When your brand purpose is everything

Lewes FC match poster

What does it mean to truly live your brand purpose?

Does it means making difficult decisions?

I think not.

If you’re true to your purpose – and it’s genuine – then decision-making becomes easier.

This week, Maggie Murphy, CEO of Lewes FC, joined us for our latest ‘With The Team’ talk.

Lewes FC is the only football club in the world that has an equal budget for its men’s and women’s team. It’s a club whose purpose is clear: to see a world where football is an inspirational, inclusive, and sustainable engine for social good. And, as Maggie puts it, it’s about protecting a “sacred community asset.”

What a purpose!

At The Team, we’ve talked a lot about brand purpose.

Consumers are increasingly savvy when it comes to what a brand stands for.  They make trade off decisions regarding what they will and won’t do when it comes to using a brand, based upon what that brand does and does not do.

Bear in mind that taking on a purpose simply because everyone else is doing it can be risky. Unless your brand purpose is true to the core, you could be seen as purpose washing.

A true brand purpose shouldn’t result in difficult questions.

When you’re truly living a purpose – one that authentically reflects who you are and what you do – questions should be easy to answer.

Of course, football fans are not like other customers.

They tend to hang around for much longer, even if their brand does the wrong thing. After all, this is their team, and the custodians of that team tend to be here today and gone tomorrow.

The fans are not.

But that stickiness brings with it greater responsibility.

Putting customers in a difficult position results in a simple change in the transactional relationship – they stop buying your product. Putting fans in that position is somewhat more irresponsible because they have nowhere to go.

Purpose washing is rife.

McDonald’s has been understandably criticized for its attempts to greenwash its brand with the McPlant range. Having dragged its heels on sustainability issues for years, it should not expect to be able to suddenly join the purpose bandwagon. 

Its purpose is to ‘feed and foster communities’.

But its impact on society, in terms of environment, nutrition, fair pay etc, means the authenticity behind its ‘feed and foster communities’ brand purpose is left rather lacking. Can it really embody its brand purpose by offering just the minimum wage?

Can it foster communities unless it radically shifts from a meat-based offer to a plant-based offer?

These are difficult questions to answer, unless the brand truly believes its purpose.

illustration of a man holding a target, pointing at the bullseye. Relating to brand purpose.

But brands have to start somewhere and the energy industry is a case in point.

We need to eliminate fossil fuels from the energy mix, but that isn’t going to happen overnight. Indicating your commitment to addressing climate change while still extracting oil and gas from the ground just doesn’t sit comfortably.

So, what consumers need to hear and see on a regular basis is details on a committed purpose plan.

It’s called being purpose-led.

It’s why bp has gained traction and respect for their honest approach to net-zero.

Brands that understand this journey and commit fully to that transformation will understand the careful decisions that need to be made.

Brands that don’t will find themselves sat opposite genuinely purposeful brands, answering difficult questions.

When Sepp Blatter wanted to purpose-wash FIFA, he bought in the anti-corruption organization, ‘Transparency International’ in a smokescreen attempt to bring credibility to that organization’s governance process.

He failed. Why?

Because everything Transparency International was built on was about a simple purpose: ethics. They walked.

brand trandsparency for brand purpose

In the wake of the financial crisis, we created a simple decision making tool for RBS.

The Yes Check was designed to help employees make the right decisions. It was built around a simple purpose – to serve customers well.

At the time of the financial crash, when the bank needed to reset and earn back trust, that was the right purpose.

So, here are 4 simple questions for your brand purpose:

  • Is it right for now or are you being over ambitious? Do what needs to be done now for customers, shareholders, and employees. Settle the ship first.
  • Does it make the answer easy? Not the implementation. That may well be hard. But is the decision made less difficult. If so, it will be your natural sweet spot.
  • Do you need to brief your CEO on what to say when it comes to purpose? If the people at the top don’t naturally feel it – if they are not champions for your purpose – then forget it.
  • Does the purpose allow you to innovate? Do you find yourself coming up with more ideas. A purpose that is true to your core is liberating.

Let purpose make your decision-making easier.

All this is why the Lewes story is so refreshing. Here’s a brand with real purpose at its heart.

From turning down a gambling sponsorship because it would damage the community and then putting an anti-gambling message on the shirt, to offering fans the chance to own a share and vote on the direction of the club – everything is about inclusivity. It lives its purpose.

But here’s the fly in the ointment.

Football fans are also far more demanding than your average customer. They have emotional skin in the game – and emotions come with positives and negatives.

That pure love for what a brand is saying – the emotion – that’s what we all want.

If you can put all the noise to one side and focus on emotion in your branding, then it can be 50% more effective than non-emotional branding.

We all want customers as passionate and loyal as football fans.

But in the case of football fans, they want results, the thrill of victory.

The brand purpose journey is one where you are continually talking to customers and employees about what you are doing and why.

The rule of thumb is simple – if you think you are communicating too much, you’re probably communicating at just the right level.

Brand purpose. Liberating. Exciting. Innovating.

But, be honest.