As the imaginary lines between media and creative agencies continue to fade, there exists a singularly bright North Star that has the power to illumine both our metaphorical skies: purpose.  We’ve all heard of purpose brands, right?  But what if you’re not one of them?

Luckily, purpose is not only the province of unique brands in certain lifestyle categories.  It arises as the sum of many attributes, all of which are readily available to you.  More on that shortly.

For agencies of all stripes, purpose brands — by which I mean brands with a clear reason for being that transcends commerce and gives consumers something besides form and function to sign up for and feel a part of — are simply easier to serve.

Further, across the modern marketplace, purpose brands offer their stakeholders many attractive advantages.  Among them:

  • In an era of thin margins, purpose can justify premium pricing
  • In a situation of relative parity, purpose can serve as the tie-breaker
  • In a networked world where everyone’s a potential social media influencer, purpose fuels greater advocacy and community

From an advertising perspective, purpose brands also have another leg up in today’s media landscape.  Purpose comprises the bedrock of what we, as an industry, increasingly and mysteriously have taken to calling content, which is really just another name for ads of unpredictable shapes and sizes that people actually want to watch.

Now, it’s true some brands lend themselves to purpose a touch more readily than others.  For several years now, our agency has worked with outdoor retailer/evangelist R.E.I., a co-op whose reason for being is to get people outside together to live better lives, and whose green-vested store associates serve more as lifestyle concierges and gear experts for their customers than as cashiers.

R.E.I.’s legendary “Opt Outside” campaign, which compelled consumers to spend time outdoors with friends and family on Black Friday, enjoying nature, rather than retreating indoors with consumer rivals to squabble over discounted big-screen televisions and blenders, was an unqualified hit for the brand, driving higher sales and employee engagement all at once.

But what if you’re not R.E.I.?  What if your brand’s beating heart is buried deep inside your corporate corpus, and you’re having a hard time even finding it?

Fear not.  I’ve yet to meet a brand that didn’t have a pulse in one form or another; although I have met many who simply had forgotten where to look.  Here’s a handy map.

Your Story of Origin

Who founded or created your company or brand, and why and where?  Think of Gatorade’s invention at the University of Florida, to rehydrate depleted football players.  Howard Schultz at Starbucks in Seattle, aiming at creating the first new “third place” since the office itself.  These stories of origin shape our relationship with these brands, helping us know who we’re dealing with and why.  Reconnect with yours to unlock the building blocks of compelling content.

Your Challenges, Mistakes and Wisdom

As with any story, adversity and conflict are the stuff of engagement, the parts of the narrative where we lean in the hardest and learn the most about what the characters are truly made of.  Kevin Plank cared enough to peddle the first Under Armour compression gear out of his trunk, and consumers cared enough to line up, underscoring the novel intersection of passion and better functionality.  The brand was born of adversity, driven by purpose.  How about yours?

Your People

Who drives your trucks?  Flies your planes?  Delivers your packages?  Answers your customer service calls?  Uses your products with the most passion?  What kind of people bring your brand to life?  Are they former Olympians?  Erstwhile soldiers?  Ph.Ds.?  Poets?  Give consumers a chance to understand the human faces and stories behind your brand.  Think Starbucks baristas.  Southwest Airlines pilots, flight attendants and gate agents.  Discover Card customer service agents.  Let consumers feel the love your employees and customers have for your brand, how they delight in being part of something larger than just a job or a product.  Ask your best people and customers what inspires them, what they love, why they get out of bed.

Your Operations

In a networked world, day-to-day operations often become your best evocation of what you stand for, not to mention some of your most credible marketing.  As we all know, what consumers are saying about you is, today, more likely to be accurate and credible than what your website says.  What are consumers saying about you on Yelp, on Amazon reviews, on TripAdvisor and Twitter?  How can you help them know the real you?

Taco Bell enjoys inviting influencers into its test kitchen, giving them exclusive “sneak peeks” at new menu items.  How are you opening a window into your operations and amplifying the engaged thereafter?

Your Heart

Who and what do you love?  KFC loves its employees, so they started the KFC Family Fund to help their people in times of crisis.  Taco Bell loves “the other kids,” those students who may not qualify for athletic or academic scholarships, but whose passion for art or music or philanthropy drives them to do big things, so they created the “Live Más Scholarship” program to serve them.  Nickelodeon loves the kid inside all of us, and so they relentlessly “slime” the bigtime celebrities and athletes who participate in their awards shows.  Where does passion live in your business or brand, and how does it come to life?  Show us.

Your Big Plans and Experiments

The best purpose brands are restlessly innovative, driven by that purpose to continue reinventing themselves in service of consumers who feel like members.  Think Amazon, whose relentless evolution makes it worth visiting not just for shopping, but to explore.  Think “concept cars,” but not just those invented by automotive companies.  What about Adidas’ limited-edition Yeezy and Human Race shoes?  How has that changed brand perception?  Forget about what will deliver volume.  Instead, consider what visionary SKU or event will deliver consumer’s attention and engagement.  Think Red Bull’s Flugtag and other zany contests.  Think big.  Bold.  And beautiful.  Your brand DNA lives in your big plans.  Make some.

Your Clubhouse

Where does your tribe congregate?  When consumers visit your store or headquarters, how do you initiate them into the cult of the brand?  How can you invite consumers in virtually?  People go to Whole Foods to buy groceries, but they also go there to see and connect with likeminded souls.  Ditto Lululemon and Umami Burger.  Where’s ground zero for your consumers to congregate?  How does it reinforce and/or tell the story of you?

Your Purpose Exists, Even If Hiding in Plain Sight

Purpose is not some intrinsic extra credit available only to certain brands.  It’s the stuff of who you already are, often hiding in plain sight.  As you strive to connect with consumers whose media diets are increasingly if not entirely at their own discretion, your purpose may be the one thing you have that consumers want to know more about.

As Norm used to say on the beloved TV sitcom Cheers when he sat down on his familiar barstool:  “Give me a reason for living and keep ‘em coming.”

This article originally appeared on MediaVillage.

Author: Scott Hess, Chief Marketing Officer, Spark Foundry