Home > Brand > It’s Time For CMO’s To Get Purposeful About Branding

It’s Time For CMO’s To Get Purposeful About Branding

Wake Up Call Every CMO has to wake up to the fact that defining their brand’s purpose is critically important. As it becomes increasingly harder to differentiate one brand from another based on mere positioning efforts, no CMO can afford to ignore the opportunity to leverage purpose as a way to create a unique brand experience, and more broadly influence the enterprise they serve. By answering the question of “why it exists,” a CMO has the potential to take their brand to new heights of success and enhanced relevance. Brands without a true purpose are more likely to lose traction, because they will find it more challenging to universally inspire employees, stakeholders, consumers, and customers. It means that CMOs can no longer dismiss the premise of purpose, or continue to down play it as merely some kind of “aspirational marketing rhetoric”. Now is the time for CMOs to get really purposeful about their brands, both figuratively and literally.


In the age of the consumer, the rules of brand marketing are being rewritten. The potential for a CMO to fully leverage the power of their brand goes beyond just messaging and marketing. Today, a forward thinking CMO is more broadly contemplating their potential to shape the brand experience and inspire the whole organization. They are looking for ways to enhance the pervasive brand culture, by tapping into a purpose that can serve to:

  • Shape the destiny of the enterprise. CMOs are increasingly under pressure to infuse the entire organization with new meaning and direction. A brand purpose provides them with a clear North Star by which to navigate the holistic brand experience and business operations – and not just drive marketing efforts. From shaping the product innovation agenda, to informing strategic business decisions, or inspiring the HR policy, a well-crafted and fully activated brand purpose can set the course for future success in multiple ways.
  • Forge deeper connections with all constituents. A powerful brand purpose can have a profound effect on the collective psyche and constituent behavior. For business-to-business or consumer driven enterprises, a highly relevant purpose can galvanize employees, engage customers, and motivate consumers. Activating a brand purpose to forge deeper emotional connections across every brand touch point can yield an extraordinary return on investment, and foster enhanced levels of participation throughout the brand ecosystem.


The meaning of brand purpose heralds a new dawn of opportunity for CMOs and their agencies. The notion of brand purpose was first coined by Roy Spence, Chairman and CEO of ad agency GSDM – and also proprietor of the Purpose Institute, who in his book It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For tells the story of how Southwest became the leading domestic carrier on the wings of a brand purpose based on “democratizing the skies.” Since then a new generation of brand thought-leaders, such as Jim Stengel (ex-CMO of P&G) and Simon Sinek (author of Start With Why) have further championed the cause of brand purpose, and with great success. Leo Burnett, as an ad agency, has built its entire strategic planning philosophy on the premise of brand purpose, through its approach of Humankind. What all this suggests is that developing a compelling brand purpose has become a strategic imperative for CMOs because:

  • A brand purpose can foster unconditional loyalty. Only the brands that people buy and buy into will stand the test of time. Consumers may be open to the possibility of purchasing a brand, but unless they also buy into its deep-seated purpose they are still prone to the temptation of switching to a competitor. BMW enjoys a higher repurchase rate and declaration of loyalty in an otherwise commoditized car sector, because its most devoted consumers align with its purpose of “sheer driving pleasure,” and also identify with the underlying meaning of how “the ultimate driving machine” relates to them.
  • Purpose elevates the brand experience. A purpose defines “why” a brand exists and explains the role it plays in life. It enhances cultural relevance, brand utility, and functionality. As Simon Sinek states in his book, “great brands like Apple start with the why, not the how, and what.” In living up to its purpose of discovering simply elegant solutions, Apple continues to inspire technological advances and drive a brand innovation agenda. By delivering on a brand experience that is purposefully aligned with the fulfillment of unmet needs, Apple continues to lead the way in thinking different.
  • Purpose serves as a rudder and rallying cry. Organizations with a clearly stated and inspiring purpose provide employees with an emotional road map. It tells them where they are going and what they need to do to get there as part of the work force. Take Google for example, with its provocatively stated intent of “do no evil” while empowering the world with infinite possibilities. This purpose is overtly linked to the “ten things we know to be true” that provide employees with a belief system they can follow and act upon. As Jim Stengel points out in his book Growth, “maximum growth and high ideals are not incompatible, they are inseparable.”
  • Agencies are hungry for new inspiration. Ad agencies need new sources of insight to help them create compelling brand stories. Just laying claim to an emotional promise and litany of reasons to believe is insufficient for a brand to breakthrough in marketing. What agencies want are ways for a brand to create cultural currency and trigger behavior, and the power of brand purpose can allow them to do that. As Mark Tutsell says in his published work on Humankind, “purpose driven ideas change human behavior and yield brand participation.” Leo Burnett’s award winning creative work for Allstate and its “Mayhem” campaign is a testament to this.
  • Brands with purpose resonate from the inside and out. The organizational culture and operating principles of a brand are shaped by its purpose. Critically, the internal workings of the organization, including its productivity levels, employee morale, customer satisfaction, and ability to attract top talent are tightly aligned with the ability of a CMO to internally activate the brand purpose. In her work on What Great Brands Do, Denise Yohn appropriately notes that, “great brands start inside.” An example is Zappos, based on how it excels in service because “the happy people making people happy” who work there, are motivated to deliver an excellent customer experience.


If you are a CMO and you don’t have a purpose, then you are guilty of falling asleep at the wheel. Get with it, wake up to the new reality, and apply a purposeful three-point plan to enhance your brand. By doing so, you will get your marketing efforts back on track, and re-energize the business and your brand by discovering its true purpose.

  • Think why: Re-immerse yourself in brand understanding and garner fresh insight by talking to employees, consumers, customers, prospects, and stakeholders, to understand why your brand exists in people’s lives. With insight in hand, gather your organizational thought leaders and rethink your brand. Determine how to accelerate brand trajectory by succinctly, truly, and inspirationally redefining the organization’s destiny through the crafting of a powerful and highly actionable purpose.
  • Plan how: Re-look at your brand blue print, study the competition, and develop a brand activation framework to capture how you can best deliver on the stated purpose. Discover the unmet needs, find the emotional white spaces, and reengineer the fully integrated brand experience to live up to your purpose. Set the coordinates of your brand success related to your brand North Star that is born out of purpose, and establish a measurement system to continually track how you are doing against the key performance indicators.
  • Do what: Get the buy-in of senior management, and give them the tools and inspiration to become purposeful evangelists. Develop an operational plan, HR strategy, and internal marketing program to activate the full potential of the brand purpose. Start by launching your marketing efforts inside out, commencing with an employee engagement program. Then develop a carefully crafted and highly orchestrated external messaging effort, to strike the right emotional chord with customers and/or consumers, to instill buy-in, and create belief behind the brand purpose.
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