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A brand needs none "Purpose" to be successful. At least that's what Bryan Sharp claims. The marketing professor goes even further and claims that the higher purpose of a brand leads to its success. Death can lead to a decline in sales. What is behind this hypothesis and how should marketers react to it?

Meaningful brands are an illusion

Bryan Sharp and the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute show in their research results: Brands grow through Distinctiveness and on a tactical level. It's about logos, slogans, fonts, color and audiology. Customers remember the distinctiveness of a brand, its look and feel, which can be quickly and easily recalled mentally. Here I have learned the difference from Distinctiveness and Differentiation in marketing and draw a conclusion as to which brand orientation is more successful. 

Alongside Sharp, there are other proponents of the theory that brands strive in vain for a higher purpose in order to become more successful. Richard Shotton even calls it a "Danger and illusion" when a brand chases after a good cause. He uses an example to illustrate why people do not look for social justice in a brand. When asked whether they donate to charitable organizations, the answer is yes. According to self-reporting, the majority of the population donates. But the reality is different. Compared to the self-declaration, the actual donation income shows far less commitment. We also want brands that "do good", but in reality we are far from buying them.

"Green" is in - but does that apply to every brand?

Those who have long since found a niche in sustainability are now successful. Awareness of "green" products is growing. Sales of natural cosmetics have doubled in Germany over the past decade, according to the Natural cosmetics industry monitor 2020 shows. In 2007, sales with Natural cosmetics at 600 million euros and rose to 1.46 billion euros in 2020. Behind this is a social need to address the impact of our consumption on nature. The shift in target group needs is leading many marketers to assume that they need to reposition their brand, which has grown over the years. Accenture shows in a Study that 50% of consumers demand brands that credibly stand up for social and cultural problems. Does this mean that all our products have to make a contribution to nature or society in order to be successful?


Sales of natural cosmetics 

Many marketers see the new need for "purpose" as a free pass for the creation of "meaningful" brands. But if you read the Accenture study carefully, you will come across the word Credibility. This must be the case in order to achieve sustainable sales success. Anything else is so-called "greenwashing", for example, which buyers don't find funny at all. Textile retailer H&M advertises its "Conscious" collection with organic cotton. In April 2019, Norway's consumer protection agency accused the Swedish giant of "greenwashing" and claimed that organic cotton says nothing about local production conditions. The consumer authority took up the case and came to the conclusion that the claims were "misleading". The H&M sales in Germany are falling and in 2020 are at a low last seen in 2011. 

Customer needs are more important than meaningfulness

Consumers are not looking for a solution that social benefit, when they make a purchase. First and foremost, they want a solution to their problem. Brands that have already spent their entire lives focused on a higher purpose can credibly represent it. Patagonia is a good example of how closely the "good deed" can be woven into the brand DNA. The sales figures prove the company right. The founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, was never a businessman. He founded his company with the aim of helping people discover wild nature and at the same time wanted to protect these unique natural sites. If a consumer goods manufacturer previously unknown for sustainable values suddenly focuses on "green" products, this does not automatically lead to success.

It is much more important, long-term and credible respond to the needs of customers. Yes, there is a social shift towards meaningfulness. No, not every brand can respond to this need overnight. Procter & Gamble set itself very ambitious sustainability targets in 2018. The company wants to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. An important principle for them is not to let the word "purpose" degenerate into a buzzword. Over 10 years is a long time to change a brand and achieve a new direction. Behind P&G's new goals lies a lot of complexity and a hard road. So instead of presenting itself with a new, chic and meaningful purpose, the company is focusing on credible steps towards environmental friendliness. 

Users hate Facebook, but they use it anyway

In an impressive example, marketing professor Mark Ritson shows how little Trust in a brand and its values has to do with its success. According to surveys, Facebook is one of the least trustworthy brands. However, this does not stop users from continuing to register on the platform. Since 2018, Facebook has been in the public spotlight several times due to data protection scandals. Despite these scandals, the number of monthly active users has risen steadily, reaching around 2.9 billion in the second quarter of 2021. Even though the number of users in Europe fell for the first time in 2018 and the number of registrations in the USA and Canada has stagnated for the first time since 2018, Facebook has seen strong growth in the Asia-Pacific region and other regions of the world.


Turnover FAcebook 

This leaves only two assumptions: Facebook is "polishing" its numbers or the "purpose" of a brand is not decisive for their success. If we assume that Facebook is calculating its figures correctly, we have to let go of the illusion that brands have a higher Need sense and purpose. They can even really screw up and still be used and bought. If a close friend cheated on me, it would take me some time to trust them again. I would be hurt, angry, disappointed and heartbroken. Would I ever be able to be as good friends with him as before?

Brands are not people. Companies are not benefactors. When I store online, I'm not looking to make a new friend or start a relationship. I want a nice T-shirt, a fragrant perfume, an exciting book. I want to pay the price I think is reasonable. I want a brand Recognize visuallyso that I feel confident about my purchase. I just want to get a good deal.


Conclusion: The purpose of a brand is overestimated

It takes more than a nice Slogan about saving the world and a share of sales that goes to a charitable organization. If a brand wants to pursue a higher meaning and purpose, this must be anchored in its DNA. Or it makes a sustained effort to transform itself. This costs time and money, as is the case with Procter & Gamble, for example. Anything else is not credible, does not lead to sales success and, in the worst case, even to "greenwashing". Facebook has never claimed to be committed to saving organic cotton. H&M does, but the Swede is not Patagonia. "Cobbler stick to his last" goes the old saying. Today, this applies to brands like never before.


Tobias Dziuba

My name is Tobias and I am the founder and managing director of the Amazon agency Adsmasters GmbH based in Düsseldorf.

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