Brand purpose can't be installed like shelves or displayed like a logo.
Customers are in the driver's seat in today's retail environment. With 24/7 access to the digital marketplace, they've grown accustomed to shopping on their own terms.
In this shifting landscape, retailers are scrambling to regain an advantage. Some run the technology race, focusing on the fastest, newest apps and websites. Others focus on cost control, trying to win on price.
Ironically, retailers seem to be trying the same things in their quest to differentiate their brands. So what can your company do differently? The best way to help your brand stand out is to determine what it stands for. The key is to define your brand's purpose -- its true north.
The Power of Purpose
Brand purpose goes beyond marketing. Purpose is what defines a brand. It's why your brand exists, and it separates you from your competitors. Your brand purpose lies at the intersection of your customers' needs and your brand's strengths. When you clearly define it and translate it into your brand positioning and operational policies, your purpose will help shape the lasting strategy that makes your brand stand out.
For example, one niche grocery retailer decided its brand purpose is to support the health, well-being and healing of the planet and its people. That purpose dictates every decision the company makes, from its marketing campaign to its website design to the way it sources products and manages inventory.
More importantly, the company truly carries out its purpose in the way it treats its employees: The culture is fun, open-minded and collaborative. Employees have a say in how their store optimizes its service and operations, they have access to numerous development opportunities and they're encouraged to become organic food experts through various education programs.
This grocery retailer carries out its purpose in a way that creates emotional buy-in from employees and customers. Employees are proud to work for the brand, which makes the way they serve customers extremely personal. In return, customers are drawn to the unique shopping experience, even if they have to drive farther or pay higher prices. And the retailer's approach is working: The company almost doubled its brand value in 2013.
Lost in Translation
Retailers often struggle to formulate their brand purpose, usually because they face two obstacles:
1) They lack clarity on the differentiating point of their brand purpose compared with their competition.
Product features, price and location convenience offer less and less of a differentiating edge today. Because executives are busy adapting to rapid market changes, many of the initiatives they implement tend to be more along the lines of a quick fix or a fad instead of a well-thought-out, long-term purpose strategy.
According to Gallup research, less than half of managers (46%) and slightly more than one-third of non-management employees (37%) strongly agree with the statement, "I know what my company stands for and what makes our brand(s) different from our competitors." This lack of clarity, particularly among non-management employees -- which includes front-line workers -- signifies a great opportunity for retailers. Front-line employees embody their company's brand. Engaging them and aligning them with the brand purpose will accelerate the brand's performance.
2) They lack an "ecosystem" to carry out their brand purpose across different channels.
Although omnichannel marketing is a primary focus for most retailers, Gallup research shows that the most important driver of customer engagement is still the person-to-person interaction. When companies think about how to reflect their brand's purpose in the customer experience, they should start with the in-store component and determine how employees deliver on the experience.
However, online initiatives elevate expectations because customers anticipate a flawless experience when they transit from online to offline. In reality, employees already busy with daily operations can be overwhelmed if told to adapt to yet more channels of customer service, leading them to feel disconnected with the company's overall mission. This can compromise one of the most important aspects of employee engagement: the belief that "the mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important" -- one of the items in Gallup's Q12 employee engagement survey.
Living Your Company's Brand Purpose
To bring clarity to your brand purpose and, more importantly, to live it, you must do four things:
Step 1: Define or revisit your current brand purpose.
Identify what is already there. Don't scare the company by saying you're re-creating your purpose. Just bring clarity to who you already are. Create the purpose statement together, starting with senior leadership, and then involving employees and customers to discuss and discover:
- who you are
- what makes your culture unique
- what needs your brand fulfills that other brands don't
- what gets in the way of fulfilling those needs
- what makes your customers love your brand
Test the revised, drafted purpose statement. Keep it simple. The purpose statement itself should be easy to understand and articulate.
Step 2: Understand what engages your customers in each channel.
Study customers' needs in each channel and understand how different channels should work together to deliver a seamless experience. For example, consider how the handoff from online to offline pickup should work so that to customers it feels effortless. Ask yourself, "Does our brand purpose come to life in each of the channels in which we do business?" If not, ensure that you understand customers' needs in each of your business channels.
Step 3: Teach the troops.
Start with managers. The ones who can clearly articulate the brand purpose and understand how each employee reflects that purpose will become the driving force for action and change. Get new employees on track, starting on day one. Some of the best organizations teach new employees about their brand purpose on the first day of employment. Have a designated training process for managers to educate, coach and evaluate new employees so that they can understand and demonstrate brand purpose in their daily actions. Then, keep the conversation alive. Create recognition programs and social events to help share and record great stories and best practices and to foster pride.
Step 4: Measure the intangible.
Measure emotional satisfaction on all fronts. Set up cross-channel measurement systems to keep track of customer loyalty and engagement, as well as employees' engagement with the brand. Understand what is important to your customers. What are the interactions with your store and your brand that create the strongest emotional connection? Instill accountability and pride in employees and managers. Create a reward system and hold managers accountable for the metrics and the customer experience delivery.
Brand purpose isn't a slogan or a marketing tool. But it is how a company lives in the world: how it does business, how its employees work and how its customers feel. Brand purpose can't be installed like shelves or displayed like a logo. It has to be internalized -- it has to be lived. But if your company has, knows and lives your brand purpose, you have something your competitors can't duplicate: a place in the market that is yours alone.