‘Purpose’ changes relationships profoundly

For brands, identifying and defining their purpose is a crucial challenge. Because it will legitimize their existence within communities, guide their actions and commitments, but also because it will define a new conception of the relationships they have with their stakeholders and therefore profoundly modify their marketing approach. These changes should also lead communication agencies to strengthen their advisory role.

The three ages of marketing communication

In a very simplified way we can distinguish three ages of marketing communication:

  • The age of the star product or the brand driven by the product. The mission of communication is to promote the product by highlighting its specificities and benefits.
  • The age of aspirations or the customer-driven brand. Communication aims to show how brands respond to their customers’ aspirations.
  • The age of commitment or the value-driven brand. Brands must be bearers of values and meaning: they are an integral part of a social, environmental and societal ecosystem and their existence depends on their ability to create shared value. Communication expresses, values and nurtures their commitment as well as that of their stakeholders.

Purpose at the heart of communication

Today, communication no longer has the sole objective of promoting products or generating emotions. It is no longer a link with customers but with communities. Because brands must contribute to meeting the social, societal, environmental and cultural challenges facing our societies. They must commit themselves, play their role as actors (or even activists) to the fullest. But to do so, they must understand what they are; express at all levels (internal and external) and through their speeches as well as their actions what inspires them and legitimizes them: their raison d’être.

Dialogue and co-creation

Participating in the world means establishing a dialogue rather than a discourse. Here again, interactions are bound to change. Whereas in the age of the product, marketing focused on a commercial transaction (one-to-many), and in the age of aspirations, marketing favors a relationship (one-to-one), the age of engagement inspires collaboration (many-to-many). As a result, brands will call on the community to which they belong, both in the development of their products and services and in their communications. They will collaborate not only with their partners, but also directly with their customers and stakeholders. The creation of products and values is born of this exchange. Inspired by purpose, this approach also gives meaning to commercial creativity, which should now be aimed primarily at solving global problems, rather than responding to purely individual or commercial expectations (for example, creating a solid shampoo that doesn’t require a plastic container).

The role of agencies

In this context, branding and communication agencies also have a new role to play. They can no longer be satisfied with promoting a brand or its products without carefully considering its purpose, the consistency of its discourse and the implementation of its values. Agencies are becoming real partners, challenging brands with critical thinking and alerting them of possible inconsistencies in their discourse that betray their values or deny certain weaknesses. They inspire them and push them to become true actors in society, because this is how brands will have the best chance of encouraging innovation, increasing their profits and surviving.

The role of incentive, of inspiring commitment, is all the more important when agencies are working for start-ups or SMEs that don’t always have the knowledge, attention and resources to define their true purpose, to elaborate a coherent brand platform and to develop a brand discourse that meets these new requirements and actively contributes to their success.