Lesson 1 // Purpose
Brand building begins with a clear purpose
Purpose in China links with the Chinese Dream
Brand building begins with purpose—a reason for existing beyond profit. Some brands have a higher purpose that serves to improve communities, societies, or the world. But all brands need a clear purpose that is differentiating, ownable, ethical, and in some way improves people’s lives.
Without having a fundamental reason for being and cultural relevance, it is difficult for a brand to build and sustain value. But when purpose is expressed with clarity, coherence, and consistency it drives sales.
These brand-building principles, which apply worldwide, manifest in a distinctive way in China where, almost 10 years ago, the government declared a national purpose. Called the Chinese Dream, it envisions a nation of global prominence and growing prosperity, where people enjoy rapidly improving quality of life.
Although a brand in China does not have to advance the national purpose explicitly, it is important for a brand’s products and services to improve people’s lives in tangible ways. Tencent, the technology giant and China’s second-most valuable brand, revised its corporate purpose from emphasizing connectivity to advancing “Value for users, tech for good.”
Introducing traditional Chinesestyle packaging for milk products, Mengniu linked with a wave of Chinese national pride inspired by the rapid rise of China’s economy and global stature. The athleisure apparel brand Li-Ning, which had lagged behind its global competitors, experienced a resurgence of popularity after creating a sub-brand called China Li-Ning whose products feature calligraphy and other Chinese design elements.
E-commerce giant Alibaba based its growth on enabling small businesses to flourish. Similarly, the e-commerce platform Pinduoduo, which gained initial popularity among lower tier consumers, enabled local businesses and farmers to sell their products and services in upper tier markets. Kuaishou the short video streaming app and newcomer to the BrandZ™ China Top 100, supplied e-commerce capability and other business and educational tools to help lowincome Chinese develop as online entrepreneurs.
Currently, many Chinese brands, particularly e-commerce or lifestyle ecosystems, act with a clear purpose. However, they could benefit from more effectively communicating their purpose. Going forward, purpose will become increasingly important for more Chinese brands because purpose is especially important to the customers Chinese brands will increasingly want to cultivate—young people in China and Westerners in overseas markets.
Kantar research identifies four phases of purpose
Purpose 2020, a Kantar global research initiative, identifies the following four progressive phases on the journey to purpose-led growth:
1. Isolated Tactic
Purpose often begins as an isolated short-term tactic initiated by one department within an organization and typically related to CSR.
2. Societal Brand Promise
After all marketing functions adopt the tactic, it evolves into a more enduring commitment that informs the functional and emotional expression of the brand and helps build equity.
3. Company-Wide Strategy
Once the purpose is clearly articulated as an element of the brand, it needs to be infused throughout the organization as a compass to help guide growth.
4. Purpose as a Movement
Some brands become so closely identified with their purpose, it attracts followers, and even unites competitors, around actions that improve society.
Key Takeaways // Purpose
Brand Building for Future Growth
- Begin with PURPOSE
Begin at the beginning, with the original purpose of the organization, the reason for being in business. All the other BrandZ™ measurements of brand health—innovation, communication, experience, love—build on getting this fundamental right.
- Adapt the PURPOSE
Adapt the brand purpose to the Chinese national purpose, the Chinese Dream of building a more prosperous and equitable society. Serve the needs of the Chinese people. Be clear that the brand is in business not only to take but also to give. Individuals work hard to make a living in China. But they also care for the betterment of family and community. Making a profit is fine, but in making a profit for themselves, brand need to contribute to the collective welfare. To paraphrase a Chinese proverb: Good people make money in good ways.
- Communicate the PURPOSE
It is important to communicate the purpose succinctly in ways that can inspire employees and win customers. But communication needs to be understood broadly. Communication is about carefully choosing the media to promote the brand and its benefits. But it is also about embedding purpose in every business decision and brand-building activity, such as the selection of spokespeople, partners, and sponsorships.
- Stay the course
In the hectic daily grind of building a business, driving sales, and meeting budgets, purpose can become that well-written paragraph referred to once a year when the strategic planning binder comes off the shelf. In fact, as business gets busier purpose becomes more important, because the risk of making a costly error is greater and the stakes are higher. Brands should refer to purpose regularly as a compass to keep the business moving in the right direction and to signal a course correction when necessary.