When I started working in branding 9 years ago, most people understood what I was doing. People would ask “You do logos and packaging, right?” and, to be fair, it was quite accurate. We would have a dream team of creative and brilliant minds designing award-winning packaging for the next big thing in food & drink.
But at some point this changed and it became harder and harder to explain my job. It wasn’t just about logos and packaging anymore.
In order to understand the new meaning of branding, we must take a brief look at how it all started. Branding was created to mark products with fire and differentiate them. This is clearly what a logo is supposed to do, right? Only today it’s with Photoshop rather than fire. But here is the most important part of that sentence: differentiate them. This is key to understanding the evolution of branding.
In the past, when consumers would choose to buy rice either from this farmer or the other farmer, the name of the farmer marked on the packaging was enough for them to decide. Let’s call this “marking”.
So, how did consumers know which farmer was better?
The answer is pretty basic: because the whole town knew the farmers, their history, their family, their land, etc. Sometimes one farmer was a friend or a neighbour which would lead to buying from him ahead of the other one. At that time, “marking” was enough.
Now, imagine that instead of choosing between two farmers that you know, you are choosing from a hundred different farmers that you don’t know and all claim to be the best. I am sure you can see how overwhelming choosing the right rice can be. At some point you probably consider buying the cheapest rice or stop buying it all together… anything to make your decision easier. And this is where “marking” fails to accomplish its primary objective: differentiate.
Today, a name on packaging means nothing and doesn’t help a brand to stand out from the rest. This is why agencies started talking about values, personality, DNA and marrying it to advertising to make sure that their brands would pop out and be different from the rest. This was the moment we went from “marking” to “branding”.
It’s clear that we are facing a new challenge: all brands are screaming at the same time which is overwhelming consumers who feel lost and are losing trust in business and brands. According to Ipsos, only 43% of consumers trust business in general.
We are going through a crisis of confidence in brands, in all places and in all industries.
In the past, consumers would buy from the farmers they trust because the relationship was simple and transparent. How can we, as brands, get back to this level of trust?
Brands need to become the farmer next door and create emotional connections marked by authenticy, integrity and purpose. The exact same values that were driving the farmer to wake up every morning and make their rice.
And so the big question now is: How?
How can brands create an emotional connection with millions of consumers spread around the world?
The only way brands can achieve this level of trust and connection is through purpose: a mission that unites your organization, consumers and stakeholders. We are not talking about the traditional “brand purpose” that marketing teams would have on a nice slide but one that genuinely drives the organization inside and out to the world.
Let’s take a look at Patagonia who not only understood that brands need to evolve but was able to quadruple its revenue thanks to the decisions of the new CEO, Rose Marcario. She was brave enough to confront President Trump’s administration after it reduced the size of the Bears Ears National Monument, claiming the decision was illegal and creating the campaign “The President Stole Your land.” On the day after the company statement, Patagonia’s external web sales were 6 times higher than a typical day.
It was recently announced that Patagonia will offer customized tops only to companies that have a sustainability plan as part of their business. This is a perfect example of authenticity, integrity and purpose-driven actions. Their decisions are affecting the organization internally as much as externally and are aligned with the core values the brand stands for.
Today when consumers ask themselves what is the meaning of wearing a Patagonia top, the answer is about the environment and politics rather than design.
We, as consultants, have one mission: help companies grow. In the past, storytelling and packaging were triggering purchasing decisions and growth. Not anymore. Today the only engine for sustainable growth is purpose. According to Kantar Consulting, brands with a high sense of purpose have experienced a brand valuation increase of 175% over the past 12 years.
I am driven by the same mission that I was 10 years ago: helping companies grow. But in order to do that, I need to help them connect with people like the farmer next door was doing: with integrity, authenticity and purpose.