I was fascinated by a recent national study that indicated most CEOs feel their brand(s) needed to take a stand on social issues, even though less than a third of consumers want to see politics in marketing – and pretty much the opposite of what every agency seems to be telling its clients. Curious don’t you think? Just because some major brands get away with it, and in a few cases hit all the right notes, does not mean your toothbrush has any credibility in telling you which cause to support or when to feel outraged or guilty. It’s stressful enough being told we must floss every day.

Those who make a fortune preaching purpose-before-product to credulous clients probably consider the opening paragraph to be heresy. But when you revisit an important marketing truth – that lasting purpose comes from a brand’s DNA – you are reminded that brands thrive when they focus on telling consumers what their business was born to do for them – their purpose. And “purpose” is not a watered-down reflection of whatever happens to be trending on social media.

The most iconic brands in history have survived the test of time by riding cultural waves that carried consumers to both ends of the political spectrum. These brands grew by bringing people together around shared values and passions, not by forcing them to choose a side. Coca-Cola on the mountain, the unabashed celebration of music that launched Apple’s iPod, the athletic drive to reject the “impossible” by Adidas. You can be young or old, right or left, and those sentiments are universally appealing because they are universal truths, not political statements, or cultural trends. And most importantly, the platform flows from the product – the heart of the business.

This approach of course, brings clarity to clients’ decision-making when it comes to tackling bigger issues. If you are a beverage or a detergent, consider doing nice things to help us save water, or get water to faraway people who don’t have enough. If you’re a bank or credit card, investigate financial literacy, supporting small business, or providing seed capital for underserved communities. In other words, make it clear what you’re selling, and then – and only then – push your business model into the next stage by doing the right thing for your customers and giving back to a broader community.

That’s what real purpose is all about, and that’s what drives long-term advocacy versus short-term attention.

Joe Bouch
CEO, 78Madison

78Madison is a full-service marketing communications firm (advertising agency) located in Winter Springs, Florida, a suburb of Orlando.

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