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Alex Wilmott
  • By Alex Wilmott
  • Aug 26 2015

Can a Brand be Meaningful?

In Oliver North’s thriller Counterfeit Lies, the author makes a sobering observation on the idea of meaningfulness. “An easy life is rarely meaningful and a meaningful life rarely easy.” Nothing is more true than when it comes to creating a meaningful brand.

Havas Media has recently surveyed 300,000 people regarding the meaningfulness of 1000 brands across 12 different industries. Their research focussed on how people perceive each brand as well as measuring the drivers including market outputs and both personal and collective outcomes that contribute to a brand’s meaningfulness. As well as the expected giants including Google, Samsung and Sony, some smaller brands have also reached the top ten most-meaningful list; including Bimbo Bakeries. Within the top ten, the results also show how the personal engagement of technology brands continues to grow. (For the full list visit the Meaningful Brands website).

This dictionary definition sums up meaningfulness as something “full of meaning, significance, purpose, or value; purposeful”.

This would suggest that to be meaningful, one has to go above and beyond what is expected. In the upcoming book by Shaun Smith and Andy Milligan, ‘On Purpose – delivering a branded customer experience that people love’, Smith+Co founder Shaun Smith reflects on the Havas study: “There is plenty of other evidence that meaningful brands (ones to which customers feel a strong level of affinity) out-perform their markets. In February 2015, Apple’s market capitalisation was $765 billion, which is twice as much as the second most valuable company on the planet; Exxon Mobile. Paradoxically, Steve Jobs was famously known to be disinterested in making money. Rather, his purpose was “We’re here to put a dent in the universe”.

If the Havas research tells us anything, it shows that solely focussing on profits is actually counterproductive to growing customer loyalty.

However, Shaun Smith also warns of the dangers of knee-jerk reactions to brand ‘meaning’ surveys. He says: “There is a danger, of course, in reporting compelling statistics such as these. As we saw with the rush to corporate social responsibility (CSR) some years ago, the shortsighted CEO motivated by the potential to generate positive PR or profit will conclude ‘We need a purpose statement’ and delegate some poor minion to create one or, perhaps even worse, ask their ad agency to craft some fine words. To do so, misses the point entirely. It is about the ‘doing’ and not the ‘having’.”

So how does a brand convey a genuine sense of purpose to their customers without stepping into the realms of ‘patronising’ or ‘cringe’?

Smith argues that there is a primary non-negotiable step to meaningfulness that should act as the starting point for any business. He says: “The best businesses will have a purpose that is driven by insight, first and foremost, into its customer needs and how the brand can add value to them in a way that other brands can’t. And there is increasing evidence that customers will reward businesses doing this.”

What do you think a brand can do to achieve an authentic purpose beyond profit? Feel free to share your experience and thoughts in the comments section.

Shaun Smith will be speaking at the London Business Forum on Wednesday, September 23rd. For more details visit London Business Forum

On Purpose is due for public release in October 2015 and is written by Shaun Smith and Andy Milligan. You can pre-order your copy now at Amazon

Alex Wilmott (a recent recruit to the Smith+Co team) is a former newspaper journalist and has overseen PR and Social Media strategies for leading brands including Best Western Hotels and Hermes UK. He is a published author and has held iTunes number one spots with various podcasts. A passionate Welsh rugby fan, Alex loves hot chicken sandwiches, Guinness and watching sport with his wife.