide range of social development and welfare areas, and the demand for services is growing exponentially.

The importance and responsibility shouldered by not-for-profits is huge. One of the consistant themes we see when working across commercial organisations and not-for-profits is that both sides fundamentally believe they are different from each other.

In many ways they are, but in more ways they are not. In fact I would go as far as to say that over the last decade, corporates have tried to be more like not-for-profits, engaging with the community and their social responsibility, whilst not-for-profits have tried to be more corporate, increasing efficiency and demonstrating ROI.

Frankly, we have benefited greatly from understanding both sides.

The consistent issue faced by both in a changed economic and communication environment is the lack of a clear purpose for being. Why are we here?

This may sound esoteric, but if a commercial entity’s only reason for being is money, don’t expect customers to have a deeper relationship with you than that. And if a not-for-profit’s reason for being is overpowered by individuals’ passions and beliefs, don’t expect people to have a relationship with anything beyond individuals.

The reality is that both commercial and not-for-profit organisations thrive when they create community and culture. This is how they fuel growth by attracting the best people, the best staff, the best partners, the best customers and the best investment.

The real key to a brand’s purpose is that it is true. Purpose has to be authentic, it has to be real, believed and inspiring. And this is where working with commercial entities as well as not-for-profit organisations keeps us honest.

Staff and management of not-for-profits tend to be both passionate and opinionated, they are suspicious of marketing and can smell the inauthentic a mile off. Commercial organisations, on the other hand, require clarity and high degrees of focus to succeed in competitive markets.

It is this balance of authenticity and clarity that creates purpose, and in today’s ever-changing world it is purpose that creates success.

Why? Because if you have a purpose you have something worth saying.

Mark Kennedy is managing director (Sydney) at Designworks.

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